What self-respecting conservative could now bring themselves to support David Cameron’s triangulating, authoritarian, soul-sappingly unambitious Tory party?
Has the time finally come for small-c conservatives to admit that they have been utterly betrayed by Cameronism, and salvage what dignity we have left by deserting David Cameron’s ideology-free Conservative Party?
Pete North argues the case convincingly in an important blog post deserving of wide coverage, in which he excoriates the modern Tory Party for its rootless, centrist managerialism:
If your values are remotely conservative, look around you. We have not seen a reduction in the size of the state. Sure, the registered number of state employees has gone down but that’s because so many functions have been farmed out instead of closed down or truly privatised. Let me remind you that outsourcing is not privatisation – and given the ineptitude of government procurement it’s not going to save you any money either.
Moreover, the so called party of defence has wasted vast sums of money on big ticket toys, most of which barely work and vastly reduce our capability. This is the party that left us without a maritime patrol aircraft and made a pigs ear of procurement.
We have seen back-tracks on free schools and education reforms, u-turns all over the shop, and whatever you might think of welfare, you don’t have to be a foaming leftist to see that it is failing those most in need. Moreover, what is it in your estimation thinks Britain is showing its mettle going grovelling to 27 other states for permission to make a marginal tweak to welfare and immigration policy?
No, the Conservative party is just a continuation of politics-free managerialism, beset by the usual nannying authoritarianism, big spend, high waste massive government and has baulked at any principled reform in the spirit of Mrs Thatcher. At best we can say that Cameron’s conservatives are marginally less dreadful than Miliband’s Labour party would have been.
I must admit that I find myself coming to the same conclusion – I now look at the party of David Cameron and George Osborne and find it utterly indistinguishable from the party of Tony Blair. Neither believe in truly shrinking the state – in fact, both see electoral advantages in keeping it bloated. Neither believe in empowering the individual over the government. And certainly neither believe in the importance of defending the nation state against antidemocratic supranational entities like the European Union.
I haven’t been a member of the Conservative Party since I left Britain for Chicago back in 2010, but when I came back there was little prospect of me rejoining the party for which I campaigned so enthusiastically that year. At the dog end of Gordon Brown’s reign of terror, a fresh Conservative agenda seemed just what the country needed. But after having somehow failed to win that election outright and entering into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, by 2012 it was very clear that in David Cameron we had found ourselves not a new Margaret Thatcher but rather a reanimated Ted Heath.
Of course, you wouldn’t know it from reading the left-wing press or the Left’s loudest voices on social media, all of whom are convinced that David Cameron’s utterly bland, uninteresting government are on an ideological crusade to drown government in the bathtub, trample human rights and sell off Our Blessed NHS to their corporate crony friends.
This would be the same Evil Tory government which has maintained international development spending at 0.7 per cent of GDP while slashing Defence to the bone, which only half rolled back Gordon Brown’s spiteful and unproductive increase in the top rate of income tax, and which ran for re-election on a manifesto pledging a paternalistic, nanny state “plan for every stage of your life”.
But it is on the question of the European Union and Brexit where the Conservative Party are now betraying their principles and their base most grievously, as Pete North points out:
Put simply, if you want to leave the EU, you have already made up your mind that change has to happen and in this there is no room for sentimentality for the brands that used to represent what we believe. Cameron’s empty shell of a party is in no better shape than Labour and if your loyalty to to a brand matters more then you are part of the problem. And that goes double for Ukippers.
If you are a conservative, Cameron is not on your side. He takes you for stupid with phantom vetoes and bogus reforms. This is a man who is lying to us all and treating us with contempt. In the final analysis it’s up to you to decide what it is you really want. If you do want to leave the EU, don’t come bitching to me for pointing out that the Tory Vote Leave operation is catastrophic. Break ranks and take it up with them.
This is absolutely right. The Tory leadership has been indulged and given the benefit of far too many doubts, and the time has come for small-c conservatives to call the bluff of every single sitting Tory MP who has ever uttered a eurosceptic sentiment – and to rain down shame and unrelenting pressure on those whose commitment was false.
Candidate after Conservative candidate won selection by their local association by prancing around as though they were the World’s Biggest Eurosceptic. But now we know that in too many cases, it was all an act. Handed an unexpected majority, a weak opposition and the lucrative prospect of uninterrupted career advancement, too many of the new generation of Conservative MPs are more interested in securing Tory hegemony in government than actually accomplishing any of the things that one might reasonably expect a conservative legislator to do in office.
Hence the sanctimonious, preachy letter signed by 74 of the new Conservative intake, lecturing their older colleagues on the importance of “party unity” and not doing anything to sow divisions during the referendum campaign. But of course, this advice only applies to eurosceptic MPs – europhiles eager to spout David Cameron’s pro-EU lines are unleashed to say and do as they please in their effort to keep Britain inside the EU. It is only the Brexiteers who are muzzled.
