You, sir, are no Margaret Thatcher
Tim Montgomerie has finally had enough. He is embarking down the lonely path of exile trodden by many of us who remain deeply proud to call ourselves conservatives (with a small C), but who feel absolutely no connection, affinity or devotion to the ideologically shapeshifting, centrist machine led by David Cameron. And he is resigning his membership of the Conservative Party.
Montie signs off with this warning in the Times:
The PM will no doubt treat with disdain my resignation like the departure of tens of thousands of once-loyal grassroots members who have already walked away. But one day an opposition party will get its act together or a wholly new party will emerge. At that point there’ll be a realisation that the Tories’ 40-odd per cent in current opinion polls was a mile wide but an inch deep; reflecting disappointment at alternatives rather than allegiance.
And at some point Britain will notice that the Conservatives didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining. That we will head into the next economic downturn with the public finances still in precarious shape, with vital airport runways unbuilt and banks too-big-to-fail as big as ever. And if Mr Cameron gets his way we’ll still be powerless to control immigration from an economically turbulent, declining EU, of which we will be an impotent member.
But why desert the Tory party now that they finally hold a majority administration for the first time since 1997?
Tim’s reasons are exactly what you would expect – the abysmally centrist, soul-deadeningly unambitious agenda which has been set by David Cameron and George Osborne since 2010, and which this blog has been constantly condemning since I began writing back in 2012.
The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility, and yet the national debt has nearly doubled under George Osborne’s watch, while he struts and crows about his meagre attempts to reduce the annual budget deficit.
The Conservatives – at their best – lift people up out of disadvantaged circumstances and help them to realise their own innate potential, rather than trapping them in a life sentence of government dependency and subsistence. But David Cameron’s government has been half-hearted on housing, on infrastructure, on welfare – kicking the can down the road, and pandering to their wealthy, older, property-owning base at every turn.
The Conservatives are meant to be the party of a strong national defence, but under David Cameron the military has been pared back to the bone, with many essential capabilities (like maritime patrol aircraft) eliminated entirely just when they are needed most, and our aircraft carriers – crucial to maintaining Britain’s status as a world power with expeditionary military capabilities – decommissioned, with their replacement not due to come online until 2018.
The Conservatives are meant to be the party of national sovereignty and of patriotism, and yet in David Cameron we have a prime minister who only glibly and unconvincingly talked the eurosceptic talk, and who is currently perpetrating a fraud on the British people with his cosmetic and entirely irrelevant “renegotiation”.
And one might add (though Tim Montgomerie did not mention this in his resignation letter) that the Conservatives traditionally stood for individual liberty, and the right of the people to go about their lives unmolested and undisturbed by government. But David Cameron’s government – with its creepy “plan for every stage of your life” – is determined that the state involve itself in as much as possible, and has cynically exploited national security concerns to roll back civil liberties and undermine privacy.
But enough of me – I’ll let Montie speak for himself:
Could David Cameron be much more different [than Thatcher]? He promised to bring down immigration but despite Theresa May’s hollow rhetoric, it’s rising. And that defining mission to eliminate the deficit? The Treasury is still borrowing £75 billion a year — a burden on the next generation that would once have shocked and shamed us, and still should. The national debt is up by more than 50 per cent, but this hasn’t seen our armed forces rebuilt. They’ve been cut to the bone.
What about fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Brussels that the PM pledged, promised and vowed to deliver? The 69 per cent who think he got a bad deal are right. The newspapers that called the deal a “joke”, “conjuring trick” and “delusion” weren’t exaggerating. But it took the Fourth Estate rather than Tory MPs to point out the emperor’s naked state. With a few honourable exceptions Conservative parliamentarians were silent when Mr Cameron, pretending to have changed anything that matters, stood at the same dispatch box at which Mrs Thatcher vowed to fight European integration.
This criticism is spot-on. It has been particularly galling in recent weeks to see just how few current Tory MPs – particularly of the newer intakes – have continued to voice the principled euroscepticism which they were only too happy to display while flaunting their wares to their local constituency party selection committees.
