Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
Conservatism Isn’t Working
Beneath the bluster and big promises, Conservative rule has become no more than shifting the blame for Britain’s problems. Even in the Conservative party, there is growing doubt about the British free-market economy it largely created.
Remember, ‘the good old days’?
History tells us that, over-proud, old countries that used to have significant empires – France is another – can suffer periods of decline and self-doubt, just a phase, nothing to panic about, normal service will be resumed. The reality is that for many middleclass British, of a certain age (so far), the UK has remained a good place to live . If you have achieved a level of income/savings, if you have done the right things, been sensible, made the right choices, followed Maggie’s Master Plan to the minutia, then up until, right now, you were probably alright (Jack).
Suddenly, seemingly, without that much of a push, things have changed dramatically? The severity of the change is stark and unforgiving, even to those who have largely been untouched previously. In recent weeks plenty of Britons have been muttering to themselves about the country going to the dogs, while (complacently)? continuing to enjoy everyday comforts their ancestors could only have dreamed of.
During the recent Rail & Tube strikes, the stifling hot streets of London were still crawling with air-conditioned SUVs. In previous times there were plenty enough, ‘Alright Jack types’ to ensure the election of another Tory government. Would this still be the case now? If we were to hold a general election tomorrow would the ‘Jacks’ perform to form?
The UK is in crisis.
So say the opposition parties, but now they are joined by most of the media and, increasingly, the evidence of our own eyes. Imminent environmental catastrophe, transport chaos, seemingly out-of-control inflation, impossible to imagine fuel costs, food banks now the norm not the exception, food and energy poverty for working families, now the norm, constant political scandals, a sinking currency, stagnation of the economy, a fragmenting United Kingdom, worsening public finances, struggling public services, NHS implosion, record breaking share-holders profits, inequality never so obvious, lawlessness and with a wave of strikes still to come in the coming months, this country is no longer the ‘strong & stable’, successful state it pretends to be.
The current crisis does feel significant.
More significant than any in my living memory (63 years). Not just for its effect on people’s lives, but for the way it seems to be discrediting, bit by bit, a way of running the country that has held sway for 30 of the last 43 years. To adapt the famous slogan that helped Margaret Thatcher get elected in 1979, ‘Conservatism isn’t working’.
Even within the right-wing press, which has played such a huge part in sustaining Tory ascendancy, there is a growing sense that the country is on the wrong track. “Why is nothing working in broken Britain?” asks Josh Glancy in the Sunday Times. In the Telegraph, Sherelle Jacobs despairs that, “Mediocre Britain has resigned itself to a heart-breaking cycle of decline.” The Economist calls Britain a “stagnation nation”, “stuck in a 15-year rut”. Four-fifths of that “rut” has been dug by successive Tory governments.
And it is getting worse, and is going to get even more so?
Fourth September 2022 – Liz Truss, ‘it is fair to prioritise tax cuts that benefit the highest earners 250 times more than the poorest’, she would not be deflected from her prioritisation of tax cuts, and her efforts to cut regulation, (to enable increased profits with the least of resistance) saying ‘it was more important to grow the economy than to try to reduce economic inequalities’.
On the eve of her election, now Prime Minister, Truss was shown calculations setting out that her planned reversal of a recent rise in national insurance would benefit top earners by around £1,800 a year, and the lowest earner by about £7, and asked if this was fair, Truss said:
“Yes, it is fair.”
‘The people at the top of the income distribution pay more tax, so inevitably when you cut taxes, you tend to benefit people who are more likely to pay tax’.
Sound familiar? Britain has been here before.
1979 … Margaret Thatcher lamented Great Britain’s‘ declining economic standing [by saying], ‘Travel abroad, and see how much better our neighbours are doing.’ Have you been abroad recently? I have, the differences are stark, frightening in fact. The UK is travelling backwards whilst many, so called third world economies, are rushing forwards. Look at the state of our roads, ‘shithole‘ UK has never been more obvious.
Such comparisons between the current crisis and Britain’s crisis in the 1970s have become automatic within the right-wing press. The UK media fixation with Thatcher has never been stronger, ruefully apparent and for many Jacks and right-wing politicians of a certain age, hugely influential, so much so that the lead contender for the recent ‘top-dog’ position, dared to impersonate her, in an attempt to improve her, inept, political credibility.
