Theresa May stood up and made a speech last week:
‘I now commit my party to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.’
Of course, she didn’t actually say that, though she might as well have: the commitment to huge increases in NHS spending via taxation, with no recognition of the system’s deficiencies or a plan of how to reform it for the digital age is pure socialism. In fact, the direction of Tory policy has clearly been moving away from personal freedom and free markets for some time, with its modern obsessions with identity politics, energy price caps and the like.
Allister Heath despaired in the Telegraph, calling it a ‘pseudo-Tory’ administration that has badly lost its way, claiming, quite correctly, that for Brexit to succeed it needs a bold, reforming, tax-cutting administration to turn the UK into an offshore economic powerhouse.
No, Allister, one despairs that otherwise incisive and original columnists such as yourself are so blind to the reality of Toryism. The party does not care about Brexit or the country, it simply cares about its own survival in office, as it always has and, until the great and longed-for day of its extinction, always will.
In a sense it is all the fault of Margaret Thatcher and Robert Peel. Thatcher’s figure looms so large in modern British and Tory party history that she convinced a whole generation that the Tories were far more generally capable of principle and courage than they really are. As for Peel, he renamed the party the ‘Conservatives’ in a piece of political spin that New Labour would envy.
Just try this thought experiment: think of ‘conservative’ and you naturally think of something concerned with conservation and protection. Yes, you may well wonder what the so-called Conservative Party has actually conserved in the past thirty years, but it is highly tempting to think that one day, the party will rediscover its true purpose.
Now think of ‘Tory’ – a word that appropriately enough means ‘outlaw’ but to most people has no meaning at all. Again, how appropriate, because in reality that is precisely what the party believes in: nothing at all. During the past 50 years the party has championed prices and incomes policies, privatisation, free markets, the heterosexual family, clause 28, gay marriage, feminism, diversity, energy price caps, flag-waving patriotism, ‘Europe’, Brexit means Brexit (stop laughing at the back!) tax cuts, and now tax rises. It’s all aboard the Tory fairground carousel – pick any policy horse as long as it’s a winner.
Now the party is changing again. Having increasingly lost the wealthy ‘Remainer’ urban middle classes to Labour, its demographic base is becoming an amalgam of the shires and the white working classes. As such, it is cynically aligning its policy portfolio with their priorities. Always following, never leading.
And herein lies a word of warning to hitherto disillusioned conservatives: in the process the party will, perhaps, start to re-adopt the more socially conservative leanings of those demographics and jettison some of the wilder ideas of political correctness.
There is, admittedly, precious little sign of that yet, but if it does, then please, please, please do not be taken in: the party has not ‘rediscovered its soul’ – it never had one. It remains the revolting, cynical parasite on our society it always has been, and actively destructive to the cause of conservatism in general, channelling as it does the energies and time of committed conservatives into Tory activism where their views and aspirations will, at the end of the day, be ignored and betrayed as soon as it is expedient to do so. The ever-turning Tory party policy carousel will one day rotate away once more.
We can but hope that this time around people will not be so easily fooled, and the party will continue to wither and die, to be replaced in time by the new, dynamic, exciting conservative politics of the YouTube generation and the digital age.