Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Tory Party Identity Crisis

Lately there have been a whole raft of articles on the parlous state of the Tory Party, some of them unintentionally hilarious. For example, in a recent post on his blog Dan Hannan stated - apparently seriously - that "Conservatives go into politics to do things". Several more right-wingers have written similar tripe in the same vein, so much so that you can hardly open a newspaper or blog without hearing how the party has ' abandoned its values'.

And precisely what values are those, then?

It's amazing how little Tory politicians understand their own party or it's history - or more importantly, perhaps, do not want to,

Throughout most of it's history the Tory party travelled light ideologically. It's only one guiding principle was to protect the right to rule of an elite in a cynical conspiracy to power.  Canny enough not to tempt revolution by being too stubborn in holding onto all privilege, it saw its role as giving ground gracefully and pragmatically to it's opponents so that at least some or most of the established order was preserved.

In the earlier stages of it's history this utterly cynical outlook to governing - what Disraeli famously described as 'Tory men and Whig measures' - wasn't all bad in its outcomes: serious reform was often enacted pragmatically and with sensitivity to existing institutions, without the year-zero mentality that radicals are prone to.

However, the major weakness of the Tory approach was that the Tory party in government is very largely defined by the ideas of others. In the 19th Century when the ideas of the Whigs were largely benign, that may have been acceptable, but after the Second World War especially the ideas on the so-called 'progressive' wing of politics - economic and cultural marxism, supranationalism in the form of the EU - have largely proved both wrong, often deeply destructive and sometimes downright malevolent.

In this context the Tory tradition of pragmatic surrender has proved largely a disaster for Britain. Only the Thatcher government  (partially) reversed the otherwise malign trend over the past 60 years or so. But very significantly, Thatcher was often accused by her foes - not least on the 'Wet' wing of the Tory party - as being not a Tory but a "19th Century Liberal".

And it is the radicalism of the Thatcher years that many of today's right-wing Tories - entirely mistakenly - confuse with true Tory principles. In fact, these were largely inherited from factions of within the original Liberal party who split and joined the Tories, not least the Liberal Unionists who joined the tories to form the 'Conservative and Unionist' party during the  Irish home crisis in the early part of the 20th Century.

In the face of an increasingly restive electorate thoroughly fed up with the direction of travel being taken by Britain's elites, the  current schizophrenia within the Tory Party, between a 'Wet', pseudo-aristocratic Tory leadership  which is content to pander to anti-Liberal (in the true meaning of the word) ideas and it's radical Liberal wing is no longer sustainable. Hence the plummeting Tory membership, steady rise of UKIP, and the snowballing defections of senior Tories to UKIP's ranks.

In fact, viewed in a historical context, the rise of UKIP, a broadly speaking Libertarian Party, may herald a full-scale  de-merging of the Liberal tradition from the Tory one and reemergence of a strong Libertarian tradition in British politics.

Let us hope and pray for such an outcome.