This week, the party conference week, declared Andrew Marr on Monday, is pivotal for conservative thinking. Indeed so. It was a pity Mr Marr then avoided the reason why – namely the hijacking of the Tories’ political agenda by socialism.
Party to this reality gap – and seemingly oblivious to the Corbynite siege of the conference – were Mr Marr’s guests, David Cannadine and Philip Blond. Neither made mention in their purely theoretical debate on conservatism of the very real threat to liberty and freedom of speech posed by Corbyn’s proto-revolutionary hanging mob and taking place outside.
Against this ignored backdrop, ‘Red Tory’ Philip Blond airily opined that ‘the extreme liberal conservatism’ Margaret Thatcher represented had died.
It was that dismissal, as much as the Corbynites’ hate-driven banners, that underlines how urgent is the need to reiterate what Mrs Thatcher represented and the conservative principles that guided her leadership.
For too long Conservatives have allowed themselves to be shamed by these ‘extreme’ characterisations of Thatcherism. For too long Tories have distanced themselves from her and, rather than defending her, stood by as she’s been demonised, as when the BBC played The Witch is Dead after her death so giving way to Leftist bullying.
Now they are paying the price of this weakness. The tens of thousands who descended on Manchester to disrupt the conference will not rest until the Tories are finished.
If ever a British Statue of Liberty was needed, it is now, and in Mrs Thatcher’s name. She must be seen standing proud and defiant in the centre of Parliament Square, handbag in hand, defending freedom. It would be a punch in the face of the iconoclasts, as Jules Gomes has put it. The Left-wing activists who blocked her statue and the craven politicians and civil servants who surrendered to the threat of vandalism must be called out.
On the plinth should be the words ‘Democracy will prevail’ as an eternal reminder of the conservative revolution she brought about against the full force of a Left-wing cultural tide.
It would memorialise the three general elections she won in a row as party leader (she never lost one) by rejecting the politics of consensus; not by adapting Conservative Party ideology to the beliefs and supposed needs of the electorate but by educating both the Conservative Party and the voters in her values.
‘She fought and she won’ could be her motto.
For those not old enough to have witnessed it, her conviction, rooted in the defence of liberty, won her wars as well as elections. When Argentina invaded the British colony of the Falkland Islands in April 1982, she sent a task force of 27,000 across the world with the words: ‘Failure? The possibilities do not exist!’
With Ronald Reagan she brought the Cold War to an end, liberating Eastern Europe from communist tyranny. And after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, it was she who put courage into the heart of President George H W Bush when he was undecided about how best to act.
On the home front she waged another war, against the illiberal and reactionary unions whose political power had strangled enterprise and placed the country at the mercy of unaccountable barons.
Biting a bullet no other politician had dared to, she removed the legal immunities that protected unions from the financial consequences of their actions. She then stood out a year-long strike organised by the hard-Left leadership of the miners’ union – and won ‘the right to go to work of those who have been denied the right to go to vote’.
There was always much to be done.
Taking on socialism at its roots, she ended Labour’s punitive taxes and brought down the top rate from 98 per cent to 40 per cent. She also set about dismantling the state’s inefficient control of British business, leading the world in privatisation by selling off airlines, airports, utilities, and phone and oil companies. For better and for worse, she did it. Where would private enterprise and employment be today had she not?
She won the big economic arguments too. During her premiership, her monetarist policy brought socialist-driven inflation down from a high of 27 per cent in 1975 to 2.5 per cent by 1986.
Underlying all was her principle and conviction. Conservative principle and the knowledge that socialism was wrong: ‘I never had any doubt that socialism was a harmful creed nor that the surest bulwarks against it were individuals prepared to shoulder responsibility, strong families, religious faith and a local community with a deep sense of civic values. This was the background against which I grew up, and my political opinions flowed from it.’
She knew what had to be done. She knew what had to change. ‘But we did not know how long it would take – indeed, we could not know because we were pioneers. No one in a democracy had tried to reverse socialism that had got such a hold on a country as it had done in Britain by the 1970s.’
She explained why the idea that it was the duty of the state to pursue equality was a dangerous error. There was nothing moral about egalitarianism; nothing moral in decreasing liberty. ‘The very pursuit of equality – apart, of course, from equality before the law – necessarily conflicts with the pursuit of freedom. Egalitarian policies prejudge outcomes, which should in fact depend on choice and competition, and therefore require that liberty be over-ridden.’
When things got tough, as they did, she was not one to descend to tears, not even after the bomb intended to kill her at the Brighton party conference left colleagues dead and injured. Just 12 hours later, Mrs Thatcher went ahead with her address, ‘shocked but composed and determined.’ As a testament to her fortitude, as an attack on those who’d destroy democracy, it stands as her greatest speech – and one of the greatest conservative speeches ever.
The differences between conservatism and socialism for Mrs Thatcher were stark, yet they are all too easily forgotten. While Conservatives wish to give power to individuals, the Left wish to give it to the state. While Conservatives value independence and freedoms, socialists seek to impose their plans and projects on the people. And importantly, Conservatives see no conflict between liberty and a belief in identity, tradition and institutions. There isn’t one.
Neither is there anything compassionate about spending someone else’s money or anything hard-hearted about leaving people with control over their own property. ‘Do as you would be done by’ was her favourite axiom. ‘Generosity,’ she said, ‘is an attribute of individuals, not of governments. If Left-wing politicians wish to prove their compassionate credentials, they have only to forfeit their salaries and give their possessions to the poor.’
It’s a pity no Conservative this week thought to put that to the mob that descended on Manchester.
Without these conservative principles, the party that goes in its name will never stand up to Corbynism nor save Britain from a socialist demise. Margaret Thatcher’s statue – even defaced – would stand as a reminder of that.