In the 1980s, the post-war period from 1945 to 1979 came to be described in right-wing circles as a “socialist ratchet” – even though the Conservatives were in government for most of this period, the attitude of “managed decline” and that socialism had become a prevailing consensus made it difficult for conservatives to justify a return to classical economics. This, combined with Harold Macmillan’s social liberalisation – a “loosening of Victorian corsetry” – gave the image of the Conservative Party as accomplices in the slow but definite decline into socialism. Only the Thatcher governments had the gall to reverse the decades of decline that had marked the post-war period.
We are living through a similar period now. Even though Blair was “a child of Thatcher” in many ways, his reckless attitude to the British constitution, the settled ways of living that had existed in this nation for centuries was the sign of a true socialist: the re-engineering of society along alien and abstract lines changed the way people in this country behaved. And while the Cameron years were marked by a serious and well-intentioned desire to restructure the economy away from State management to invigorated and energetic free enterprise, the social attitudes encouraged under Blair – disrespecting and questioning authority, social liberalism and immoral infringements on the individual liberty of lawful citizens – and the damage wrought to our constitution from both above with the European Union and below with the dangerous experiment of devolution were left unchallenged.
Theresa May has done no better. Indeed, I am worried she has done worse – rather than merely holding the socialist ratchet in place until the British people become foolish enough to hand Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist pals the handle, she is wont to push it further. All the talk of grammar schools and allowing the issue of fox-hunting to be (God forbid!) discussed in Parliament flew out the window, along with the first majority we had in the Commons in eighteen years. I’ve come to believe that, aside from taking us out of the European Union, Mrs. May has no convictions of her own – she is a political weather-vane, pointing whichever way the strongest gust of the day makes her.
Whomever takes over from Mrs. May will likely be no better either. While the liberal modernisers of the Cameron years seem largely to have been purged, the ‘meritocrats’ May has replaced them with seem as obsessed with extending State overreach as Labour is, and think it is government’s role to solve every problem we experience in this country. Lived experience will tell us the opposite is true – not only is government not able to solve any problems, it very often problematises the solutions we discover in our day-to-day lives.
So, should any true conservative ever return to government, here is a brief list of ways they can start to reverse the socialist ratchet we are stuck with for the foreseeable future.
The Supreme Court.
Last in, first to go. Labour’s reckless re-imagining of our constitution in the language of other nations’ ways of doing things stripped apart one of the longest-standing and venerable institutions in our country – the House of Lords. And part of this vandalism was the removal of the Law Lords and replacing them with the Supreme Court. This court, modelled on the Supreme Court of the United States (commonly referred to as SCOTUS) was instituted in the Constitution Reform Act (2005) – the name alone is sinister; our constitution reforms itself by virtue of its uncodified nature – and began work in 2009. Philosophically speaking, this should never have taken place, and did so to the chagrin of any good conservative – the inorganic overpowering of the courts of the land and the long-standing institution of the Law Lords that had served to provide stability and judicial review for eight centuries is as socialist as it gets.
Practically speaking, the fact that the Supreme Court can overturn any legislation in violation of the Human Rights Act means that, rather than one element of our constitution being beholden to the British people, it instead takes its cue from the European Court on Human Rights, a foreign and alien body with no interest in the betterment of the British people. And since the ‘Human Rights’ are ever-expanding, the Supreme Court’s power is ever-corrosive to the natural ways of living that the British people have discovered over the last thousand years.
The Smoking Ban
When the smoking ban was introduced in public places, it was seen as a positive step towards social health by some, and a dangerous infringement on civil liberties by others. Now there’s no such thing as the ‘right to smoke’, but it is your freedom of conscience that should decide how you treat your own body, not the government. Similarly, it should be the place of business to decide what behaviour is acceptable on their premises – if a pub wants to allow its punters to smoke, it should be able to. The pubs of my childhood were smoky, full of laughter and conversation and the most enjoyable atmospheres I remember – and the pubs of my adult life are hideously sterile, with most lifelong patrons forced into the rainy garden where they carry on their lives and the hushed conversation a gentle but present reminder that even here, a haven of freedom in British life, the State has its grubby hands on your shoulder.
Fox Hunting Ban
Anyone who was born and lived in the countryside knows the anger this issue promotes amongst farmers, rural people and village folk for the untenable infringement on their lives this law introduced. Led by luvvies in the cities with no knowledge of how to treat animals or the requirements of country life, and misguided conversations on ‘animal rights’, the banning of fox hunting ripped the soul out of the country. I’ve argued elsewhere for a classical and true definition of what rights can be, and by the definition of that argument – that possession of a right requires the likewise responsibility to respect and obey the duty of others’ rights – animals cannot have rights. Now that might make me sound mean and nasty – I don’t really care – but it does not mean I do not treat animals with love. I have grown up with animals my whole life, having been fortunate enough to live on a farm surrounded by dogs, cats, sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, horses and – for a brief and enjoyable time – ferrets.
Anyone who grows up with animals knows how to respect them, and you do that best by protecting and enshrining their own nature. Even in the act of hunting, for example, using hounds is infinitely more appropriate to the animals’ spirits than poodles or Labradors, though Labradors certainly are the better gun dogs. And with the foxes, you find countless cases – because it is the rule, not the exception – that in hunting land the general ecological health is superior, because the foxes are treated as the animals they are, not as cute little pets capable of domestication. By hunting foxes, you inevitably catch the old and infirm of the set, meaning the foxes found in hunting land are healthier and more robust.
The spectacle of a hunt going out is something to behold, in itself. Really, the celebration of hunting is little more than a celebration of nature, given ritual and artistic gleam. The annual celebration of natural life and death brought together communities, allowed people to forget those things that divided us and instead united us, in the same way Church fetes did, harvest festivals and summer fayres.
Some might call me rosy-eyed – indeed, the England I seem to remember (and remember well) appears to have gone – but that does not mean it cannot come back. Liberal modernity and social tradition do not have to live in opposition – just get the State out of the way, let people live how they want to, and let this country get its soul back.