Why the Tory Party deserves to die
We need new parties and movements to give ordinary people a voice.
David Cameron… really? So said the nation this week, following prime minister Rishi Sunak’s baffling cabinet reshuffle, in which he sacked his controversial home secretary, Suella Braverman, brought in former PM Cameron to be foreign secretary for some reason, and officially declared the Tories’ short-lived attempt to drag itself closer to the concerns of ordinary people over.
The return of David – sorry, Lord – Cameron to the political scene might have pleased Michael Heseltine and the liberal Tories – a political tribe that basically only exists in SW1. But for everyone else it underlined a Conservative Party that is out of ideas and returning to the technocratic factory-reset mode of British politics.
After a brief dalliance with Brexit and populism, which delivered our glorious departure from the EU and the Tories’ largest majority since 1987, the Conservatives now seem content – relieved, even – to go back to dancing on the head of a pin – and tangoing into electoral oblivion – with Keir Starmer’s similarly nothingy Labour.
Still, to my mind it wasn’t Cameron’s that was the most revealing appointment this week. That dubious honour goes to Esther McVey, who is now minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office, but unofficially dubbed the ‘minister for common sense’. Given no such ministry exists, it fell to Conservative Party chair Richard Holden to put some flesh on the bone earlier this week. He said McVey will oversee issues like campus censorship, while generally being on hand as the cabinet’s go-to ‘plain-speaking northerner’.
I don’t mean to knock McVey herself. Unlike Cameron – who sailed from Eton to PR to PM – there is plenty to admire about her. She worked her way up from being a kid in care in Merseyside to law school to a career in TV and then to the top of British politics. But making McVey the cabinet’s token normal person, there to ‘tell it like it is’ to the supposed reassurance of the Red Wall, is grotesquely patronising. Nothing illustrates how little the Tories ‘get’ the populist moment better than Sunak appointing her as a kind of anti-woke court jester.
Of course the Tories never did ‘get’ it. After 2016, the old party of the establishment found itself at the helm of the Brexit vote, a brilliant blue-collar revolt against our European and domestic elites. But this was never part of the plan. Cameron, you’ll recall, was a Remainer, as were 57 per cent of Tory MPs. Meanwhile, the Tory Brexiteers were so clueless and consumed by infighting we ended up with Theresa May, another Remainer, as PM after Cameron stepped down.
In 2019, Boris Johnson’s pledge to Get Brexit Done handed him a handsome majority, proving just how furious voters still were with a Remainer parliament and a Corbynista Labour Party’s desperate attempts to overturn their vote to leave the EU. The people had boldly reasserted themselves, prompting Johnson to tentatively dub his government the ‘People’s Government’, committed to ‘levelling up’ post-industrial Britain and to sweeping democratic reform.
Then, he was hit by a flock of black-swan events at once. Perhaps Covid, Ukraine and sky-high inflation would have knocked the stuffing out of any administration. Still, when the People’s Government wasn’t locking the people in their homes, it was proving how clueless and out of touch it was. ‘Levelling up’ turned out to be a slogan with vague aspirations of being a policy. Meanwhile, Johnson’s zealous pursuit of Net Zero amounted to a campaign for levelling down, imposing green austerity on an already cash-strapped nation in a vain attempt to cosy up to the green elites and secure some kind of non-Brexit legacy for himself.
Whatever you think of Boris Johnson, at least his government was elected. The same cannot be said for his successors, who have had no mandate from the public whatsoever. Sunak, unlike the hapless Liz Truss, didn’t even get a mandate from Tory members. He was just crowned leader by Tory MPs, after Truss’s immolation at the hands of the financial markets following her botched tax-cutting budget.
And it shows. On the issues voters care about, Sunak seems incapable of doing anything about them. On the cost-of-living, he has just waited around for things to improve. On gender ideology, he has talked tough and done zilch. On illegal migration, he is clearly not prepared to do what is necessary to take democratic control over our borders – including dismantling our nonsensical, anti-democratic ‘human rights’ framework – for fear of how it would look to the fabled ‘international community’, the ultimate Islington dinner-party set.
This weakness and lack of a mandate has only fuelled judicial meddling, as we saw this week with the Supreme Court striking down the Rwanda policy. It has emboldened the dreadful House of Lords – including the bloody bishops! – to flex its anti-democratic muscles. And it has empowered a scalp-hungry media to go after any minister – from Dominic Raab to Suella Braverman – who offends their delicate sensibilities.
The return of Cameron reveals a Tory Party leadership desperate to return to the pre-2016 status quo, when all that governments would aspire to do is tinker around the edges of a failed ‘consensus’. The problem is, voters have had enough. They are not only tired of being shut out of politics, it has also become abundantly clear to them that the technocrats we were told to defer to have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
None of this is to say the thwarted Tory right has it all sussed, however. The Braverman wing of the party may be closer to Red Wall voters on specific, key issues. But they are still not of these communities in any real sense. Economically, Tory right-wingers thought Trussonomics was the Holy Grail, which was certainly not the verdict of post-industrial, blue-collar Britain.
Suella and Co also have a tendency to relate to Red Wall voters as if they actually are the gruff caricatures of Guardianista fever dreams – knuckle-draggers who want their politicians to have a pop at homeless people or wail about an ‘invasion’ of migrants, even if it comes at the expense of doing anything constructive.
Those who present Braverman as the tribune of the forgotten men and women of Britain would do well to explain why 70 per cent of voters, according to one poll, support her sacking, including more than 60 per cent of working-class voters. Tory rightists try to ventriloquise what they believe to be the views of Brexit-backing Britain, but that really is as far as it goes at this point.
So here we are, seven years after the Brexit vote, a populist revolt demanding the re-enfranchisement of the British people, and we’re being ruled by an unelected PM, going toe-to-toe with an unaccountable judiciary, harried by a hysterical media. Meanwhile, the supposed populist challengers on offer are woeful and inept.
The Conservative Party has proven itself to be structurally incapable of pushing the populist spirit of 2016 forward. This knackered old relic had one opportunity to remake itself in the image of Brexit and carve out a new voter base for itself. Instead, it opted for a few years of backstabbing psychodrama, followed by the restoration of David Cameron.
Woke, technocratic and thoroughly anti-Brexit, Labour may be even worse than this shower. But this past week has reminded us why we’d be better off with neither.
I’m reminded of the one moment of the Cameron era that I am nostalgic for: that brief period after the EU referendum when Westminster was shell-shocked, Cameron and Osborne went missing, and it seemed like both parties were about to collapse in on each other. The 17.4million, in defying the wishes of Labour and the Conservatives, had completely battered their moral authority. Their right to rule lay in tatters.
The next time voters get a chance to deal another blow to these dreadful, anti-democratic parties, let’s make sure we finish the job.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Picture by: Flickr.
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