Monday, 3 October 2022

Reinventing Toryism

Conservative conference sets the scene for stupidity. The BP-sponsored wine flows freely, everyone gets a bit carried away, and the more "eccentric" backbenchers shout their mouths off. Except in our post-Boris Johnson age, the freak shows that populated the haha columns of the parliamentary sketch writers have been handed ministerial responsibility and, in any other country, what would be regarded as strategically vital departments. Consider Andrea Jenkyns, the woman who has a Daily Mail editorial instead of a brain. The effective boss of UK higher education, according to her conference fringe speech she believes "The current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies, than in construction." Hilarious banter, when almost 250,000 students are studying construction, engineering and allied disciplines and it's doubtful the collected works of JK Rowling have troubled an English literature department once.

Likewise, Tory conference can offer glimpses of what might be. As the congenitally limited enjoy a couple of years in the spotlight before the curtain falls there have been signs that some Tories are coming to a realisation about their predicament. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng did their 180 on the top rate of tax because they were spooked by the vocal rebellion of the recently defenestrated big beasts and attacks on them by the Tory press. The Times, for instance, led the charge against their ruinous programme, and it was Murdoch lackey/agent Michael Gove who rubbished the Prime Minister's strategy moments after Truss finished her Sunday interview with Laura Kuenssberg. It was "unconservative" and demonstrated "the wrong values". Later on at a Tory fringe meeting he indicated he might have voted against the plans when they came before the Commons, an eventuality Truss headed off by pulling the cut. And then, weirdly, today - and totally unprompted - he came out against selection and grammar schools.

Esther McVey was also at it. The 45p rate has been kicked into the long grass, but the corporation tax freeze stays. Truss's plans for zero tax (and zero rights) enterprise zones remain. Redefining small businesses as anything with fewer than 500 employees are go. Bankers can look forward to unlimited bonuses, and cuts to public services and social security are still on the cards. McVey enters the picture as an unlikely champion of the poorest and most vulnerable. Having previously affected her down with the working class creds, the once-chopper of the DWP's budget said people wouldn't be helped back into work by making benefits lower. A thought that never troubled her while overseeing a brutal sanctions regime and real terms erosion in the value of welfare payments year after year.

A genuine change of heart by both? Obviously, there are practicalities to consider. For all the Tories' war on woke rubbish, Theresa May and Johnson did dial down the rhetoric on the kinds of benefit bashing that was de rigueur during the Coalition government. Johnson's promise to "level up" was a signature tune, even if it was composed of bum notes. And as part of the initial package of measures to blunt the consequences of the energy price rise, substantially increasing benefits along with pensions was promised. With Truss and Kwarteng hinting they will now limit increases in line with earnings (i.e. a real terms cut coming in under the rate of inflation - while the state pension is protected by the triple lock), McVey is not the only Tory to espy the electoral pain to come. Regardless of how well it plays with the Tory traditionalists. Therefore making a play defending the poor and vulnerable has more than a soup├žon of self-interest involved. Unfortunately for them, as Labour MPs who broadcast their Brexit supporting credentials in 2019 found, the electorate seldom discriminates between party representatives.

But this does point to something. It's long been the argument around these parts that reversing the Tories' long-term decline and setting the foundation for a new cycle of support lies in a definite move to the centre, and junking the hard right and the far right of their party. The massive swing against the Tories wasn't because of "poor communication" as Truss supposes, but because her programme is fundamentally at odds with public attitudes and, most importantly, the fact she's imperilling living standard, jobs, and people's homes. It shouldn't take a genius among the Tories to realise there is a potential mass base for a proper one-nation conservatism that actually lives up to its promise, one that doesn't push culture war junk nor promotes utter morons like Jenkyns and demented class warriors like Jacob Rees-Mogg, and not only affects to but delivers a "kinder", more rounded and balanced British capitalism. Someone understands this desire very well. The problem the Tories have is Keir Starmer is leading the Labour Party.

The interventions of Gove and McVey suggests that a current in the party is picking up some elements of one nationism. The precipitating factor is having to attend to the problems of popular consent after Truss decided it wasn't worth bothering with. But given how compromised these characters are, they can at best only be harbingers of a repositioning to come, a re-engineering of their party that could taken even longer than the previous (and superficial) "liberal Tory" reinvention.

Image Credit

1 comment:

Blissex said...

«a current in the party is picking up some elements of one nationism. [...] could taken even longer»

There are very modest signs of that: in the past leadership election it was mostly globalist neoliberal thatcherite Sunak who pretended to offer some elements of one-nationism, but there are is no significant lobby best served by non-thatcherite one-nationism among MPs and association members, or among "sponsors".

Most of the few remaining one-nationists (and "Remainers") were liquidated by Johnson, without any significant complaints. There is still a small group of MPs (less than 10% IIRC) who call themselves one-nationists, but they are really less extreme thatcherites. One-nationism (one side of "butskellism") was "sponsored" by two powerful lobbies:

* Business rentiers, as a relative industrial peace was good for production and mass consumer prosperity was good for sales.

* The military-security establishment, for which "home front morale" was important in the fight against socialism/communism.

But industrial peace no longer need to be purchased with good wages and pensions and social services, it is sufficient to purchase the would-be leaders of the lower classes with large property gains (at the expense of the lower classes), and socialism communism have been so-far defeated.

The current war aimed at Russia (and China does require some attention to "home front morale", but since it is not also a war against socialism/communism this is a lot less of an issue.

«than the previous (and superficial) "liberal Tory" reinvention»

Liberal conservativism instead is far more popular among MPs and members, and especially among "sponsors", as globalist neoliberal thatcherism is good for a large lobby of finance and property interests, a much more powerful lobby than that backing one-nationism.

The Conservatives most likely will always remain faithful to their only aim, the protection and furthering of the interests of incumbents, but indeed will transform depending on which faction of incumbents is dominant from time to time, and currently that's incumbents with interests best served by nationalist kipper thatcherism, but their only real rivals are the incumbents with interests best served by globalist neoliberal thatcherism, who managed to eliminate Johnson only to have another nationalist kipper thatcherite replace him (and they are working hard to eliminate her too and perhaps throw the election to New, New Labour).

Either faction will occasionally talk the talk to appease some non-incumbents (just as currently globalist neoliberal thatcherites like the New, New Labour leadership talk the talk of kipperism to appease "red wall" incumbents), but I agree with our blogger that there is a small chance that the the incumbent interests with one-nation non-thatcherite attitudes will become the dominant faction anytime soon.