The EU referendum is not just another political issue to be legitimately haggled over by MPs who broadly share the same outlook. This isn’t an arcane policy debate or a minor difference of opinion over fiscal policy – it is absolutely fundamental to how Britain will be governed for the next decades and beyond, and the fact that so many Conservative MPs choose loyalty to their chameleon-in-chief over their constituents and their country is profoundly depressing.
Montie goes on to warn that the Conservative Party will not have the fortune of a weak and divided opposition forever – and that the narrow window for effecting real radical conservative reform is being missed:
For the moment Mr Cameron can get away with all of this. Labour moderates are no nearer getting rid of their extremist leader than when he was elected. It will probably take a generation before northern England and Scotland trust the Lib Dems again. And Ukip, although resilient at double figures in most opinion polls, is too Trump-ian to mount a credible challenge for power.
Faced with a weak, divided opposition in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher moved the country forward. She seized the opportunity to deliver tough reforms that a more effective opposition might have stopped. Today, David Cameron and George Osborne are doing little that Blairites or Cleggites could object to. I recently asked Peter Mandelson what separated his politics from that of Mr Osborne. He joked that the top rate of income tax was too high. At least I think he was joking.
This is also true. And Tim Montgomerie rightly acknowledges that there may well be short-term electoral dividends to be won with a doggedly centrist approach. But only if winning elections is all you care about. If you actually want to do something useful and positive with the power you wield, then the Cameron/Osborne approach is nothing short of a disaster.
As I have written many times before on this blog, the unhinged, virtue-signalling British Left are determined to see the current Conservative government as some kind of ideologically extreme, Thatcher-on-steroids, evil and inhumane government, despite the fact that in reality the government is profoundly centrist. Ed Miliband first started allowing this narrative to take hold as he sought to buy breathing space for his party back in 2010, but six years on and the Labour Party are now in the midst of being devoured by the ‘Tory Scum’-roaring beast that they unleashed.
And since anything that conservatives of any stripe now do will automatically and reflexively be painted by the Left as malevolent and evil, there is absolutely no point in trying to curry favour with the centre-left by copying New Labour policy on taxes, wage controls or anything else. Since the hysterical Nazi comparisons are going to come flying at us come what may, we should at least be using this time of limited and disorganised opposition to boldly enact a radical conservative agenda, much as Thatcher did in the mid 1980s. But this is not happening, and Montie’s resignation suggests that he has given up hope of a change in strategy, even after Cameron goes and is (likely) replaced by Osborne.
And who can blame him? I saw the writing on the wall when I moved back from Chicago in 2011, as it became clear that Cameron’s ideological caution was not a function of being in coalition with the LibDems, but was actually his true, authentic self. And so I never rejoined the Conservative Party back then. But if I had, I too would be cutting up my membership card in solidarity with Montgomerie.
I’m currently reading an excellent book – “Thatcher’s Trial”, by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Conservative MP for Spelthorne. The book focuses on the early days of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, specifically the period from March to September 1981 when she had to negotiate a difficult Budget and ultimately reassert her authority with a bold Cabinet reshuffle.
I’m only half way through Kwarteng’s book, but the portrait he paints is a true profile in courage – somebody with firm and unyielding principles, a strong ideological compass, a righteous hatred for consensus politics and the ability to impose her will on her party and her country. In short, Kwarteng is describing everything that David Cameron, Thatcher’s successor, is not.
Back when Jeremy Corbyn was on the cusp of being elected leader of the Labour Party, this blog asked:
If David Cameron’s Conservative Party was voted out of office today, what will future historians and political commentators say about this government fifty years from now? What will be the Cameron / Osborne legacy? What edifices of stone, statute and policy will remain standing as testament to their time in office? Try to picture it clearly.
Are you happy with what you see?
I genuinely don’t know what legacy David Cameron thinks he is building through the course of his rootless premiership. But it is not a legacy with which I wish to be associated in any way.
It has been lonely these past few years, being a conservative without a party at a time when political opponents assume we must be thrilled with David Cameron’s every slick and insincere pronouncement. But at least we now have Tim Montgomerie to keep us company in our solitude.
Now, the first order of business for the inaugural meeting of Conservatives in Exile: how do we get our party back, and save it (and the country) from Cameronism?
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.