If politics is driven by our impulses for change, and to resist it, conservative and liberal parties calibrate the seesaw of collective action. According to Michael Oakeshott, the role of conservatism is “to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation.” Practically though, it offers stability, fiscal responsibility, and cultural preservation. The Conservative Party gave that to the electorate. But now, if you look closely, you glimpse a Jacobite fervour in their eyes.
The narrative has always prevailed that vis-a-vis the heavy-hammered left, Tories can be trusted to guard British institutions. Benjamin Disraeli would be flabbergasted if he could see them now. The BBC is frequently attacked by MPs and weakened by budget cuts. A complicated institution, it has long promoted British values and foreign policy to televisions worldwide. The proponents of ‘Global Britain’ missed an opportunity to help it compete with foreign institutions in an increasingly English-speaking world. Furthermore, by calling the Civil Service the ‘blob,’ Tories have sacrificed the jewel of the British democracy, to PR-manage their policies. There may be cultural biases in these institutions but rather than proposing reform, they practice McCarthyism. The recent pillar under attack has been the National Trust, a vanguard of British cultural history. Instead, Kier Starmer, leader of the ‘party of protest,’ has defended ‘the very civic institutions they once regarded with respect.’ In the flames, lie the ashes of Thomas Cromwell’s England.
Since its inception, Britain’s place in the European Union was awkward and this laid the ground for its exit. Regardless, Leaving was a revolutionary act, one they did not expect to win. ‘Brexitism’, then became an ideological commitment, one with few limits. Like Marxists of old, dissent is betrayal. Staying in the Single Market was appeasement, so it went. Potential leaders are measured by their fealty, and it continues when they lead. The Prime Minister’s indecision in re-joining the Horizon programme was revealing. Since Brexit was also a mutiny against ‘experts’, Mr Sunak was stuck, was he Mr Technocrat or Mr Brexiteer? Eurosceptics demand allegiance. Even so, the Windsor Framework was a successful pushback, one Sunak will be remembered for. The question remains though, can the public trust them to put the country first?
One feels pity for the moderates, who look befuddled most of the time. Well, they can look aghast at right-wing zeal, but Austerity was as ideological and deadly as the mini-budget. The draining of the state had led to roofs crumbling in schools. There is now a dramatic difference in life expectancy across the country. Morality aside, is such inequality economically beneficial? Many economists would disagree. Most of all, individualistic free markets erodes the cultural bonds they value. Rather than writing books post-resignation, One Nation Tories should look at their record to understand the anger of the electorate.
Since Brexit was against the advice of the ‘establishment’, any institutional checks are now considered adversarial. The attempted economic revolution by Libertarian Liz is projected to have cost the economy £30 billion. Her policy may have worked, but the manner, without the scrutiny of the OBR, was catastrophic. I suspect that no matter what Mr Hunt does, he is subject to the memories of the Mini Budget. Another causality is commitments to law and order, instead, the Supreme Court is presented as an obstacle to the ‘will of the people’. They refer often to that phrase, is this a tea reading only Tory divination can read? The Rwanda policy has cost in total of £290 million, yet they are still not trusted to deliver. The party of law and order is disintegrating day by day. For example, some wish to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, a supposedly lefty foreign check on national sovereignty. What lies unmentioned is that British lawyers were central in drafting it and that Winston Churchill was an early advocate. Tories are not satisfied with eroding national myths of pragmatism; must they also take away our pride in British values?
The party is terrified by its declining popularity, so it stifles the energy it needs. In the absence of fresh ideas, they revert to tactics of old. David Cameron returns as Foreign Secretary. Attack lines around Labour’s ‘tax and spend’ continue but fail to resonate. In PMQs, they pivot to culture wars to avoid questions about their party revolts, and PR crises such as the Prime Minister laughing at a displeased citizen about the NHS. As the election looms, their performative rage will increase. Their arguments might resonate with some, but most do not want elected commentators. Until they deliver on their promises, their popularity will remain where it is.
The paranoia will not abate due to the betrayal of the ‘Tory Media’. Last week, Andrew Marr wrote about how diminished party loyalties at the Telegraph, led to a front-page poll that predicted a Tory wipe-out, depicted with a stressed-looking image of Sunak. Tories fret as Reform UK has risen in the polls, believing it presents a threat. However, the past few years have proven that every concession to the right leaves them unsatisfied and moderates less accessible. If Sunak loses, some will claim he was not right-wing enough. Sadly, the truth is quite different, he appeased them to his peril.
What is the next revolution? Post-liberal and National Conservatives seem to believe that there is a hidden nationalist desire in the electorate. The public supposedly yearns for social conservatism. If the Tories lose, this faction will bray louder. The political philosopher, John Gray, has argued that they misjudge the public. Immigration control is certainly important, but he claims reactions to progressivism are not nostalgia for a ‘common way of life’ or ethnic-cultural tightness but demand for the return of a liberal one. I guess we shall see.
In the end, the Tories have forfeited conservatism in their uprising. Labour has picked it back up. Now, Starmer talks of service with the Union Jack behind him. The demand for Blue Labour is driven largely by their loss. Even so, the Left should not rejoice. Our democracy requires two intellectually serious parties for the marketplace of ideas to flourish. When their revolt against reality ends, welcome the victors back.