Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Can you be an honest Conservative?

It is, isn't it? Despite not dying on a trolley in an underfunded or privatised hospital, Thatcher's death at least happened. I was beginning to think she was immortal. But no, it's just like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: with the death of the evil queen, the snow melts away and the downtrodden populace cautiously emerges blinking into the political and literal sunlight.

Of course the analogy breaks down somewhat: Thatcher's evil progeny are in charge and going full steam ahead in their drive to make this country poorer, meaner and more divided than ever before. But I'm hoping that the liberation of knowing Maggie's gone will embolden the resistance.

I was wondering last night why I'm feeling so relieved that she's gone. After all, she was in the end a powerless, confused old lady, and the evils she did now have lives of their own, independent of her corporeal existence. I decided that it's symbolic. We lost, over and over again. We didn't even overthrow her: the Conservative Party ruthlessly defenestrated her without a moment's gratitude or sentiment (remember that when you see them on TV weeping crocodile tears). Her death was out of our control too, so we can't claim any kind of victory, but there's a satisfaction in knowing that it comes to the evil as much as too the good.

Why am I using the evocative word 'evil', with all its Manichean overtones? It's like this. Think of all the other Tory/Conservative Prime Ministers before Thatcher. John Stuart. Lord North. Pitt the Younger. Addington. Spencer Perceval (the only one to be assassinated). The Earl of Liverpool. Canning, Goderich and Wellington. Peel, Derby, Disraeli, Salisbury. Balfour, Bonar Law, Baldwin, Chamberlain, Churchill. Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Hume and Heath. Some of them were bad. Some were sad. Some were even mad. But most of them thought that they knew what was best for the country. All of it. They were (in my view) almost always wrong, but they largely took the attitude that they had a responsibility towards friends and foes alike: political opponents and those from other walks of life.

For me, Thatcher was the first Conservative who abandoned this patrician attitude. She famously would ask whether her party members and people from other spheres were 'one of us', by which she meant fellow free-market Tories. If not, they were dead to her. Rather than applying Conservative policies for the good of the country, she and her supporters applied Conservative polices to the country for the good of her business friends, her political allies and her overseas backers: the Murdochs, the Pinochets, the House of Saud, ATOS, Capita, the weapons dealers, fossil-fuel burners, speculators and wide boys of the City.

It's a fundamental breach, encapsulated by the Kenyan politician who on election announced 'Now it is our turn to eat'. Under Thatcherism, success is due only to those who grab what they can: government should get out of the way, shouldn't referee competing interests or take long-term decisions. Pre-Thatcher, Conservatives could be wrong and principled. Since Thatcher, I have come to believe that they (and the higher echelons of the Labour Party under Blair and Brown) have abandoned the notion of the 'public good' entirely. Government becomes the vehicle of vested interests who occasionally tussle for control, but it's no longer seen as the expression of the public desire for a shared and equitable destiny.

Thatcher did this. Monetarism and raw capitalism requires a majority of losers to generate an elite of winners. Since then, government is little more than a fat cash cow ripe for exploitation by tax-evaders intent on asset-stripping the MoD, the Department for Education, the NHS and all the rest. The difference is that – as we've seen with Murdoch, Jeremy Hunt, Gove and many more – the Vandals are in office rather than battering down the door.

So in answer to my question: yes, it's easy to be an honest Conservative. It's just unfashionable, and increasingly rare.


Historian on the Edge said...

Great post, as ever. What we have now is an unholy fusion of pre- and post-Thatcher Toryism: patricians who 'know' they know what's best for the country doing things to the country for their rich friends.
Leave off the Vandals, though, eh?

Adam said...

I don't think the Tory party is inherently evil. This is a problem all political parties have, and will continue to have, while they remain the servants of corporations, rather than the people. It's why nothing really changes, even while there's a succession of red, blue and yellow governments.

I don't see a connection between policy and party either. Not when people pick a political party the same way they pick a football team. One example: at university, the Labour Students all opposed John Major's policy of tuition fees. They went on protests and got very angry about it indeed. Then Blair became leader of the opposition and decreed tuition fees a good thing. Quite right, the Labour Students said, and quietly burned their placards.

The Plashing Vole said...

Hi Adam. I think the Tories are evil precisely because they're the willing servants of corporate power, rather than of the country's citizens.

I agree with the rest of what you say, though it's a little sweeping: the Labour Party as a body suppressed all opposition but lots of people did carry on opposing fees. But yes, Labour Students (NOLS) behaved shamefully.

The Plashing Vole said...

Historian: fair point - poor Vandals, besmirched by modern usage!