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Consider two speeches delivered by the same politician, just twelve days apart. The more recent speech by Theresa May, in Manchester on 4 October, is being reported as a career-ending debacle. Why? Because the Prime Minister (like many people in October) was suffering from a cold that sometimes made her lose her voice, was harassed by a joker who penetrated abysmal conference security, which is not her responsibility, and due to classic British workmanship the letters of the backdrop slogan began falling off. Verdict: May must go.
Twelve days earlier, in Florence, Theresa May delivered a speech, fluently and with no need for throat lozenges, that sold our country down the river to the bullies of the EU and the Remainer establishment, in defiance of the wishes of 17.4 million Brexit voters. It was an act of cowardice and infamy. Verdict: May must stay, she has cleared the air, made some progress, blah, blah.
The commentariat and the political establishment have lost all sense of judgement, of rationality and of proportion. It is all about presentation, not substance. It is ironic that Theresa May’s political future now hangs by a thread as a consequence of the one mishap in her wretched career for which she could not be held responsible, after surviving an act of betrayal that should have propelled her out of Number Ten. That, however, is a microcosm of contemporary politics.
Wednesday’s event was not a conference speech so much as a lying-in-state – not only for the woman who precariously holds the premiership, but also for her moribund party. There is a smell of death about the Conservatives. We have reached the stage where it is becoming impossible to keep a political party alive or credible when it has no principles, no beliefs and no moral or ideological compass. “Pragmatism”, once a Tory virtue, has become debased into a cynical propensity to follow the Zeitgeist regardless of direction: formerly Tories helped mould the mind of society.
This decline became inevitable from the time when the “Modernizers” – partly led by May before Cameron was even thought of – colonized the Conservative Party. From her “nasty party” conference speech in 2002, May progressed to her 2005 platform harangue. Bestriding the conference stage in kitten heels with the faux authority that is her trademark, Theresa May told a gathering of Tory volunteers who had come at some cost to support the party that if they harboured reactionary sentiments, “There is no place for you in our [sic] Conservative Party.”
This was the first intimation the grassroots received that the party they had thought of as theirs was actually the private property of the grandees on the platform. That message was reinforced in the succeeding years as the party machine dictated candidate selection to constituency associations with such initiatives as the disastrous ‘A’ List of approved, metropolitan, liberal turn-offs. The primary objective was to expunge traditional Tories from the membership. In modernising circles around Francis Maude cultish mantras such as “Lose 25 per cent to gain fifty per cent” gained currency. The Conservative Party, in short, was becoming insane.
The insanity intensified under David Cameron. Dave had a pathological loathing of Tories and, before long, that sentiment became reciprocal. The longstanding maxim of arrogant Tory grandees betraying their supporters – “They have nowhere else to go” – became redundant with the advent of Nigel Farage. Even today, on the edge of the grave, Conservative elitists sneer at and disparage Farage, a man who has accomplished more, in the shape of Brexit, than any time-serving pseudo-Conservative in the past quarter-century.
They directed the same purblind contempt at anyone who warned that Britain, even under Conservative government, was turning into a culturally Marxist soft-totalitarian state. Marxism? Don’t be ridiculous. Now, however, they have turned 180 degrees, a manoeuvre in which they have had much practice, and are shrieking in terror: “The Marxists are coming! Jeremy Corbyn is coming. We shall be ruled by totalitarianism.”
OMG, as teenagers say in texts, are we all doomed? Are we really going to live under totalitarian Marxism? You mean we could be subjected to counter-productive high taxation, PC quotas in boardrooms, reckless government borrowing and expenditure, the running-down of our armed forces, a two-tier legal system with ideologically defined “aggravated” offences against privileged categories of society attracting higher sentencing, laws against free speech, anti-family fiscal and social policies, redefinition of marriage for the first time in human history, uncontrolled mass immigration, extension of the state into every area of life, a regression from owner-occupation to social housing, and a stubborn attempt to keep us at least half inside the European Union?
Is such a nightmare fully imaginable? Or is it strangely familiar? The truth is there is no conservative party in Britain. In 2017 the leftward ratchet is stronger than in 1979. Only May’s cough obscured her plans to increase social housing. There is an undoubted housing crisis and a desperate need to find a creative (to use Theresa May’s drumbeat word in her Florence speech) way to incentivize the market to resolve it. Margaret Thatcher freed a generation of council tenants who had no say even over what colour their front door was painted to become owner-occupiers. The reversal of that trend by the Conservative Party in 2017 is testimony to how far crony capitalism has stifled real enterprise.
If Conservatism had had a philosophy and inspiration before and after Thatcher, state schools would today be as obsolete as workhouses; instead, expensive semi-alternatives to grammar schools are apparently the best the Tory mind can contrive. But the worst auto-destructive act of the Conservative Party has been its embrace of the PC Marxist agenda, which has irretrievably alienated its former core vote. “First they came for the cake makers…” Well, they are coming very shortly for the bankers, when Corbyn inherits a social infrastructure made congenial to him by the Tories, that is why the “socially liberal” Conservative financiers are suddenly in a blind panic.
Theresa May bears much of the responsibility for the debauching of the Tory soul, back to 2002. The ex-PR men who pose as Tory MPs today, if asked their views on Bolingbroke and Burke would look them up in the index of hedge funds. There is no Tory philosophy and no future for the Pseudo-Conservative Party. Whatever will eventually succeed it – conceivably a movement rather than a party, originating from the remains of UKIP, or something else – is presently unknowable.
But Peter Hitchens was right: if Britain is to go forward the wreckage of the Conservative car crash has to be removed. Theresa May, ill, struggling, inarticulate and humiliated on the platform in Manchester was an accurate metaphor for a Pseudo-Conservative Party that has exhausted the mandate of heaven.