The Corner


May not Maggie – The Tories’ (Further) Left Turn

Britain’s Conservative Party has now unveiled its election manifesto. 

The Daily Telegraph:

Theresa May has sought to distance the Tories from Margaret Thatcher and said her government will not “drift to the right”.

There is clearly no danger of that. Amongst the manifesto’s highlights are a sustained attack on thrift, particularly on the thrift of those people who have been foolish enough to save for their old age or even, more selfishly, tried to pass on something to the next generation (so much for May being a ‘Burkean’ Conservative).

Straw men are brandished. In a bold, edgy gesture the manifesto rejects the “cult of individualism” and “untrammeled free markets”. The first is presumably a reference to a previously invisible horde of Randians and the second to a phenomenon that has not been seen in Britain for a century, if then.

Some very expensive virtue-signaling is kept in place, from ruinous climate change policies to the preservation of UK’s commitment to spend 0.7percent of GDP on foreign aid, a commitment that has been an invitation to waste and to fraud. 

And, looking presumably for something that May (who has shown little understanding of the technicalities of the UK’s departure from the EU) can brandish as a mandate for a ‘hard’ (or, more accurately, soft-headed) Brexit, the manifesto promises that the UK will “no longer be members of the single market [nuts, in my view, although not all around here agree] or customs  union [good]”. Instead the Tories say that they “will seek a deep and special partnership [with the EU] including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement”. Let’s put it this way – they are highly unlikely to get it, at least any time soon.

Deconstructing May’s ideology is not easy (to her credit, she’s not a politician who overshares), but she’s probably best read as the English equivalent of a continental Christian Democrat. It’s perhaps significant that, like Angela Merkel, a politician to whom she bears some similarities, she is the daughter of a priest. 

All that said, there is shrewd electoral calculation behind May’s manifesto (which I should stress after all the carping, is not all bad – far from it). To understand the history that lies behind it, this NRO article by John O’Sullivan is a must-read. Essentially, May is trying to establish the Tory party as the national (small n) party in a way not seen since the days (as John pointed out to me on another occasion) of Stanley Baldwin. It’s an opportunity that May has been given by Brexit, the collapse of UKIP and the attempted transformation of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn into a party somewhere to the left of Greece’s Syriza, a transformation that is not (mercifully) proving too popular with the wider electorate.

She may even succeed in that objective for a while, but what happens then? Pessimists might want to read up on a failed British prime minister by the name of Heath (although they can leave out any chapters on Europe).