THOUGH more of a libertarian than a conservative, in recent years the Telegraph’s Allister Heath has often proved a bellwether for the development of conservative thought and mood. His latest columns are no exception, as he grows ever more pessimistic for the outlook of Britain and his disgust for the Johnson administration increases.
There is certainly much to be disgusted about: the continued march of Wokery, such as the newly announced racist and sexist diversity quotas for listed company boards; the endless migration scandal (legal and illegal); the partition of our country as Ulster is cast adrift; the high tax, high spend agenda; Covid passports; the insanity of Net Zero. The list is endless.
All this once again raises the question, why do we keep giving Toryism last chances? Why do so many refuse to this day to see the party for what it is rather than what we want it to be? The same dreary cycle keeps repeating itself – false hope followed by profound disappointment – and I personally plead guilty here that I once suggested in these very pages that Boris Johnson, for all his faults, might have the right stuff.
Even those pundits who are the most cynical about the Tories tend to misunderstand the party, claiming that it is motivated purely by a lust for power. Wrong. Those motivated by a lust for power generally wish to exercise it in some way, and very dangerous throughout history they have proved to be. The Tory party is motivated by something quite different: the social status that positions of power afford. This crucial distinction was understood by the more intelligent sections of the middle-class Left decades ago: because when in government the Tories are largely unfussy about the political agenda they implement, one didn’t have to be in office in order to be in power, as long as the intellectual narrative and Overton Window was within your control.
Brexit was supposed to rewrite all these rules, because the Tories now rely on working-class supporters who have no time for the ideas or obsessions of the Metropolitan Left. However, in our two-party system all that is generally required is for the party to retain office is to appear less extreme and hopeless than the Labour Party, something which has rarely proved difficult and is particularly true at the present time. There is also the party’s concern over the liberal advance in its South Eastern heartlands, as younger, affluent liberal voters migrate out of London, a trend that Covid and ‘Work From Home’ may well have greatly accelerated.
Futhermore, many Tories of the liberal persuasion such as Boris Johnson have always craved the approval of the metropolitan elite that is their natural milieu. Following the Brixton riots in 1981, the Right-wing Tory diarist Alan Clark wrote of his more liberal colleague and then Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw: ‘I have really come to the conclusion that Willie is the most subversive member of the Cabinet and practically the worst Home Secretary we have had this century with the possible exception of Roy Jenkins. He is an arch appeaser and lives only for the crumbs of praise swept ftom the table of the National Council for Civil Liberties.’
Plus ça change. Especially given his marriage, Johnson is only too aware of his need to placate such people who will, after all, form both his family and social circle now and for the foreseeable future. Once again, the quest for social status, not power, trumps all.
However, there is some small cause for hope: the comments sections of Right-leaning newspapers, or for that matter those under blogs such as TCW, may be very far from an accurate reflection of public opinion generally, but they do, perhaps, more closely reflect the views of conservatively minded political activists. If that is true, then there is a much greater understanding of the fundamentally parasitic nature of Toryism than there used to be. This must be having some effect: although the Tories boasted of a surge in membership to more than 200,000 once Johnson took over, it is surely now headed very sharply south again. More generally, goodwill for Johnson and his administration has almost entirely run out. As Heath himself notes, the Tories are leaving the field wide open for a new Right-wing party to repeat the trick that UKIP and then the Brexit Party achieved. If ReformUK or Reclaim start to rise in the polls, then watch the wretched Tories react like scalded cats – they always do. It is not only the Left who have learnt the lesson that one does not need to be in office in order to be in power.