The great moment in modern British politics upon which all else turns was the election in 1979. The decade that followed brought in fundamental change, not because the Conservative Party sought consensus and the centre ground, but rather because it decided to take a different direction. There was disagreement, there was struggle. Sometimes it was even violent. But the results of the decade that followed are still with us.
Britain had been in decline since 1945. Both Conservatives and Labour had come to accept that governments intervened a great deal, that trade unions were powerful and had to be consulted, that nationalised industries would take a great deal of public money and produce little as a result and that the task of each party was simply to manage our decline. If this had continued, we would probably now be a rather second rate economy. The average standard of living for everyone in the UK would today be much lower if a radical Conservative Government had not been elected in 1979.
At one point it looked as if the election of Tony Blair in 1997 was also a turning point. He had embraced social democracy rather than socialism and had fundamentally changed the nature of the Labour Party. Here was the chance for something quite new and for a while it worked. The Labour Party more or less accepted capitalism and hoped to use the profits generated to increase public services and benefit everyone.
Blair’s legacy failed not because social democracy doesn’t work. There are many examples of it working in Europe and elsewhere. It failed because Blair himself became so poisonous that any idea associated with him becomes poisonous too. All of the reforms he made have now been thrown out. Labour didn’t so much go back to how politics was prior to 1979. It went further. Corbyn repudiates everything that was done to reform the UK in the 1980s. He doesn’t hope to reform capitalism, he hopes to overthrow it. He hopes to go back to October 1917.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn would be a radical turning point in British history. Of course such a government would make an almighty mess of the economy. No doubt, after a few years of this the British public would come to its senses and vote Labour out. But would we get the chance? The problem with the Far Left is that they are not really democrats at all. They are revolutionaries. These people don’t always give up power without a struggle. This is why it is so dangerous for moderate Labour people to support Corbyn. Perhaps they think that they could control and moderate him if he was Prime Minister. Perhaps they don’t really care what a Far Left Government would do to Britain just so long as it was a Labour Government. This above all is why voting tribally is so dangerous. Some people hate Tories so much they would prefer communists. But moderates forget what happens to Menshevism and democratic socialism when the Far Left wins. If you are lucky you get to repent for your sin of moderation, if you are unlucky you don’t.
But how should Conservatives respond to this threat? Firstly trust the British people. Labour did well at the last election partly because no-one thought Corbyn could win. This is not going to be the case at the next election. People will take it seriously that Corbyn might become Prime Minister. Secondly we must delay the next election for as long as possible. There are things that need to be done. We need above all to get out of the EU. Who knows what Labour would do with the negotiations, so don’t for goodness sake give them the chance to be involved.
For this reason Theresa May must be allowed to stay as Prime Minister until at least we leave the EU. However much some people dislike her, what matters is not to let Corbyn into power. Would it be possible to have a leadership election without having a new General Election? Would the Government even survive the bickering? This is all completely unnecessary. The task now is to wait.
When considering who should be the next Conservative leader it is crucial to think about ideas rather than people. Few people had heard of Tony Blair much before he was elected leader, the same was the case for David Cameron. What matters is not so much the person as what the person believes.
The major problem that the Conservative Party has faced since the election of David Cameron is that it has not had a leader who really believes in anything. Cameron was concerned mostly in how to get the Conservatives into power. He therefore did all he could to occupy the centre ground. He wanted in essence to become Tony Blair. The difference between these two is essentially trivial. Both are in reality social democrats. They believe in capitalism, but they think that its purpose is essentially to fund state spending. Neither views the goal of government is to become smaller and neither wish to lower the amount that the state spends.
Theresa May takes a similar view. Worse still despite the occasional stern face she completely lacks conviction. She just wants to manage Britain as well as possible while spending as much as possible on nice things. She didn’t even really have an opinion on the EU. She campaigned half-heartedly for Remain and then became a Brexiteer. It is because she doesn’t really believe in Conservatism that she comes up with mush and incoherence and thinks the solution to all problems is to drift to the Left and end up in the centre ground.
Naturally the task is to get elected. But for what? There is no real difference in ideas between Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and Theresa May. This is the problem facing British politics. It doesn’t matter if we have New Labour, Lib Dems or Tory Wets. It will all just go on the same way.
Corbyn’s Labour offers a real choice. He has passion and conviction. To oppose that do you just put up a composite of Blair, Clegg and May? If you do you may well find that the British public finds it lukewarm, just more of the same thin gruel. Don’t be surprised therefore when it spits you out.
Trust in politicians is very low. People from all parties have been telling us lies and trying to deceive us for too long. We were promised a Common Market and instead found ourselves something rapidly becoming a United States of Europe. For how long have we been promised by politicians that they would take seriously our legitimate worries about how unlimited immigration was affecting the nature of our country? These promises never amounted to anything. The New Labour, Lib Dem, Tory Wet consensus has been taking our country in a direction most people don’t want to go. One alternative is to vote for Corbyn. The other cannot simply be a new version of the establishment that the electorate has come to despise.
What we don’t need is someone who thinks the task is to limit the damage from Brexit. We need someone who realises that leaving the EU is a turning point that can improve life in Britain. We therefore above all else need a Brexiteer to lead the Conservative Party. We need someone who actually believes in free markets, lower taxes and smaller government rather than someone who thinks that price controls are a sensible idea because Ed Miliband gained a few percentage points when he suggested them. Don’t let’s try to steal Labour ideas, let’s come up with new Conservative ideas.
We don’t need a new leader yet, but start preparing for the time when we will need one. Find the brightest minds in the Conservative Party, give them the task of coming up with the new ideas that will break us free from the cosy establishment consensus. These must actually address the genuine worries that ordinary British people have about our country. Let no idea be forbidden. But above all else make sure we develop Conservative ideas for a new Conservative Party. When that is done find the best communicator, perhaps someone we’ve never heard of, to present these ideas. Then believing in what we stand for, with ideas that we believe to be true and important let us take on Labour and win. That just might just give us a new turning point.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/an-unknown-face-for-new-conservative.html