One might ordinarily feel sympathy for these older eurosceptic Conservative MPs, being lectured on the importance of putting the party first and not “banging on about Europe” by the new upstart generation of careerists. But then you look at what veteran eurosceptic Tory MPs are actually saying and doing, and any potential sympathy melts away, to be replaced by sheer incredulity that the people who spent twenty years posing as strong critics of Brussels have apparently given no thought at all to how Britain might best leave the European Union.
This could have been the finest hour of politicians like John Redwood, Michael Gove, Daniel Hannan, David Campbell Bannerman and Mark Pritchard. But instead they have either chosen personal loyalty to David Cameron over trifling questions about British democracy and self-determination by campaigning with the Remain side, or they are firing out contradictory statements and half-baked mechanisms for Brexit which are implausible at best, and outright reckless at worst.
And this failure to live up to their rhetoric is not on some trivial issue or arcane policy area, where political horse-trading is to be expected; it is on the single most defining, central question to face the United Kingdom in a generation. On this acid test of conservative principle, nearly all of the “big beast” eurosceptics within the Conservative Party have been found wanting. As few as five (generally second-tier) Tory ministers could end up campaigning for Brexit.
So what possible reason for the failure of the Conservative Party – given the fact that the long awaited referendum could be very imminent – to express anything other than murmurs of approval for David Cameron’s transparent act of political theatre masquerading as a “renegotiation”?
These are the only plausible motivations which come to mind:
1. Despite what Conservative candidates and MPs said when they sought selection and ran for election, they secretly believe in the EU project and want Britain to remain a part of it
2. They lack faith in Britain’s ability to survive or prosper outside the European Union, and this pessimism overrides whatever euroscepticism they have
3. They simply don’t care one way or another
4. They do want to see Britain leave the EU, but they would much rather see their own careers blossom under David Cameron’s patronage than risk isolation by campaigning against the prime minister
None of these possibilities is appealing. And none makes me eager to sprint to my polling station in 2020 to reward them with five more years.
The Conservative candidate in my own constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn (north west London) was a jabbering fool who thought that the EU was simply magnificent, the bedroom tax was actually a tax, and that Britain should unilaterally disarm and get rid of Trident because the United States would do our dirty work for us should the need ever arise. I didn’t vote for him and he didn’t win, because why would the liberal voters of Hampstead vote for a Tory who walks and talks like a Labour candidate when they could just vote for the real thing instead?
But although this breed of Conservative did not manage to win Hampstead & Kilburn in 2015, it is clear that many others did succeed in forming part of the new intake, while a similar number of longer-serving Tory MPs holding the same wishy-washy views entered the parliamentary party in previous elections.
It may sound harsh, but they are all wasting time – ours and theirs. Now is not a time for vacillating centrists and Red Tory / Blue Labour moderates. Now is not a time for fastidious, parsimonious obsession with our public services to the exclusion of all else, or a prime minister who aspires to be a lowly Comptroller of Public Services rather than a world leader. There are still far too many people trapped in welfare dependency or minimum wage drudgery for us to consider pulling up the drawbridge on radical conservative reform.
Steady-as-she-goes Blairism has now reigned for nineteen years, first under the auspices of New Labour and latterly through the coalition years and on into David Cameron’s majority Coke Zero Conservative government. And it is a dull, authoritarian, uninspiring philosophy for government, worthy of a country which has given up on playing any role in shaping human destiny going forward, preferring to jealously obsess over our public services and what’s in it for me, me, me.
I believe that Britain is better than that, and that we still have much to offer the world – particularly if we can now seize this last, best chance to break free of the European Union and rediscover what it means to be an independent, globally engaged, sovereign country once again.
And if achieving this dream means that David Cameron and the Conservative Party in its current form must be circumvented, undermined, sabotaged, attacked and sent to their Armageddon, then so be it. We will have lost nothing.
I encourage you to read the entirety of Pete’s article, and to follow his blog. The analysis of the coming EU referendum and Brexit process to be found there is far superior to anything you will find in the mainstream media, and if there was any justice Pete would have the kind of platform and following usually only obtained by the C-student nepotism beneficiaries who seem to win many of the coveted gigs writing for prestige publications.
Reading Pete’s blog in particular can be a good reminder of the optimism behind the Brexit movement, and it is essential when we fight this campaign that we do not sound like dreary bores, cranks or obsessives focussing on the negatives of Brussels. For however dreary and stultifying the European Union may be, we are at our best when we present our compelling vision of a modern, forward-looking, globalised Britain which seeks to embrace the world rather than shutting ourselves off in a protectionist, mid-century regional trading bloc.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.