Thursday, 5 July 2012

Should UKIP aim to destroy the Conservative Party?

Previously I have argued that the rise of UKIP represents the long-term de-merging of the classical "19th Century" liberal and conservative strands of thought within the Conservative Party, artificially conflated as they were after Liberal Party splits in the early 20th Century and held together by the threat of Socialism thereafter. There is some evidence for this analysis, most notably the number of libertarians joining Young Independence, who may drag UKIP in a progressively more  Libertarian direction in future. 

Shorn of it's Thatcherite minority, in such a scenario the Conservative Party would return to being properly "conservative", in the sense of defending what Burke called "the organic state" and, in Peelite expression, of using power for 'reforming ills while conserving the good'.

However, this leads to another question. Namely, is the dominant tradition within the Conservative Party today "Tory" rather than "conservative"?  If so, does the Conservative Party really deserve to continue to exist at all, and can it even survive? Should, therefore,  the ultimate aim of UKIP be to destroy and replace the Conservative Party?

To analyse these questions it is necessary to go back  to the formation of the modern Conservative Party. It's antecedent, the original "Tory" Party grew out of the English Civil War. Essentially reactionary, it was made up of people  who wished to preserve the status quo, largely to their own advantage. The more sophisticated - and altogether more noble - "conservative" tradition emerged later between  the end of the 18th and early 19th Centuries.

The major problem for the Conservative Party is, of course, that older and more cynical Tory tradition never really died, and has always remained a powerful force within the party. Unsurprisingly, when 'reforming the ill' clashed with Tory vested interests, as happened most notably under Sir Robert Peel and repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, a major party split ensued. However, for much of the Conservative Party's later history,  it has proved perfectly possible to reconcile the two traditions. Consequently it has proved difficult to know which tradition actually had the upper hand and the true motives - noble or cynical -  behind Conservative Party policies. 

But all that was before the European Union arrived on the scene. The reason that "Europe" is such a toxic issue for the Conservative Party is that not only does it directly pit the Tory lust for power and position against the conservative, Burkean tradition in a way that no other issue can, but it has proved impossible for the party to ignore. 

And, sadly,  Europe has illuminated for us in bright, neon capitals that it is the cynical Tory tradition that is dominant within the Conservative Party.  At every juncture, despite principled objections from true conservatives, the Tory faction has won out, with ever more sovereignty lost and national institutions ever more damaged. The consequences to the Conservative Party itself have proved nothing short of disastrous: over the last 20 years, the increasing revulsion felt by activists with the "Tory" nature of it's leadership has lead to the haemorrhaging of membership and fuelled the rise of UKIP. It can be argued that this process will lead to the Conservative Party entering a death-spiral, as the cynical and unappealing face of an ever more dominant Toryism within the party makes it less and less electable. Arguably these effects are already apparent under the Prime Ministership of the very Tory David Cameron, with his advocacy of coalition government policies such as gay marriage, the replacement of the House of Lords (not 'reform' as is so disingenuously claimed) and destruction of the Armed Forces: all policies which could never remotely be called "conservative" and profoundly alienating to much of the electorate, particularly the Conservative Party core vote.

So where does leave UKIP? If the Conservative Party is weakening and both it's activist and voting base increasingly up for grabs, where should we pitch ourselves in order to achieve our ends? Should we seek to inherit the mantle of the classical liberal right wing, become essentially libertarian in outlook, and leave the mainstream "conservative" tradition struggling within the Tory-controlled Conservative Party? The advantage of this strategy is that UKIP can be philosophically more coherent and a fount of radical new Libertarian ideas, although unlikely ever to wield power except as a minority partner in a coalition. However, by 'pissing in' rather than 'pissing out'  of the Conservative Party tent, we would probably be more effective than the Conservative Party right-wing currently is in promoting Libertarian policies.

Alternatively, should we go the whole hog and seek to acquire both the classical  liberal and conservative strands, destroying and replacing the Conservative Party in the process?  The advantage of this option is that it would hopefully weaken the thoroughly malign Tory tradition of power at any price which has so disfigured our politics, and at the same time keep the Right of British politics united. It isn't outlandish to claim that, following a complete Conservative Party collapse, one day we may even get to form a government ourselves.

What is not in doubt is that huge opportunities are opening up for UKIP that may see us break through as a major political force and our response to them will define the future identity of our party in the decades to come.