However, one obvious question has been ignored?
If Britain’s problems have barely changed since the ’70s, then what problems have ALL Tory governments since then actually solved?
The last time a Tory administration was in terminal trouble, in the mid-1990s, Conservatives consoled themselves that at least they had won the big battles during their time in office, decisively weakening the trade unions and creating a then thriving, dynamic free-market economy.
That sense of achievement grew even stronger with New Labour, Thatcher’s ‘greatest achievement’ she, once famously, quoted. Labour won. However, did they? They reversed few, if any of Thatcher’s labour (trade Unions) and welfare reforms.
During the 1990s, the 2000s and for much of the 2010s, there was a British convention that to be a grownup politician of any party, or just a grownup participant in any political discussion, was to accept, if necessary, that there was much the Thatcher government and its Tory successors had “got right”.
How outdated that view seems now.
As the British economy, Thatcher (supposedly) revived for the good continues to lag behind its competitors, and the supposedly emasculated unions are still able to mount costly, embarrassing (for the government), national disruptive, industrial action, Thatcher’s victories feel increasingly partial and distant.
In the Conservative party, there is growing doubt about the credibility of the British free-market economy Thatcher, largely created, concerns expressed through panicky plans to rescue struggling regions (levelling up) and capitalism’s other victims with expensive state subsidies and handouts.
Last month, the London financial newspaper City AM, an increasingly lonely capitalist, champion of deregulation, asked with bleak sarcasm on its front page: “Would the last free marketeer to leave the Tory party please turn out the lights.”
A similar gloominess and frustration pervades many readers’ posts on the popular Tory website – ConservativeHome. Understandably, Tory MPs are more reluctant to put their disappointment with their party’s diminishing ability to govern on the record. But attacks on The Tory Party by the highly influential Hereford MP, Jesse Norman, one of the party’s more thoughtful figures, reads like a critique of modern Conservative rule. The government “seems to lack a sense of mission”, wrote Norman, a minister from 2016 to 2021. “It has … no long-term plan.”
Many commentators fear the Tories think they do have a plan: to stay in office as long as possible, by any means possible, and obtain as much power as they can, ‘Scorched Earth – leave no trace.
This strategy ought to be alarming for anyone who believes in democracy, feathering their own nests rather than trying to change the country, or even just administer it competently. And when Johnson’s government did produce policies designed to alter society, they often inadvertently highlight how, despite being in office since 2010, the Tories have failed to stop many social trends they claim, ideologically, to dislike, such as the spread of woke values and asylum seekers crossing the Channel which has become an even greater problem since BREXIT, the political solution, Tory’s claimed, would solve it.
British politics has felt Tory-dominated for years. British life, not so much until now.
It’s possible that replacing Johnson with a better administrator, or adopting ever more, free-market policies, will turn the Conservatives into a much more effective government? That outcome doesn’t feel very likely with the most likely, Johnson successor, Truss? If that is the best alternative we can hope for, it is clear that too long in office, the Tory party, has little fresh, capable talent?
The reality is that the credibility of free-market reforms (post 2008) has not recovered since deregulated banking wrecked the economy in the financial crisis.
The Tories will continue to use scapegoats to explain their lack of progress in government: the EU, the liberal elite, uncooperative trade unionists, even the whole British workforce – “among the worst idlers in the world”, according to Britannia Unchained, a 2012 book about returning to “growth and prosperity” co-written by four of the current cabinet.
Beneath the bluster and big promises, Conservative rule is often just about shifting the blame for Britain’s failures: away from the party and the interests it represents, and on to everyone else (Jeremy Corbyn)?
However, things have got to the point that such media backed political footwork is now struggling to obscure an emerging truth. The great Conservative experiment since 1979 has failed.
If Labour is ever to be in office as often as the Tories, it needs to seize this chance.
If only we actually still had a credible, representative Labour Party? Sadly we have a watered-down right-wing pastel coloured version of a Tory Party, a ‘pink’ wishy-washy party led by an empty suit.
Thanks for Reading