Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Life and Times of Tories

Afternoon - good to see you all again.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that we have (at least nominally) a Conservative administration and not some 'government of national unity' as you might get at times of war or constitutional crisis. To paraphrase Tony Blair when New Labour were in opposition, Tories might be in office but could not be described as being 'in power' in the true sense. In many ways, Trezza and her dismal ensemble remind me of a caretaker manager in football, installed after the previous incumbent was sacked mid-season but knowing that their odds of getting the job permanently are precisely zero. Mayday's government has that very same 'temporary' feel to it and this is a symptom of its wider problems.

British Conservatives have two major difficulties - the first (and most important) is that in large swathes of the country they are something of a 'poison brand', an institution that millions would refuse to support and vote for even if they agreed with the entirety of the Tories' manifesto. Were they a private company they would have been closed down and re-launched under a different name circa 15 years ago for this reason, but such options do not exist in the political sphere. Their second substantive problem is that, regardless of whether they happen to be the government or opposition, this type of Conservative is culturally irrelevant and has been for some time.

Something we've tried to illustrate on these pages is where the real battle lines are within the current discourse - and it's clear that Tories of the Thatcher and Major mould fall completely outside the parameters of the ongoing conversation. For most of its existence, the Conservative Party was not a party of classical liberalism and a small state, in fact it usually took the 'managerial' form of being 'slightly to the right of the opposition', which is why I'm infuriated when people construe Cameron and now May as being 'right wing savages', based solely on the colour of the rosette. Useless, rudderless and ineffectual? Absolutely. Brutal, savage and inhumane? Get a grip.

Almost nobody wants a low-tax small state but then in the climate of 'ADHD politics' underpinned by a perpetual sense of disenchantment and popular desire for some form of state-driven radicalism, there is no great enthusiasm for a dull set of 'managers' either. This leaves the Tories boxed in and looking increasingly like a curiously sad bunch too busy starring in their own film to realise that everyone else has stopped watching. Getting the Brexit process to the end of its initial phase and basically 'not being Jeremy Corbyn' has given them a temporary reason to exist, but this is little more than life support and the passing of time simply illuminates their irrelevance.

Whatever you might think about Margaret Thatcher, it is beyond dispute that she and her key influencers shaped and moulded the discourse of the 1980s and into the following decade. Unfortunately, that same government was not merely divisive, but actively set out to be so by rewarding and punishing 'groups' within society based on their voting habits. Its shocking record of conflict with minorities and 'people of difference' on all levels, wrongly attributed to some sort of inherent bigotry, was actually politically motivated. For example, if gay people had overwhelmingly voted Conservative then there is no way on earth that Section 28 would have happened.

Everyone was 'one of us' or 'the enemy within' and in that sense Thatcher and her chums were 'Toddler Right' some 35 years before you first heard the term on these pages. In a liberal democracy which respects pluralism, there has to be some attempt made to govern in the interests of those who did not vote for you as well as those who did, whether that means toning down the rhetoric, embracing gradualism and/or making compromises. That the Tories of the 1980s in particular constantly antagonised, picked fights with and sought to punish their 'enemies' through the law and economic policy is the single biggest reason for their 'poison brand' status in much of the Uk.

While her shadow continues to hang over them, the destruction of the Conservative Party might well be Thatcher's ultimate legacy.

However, there is something else worth pondering:- where would we be had we taken the opportunity we had in the 2000s to finish the Tories off for good? This slide towards irrelevance did not occur in the span of fifteen minutes, but probably first became apparent during the dismal Hague/IDS years - in fact the only thing keeping them alive during that period was the distant prospect of returning to office, which they eventually did in 2010. Another couple of heavy election defeats and that would have been the end of their activists and significant donors. Replacing them with something fit for purpose and non-toxic would have been worth enduring 10-15 years of 'the other lot', surely?

My concern is that their inevitable death (a question of when and not if, seeing as its membership is literally dying) will see them replaced not with a broad church of small-state paleos and classical liberals, but a truly ghastly 'blood and soil' Toddler Right outfit. Think UKIP circa the 2015 election, but then given a two week course of steroids, a 'charismatic' new leader who makes Farage look like the Easter Bunny and the status of 'default right' party with all of the automatic media coverage this would entitle them to. Britain needs intelligent, imaginative and yet sensible conservatives to stop this very real prospect from happening in 10-15 years. The question is...where are they?

This is worth repeating over and over until it finally 'clicks' with enough of our readers - the madness of 'the other side' is not your issue as there was never any activism, money or votes for you to withdraw from that madness in the first place. In the two-horse race that invariably develops under a first past the post electoral system and adversarial parliament, the key question is whether the side you deem 'least worst' is fit for purpose (or close enough) and actually worth voting for. In the case of the Tories the answer has to be no, and the constant threat of 'the other lot getting in' simply serves as an ad infinitum roadblock to the sort of renewal that we all know is necessary.

We just have to be mindful that the possibility of them being replaced with something far worse also exists. 'Change for the sake of change' is an unnecessary throw of the dice.

Anyway, I might be back later today (or tomorrow) with a quick piece about the suffragettes. Short and sweet but pertinent given the media coverage of the last week or so.

Anyway, I'll leave you somewhat amusingly with the Riot Squad - catch you next time.

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