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The Tory Party must save itself – by splitting

Bruce Oliver Newsome
December 21, 2018

The Conservative Party cannot survive as another routinely dishonest, unfaithful, and anti-democratic liberal-progressive party.

More parliamentary Conservatives are planning to bring down their own government, although for opposing reasons (either in favour of Brexit or Remain – either way against the dissatisfactory compromise offered by Theresa May).

The opposition naturally wants to paint this split as inherent to Conservatism – as evidence that Conservativism attracts racists and nationalists who pull the party right-wards and away from the sensible middle ground. Some Conservatives share this view, although they tenderly refer to "a romantic, nationalist streak."

Yet these views obscure the Party's leftwards split.

The Conservative Party today, like the Conservative Party of the 1970s under Ted Heath, is split between real conservatives and nominal conservatives who ape the opposition. In the 1970s, conservative representatives in Parliament bought into the socialist consensus, either for fear that the electorate could not be persuaded of anything else, or because they lacked the gumption to escape the consensus. Today, parliamentary conservatives generally have bought into the liberal/progressive consensus. The split between Brexiteers and Remainers is part of a higher split between dogmatic liberals/progressives and free-thinking conservatives.

The last two party leaders have shifted the party with misguided intent to copy New Labour. David Cameron rebranded as "compassionate conservatism," while close ally Theresa May repudiated their predecessors as the "nasty party." More so than even John Major, they embraced the liberal/progressive faith in supra-national institutionalism, in denial of the evidence for its inefficiencies and authoritarianism.

The Parliamentary Conservative Party's EU-philia has never represented the other members, most of whom are Leavers. During the 2000s, members dropped out or defected to UKIP. To stop the haemorrhage, Cameron promised a referendum on leaving the EU, but campaigned against it. When the electorate chose to leave the EU, he simply retired from politics. The parliamentary Conservatives replaced him with another Remainer – Theresa May, without any consultation with the rest of the Party. Last week, two-thirds of the parliamentary party confirmed May's leadership, even though two-thirds of the party's other members want her to go.

This is not just a split over Brexit. The Cameron and May administrations shifted leftwards until the Conservative Party ceased to look conservative. They competed with the opposition to spend more on health and social care without reform. They have maintained New Labour's commitment to spend a certain proportion of national wealth on foreign aid. The tax burden rose this year to its highest since 1970. Their austerity was contradictory: the traditional conservative priorities of small business, property ownership, law enforcement, defence, and foreign policy have suffered most, while liberal/progressive priorities have swelled.

In aping New Labour, Cameron and May embraced similar spin, Remember Cameron's claim in February 2016 to have negotiated a "special status" for Britain in the EU, even to have improved Britain's security (he hadn't negotiated anything to do with security). They embraced New Labour's evasion of democracy too, such that May sends civil servants to make international agreements without deference to her own Cabinet, let alone Parliament.

Both Cameron and May embraced identity politics. Cameron urged us all to "hug a hoodie," because, he argued, hooligans are victims too.

May has offered no Conservative vision or ideology – her vague references to working for "all Britons" and "hard-working families" are actually thefts from New Labour. At the unnecessary general election of 2017, she shifted leftwards in order to steal the opposition's thunder, even though the Labour Party already had shifted to Marxism. The nadir of her campaign was her manifesto to seize property from the elderly in order to pay for their care. She lost Cameron's slim working majority, and returned the Conservatives to coalition government.

May has made a habit of acquiescing in left-wing myths: the gender pay gap is due to sexism not choices, foreign development is achieved by spending not reform, poverty causes crime, ethnic minorities are more likely to be stopped-and-searched, immigrants contribute more in revenues than they take in public services, the EU can do everything better than Britain can do for itself. While Margaret Thatcher treated her gender as an irrelevance, and repudiated feminism, May keeps deflecting criticism by suggesting that the criticism is sexist, that she has been let down by the men around her, that she can empathize better with the plight of minorities. I doubt she would have lasted so long without the mantle of minority-victim.

Nevertheless, more Parliamentary conservatives are refusing to caucus with her unless she take the party even further leftwards. Ken Clarke is the self-described biggest beast of them all: he argues that government should ignore referenda. Anna Soubry spits with outrage against inherited wealth and the supposed racism of Brexiteers. (Curiously, she characterizes Brexiteers as "not real Conservatives" – surely this is psychological reversal.)

Nick Boles is another Conservative-Remainer – he who has called for a "National Liberal" caucus within the Conservative Party. Both have declared that they will vote with the opposition against Brexit. Now they are committed to vote no confidence in May's administration, if it allows for a "no deal" Brexit.

A so-called "no deal" would be closer to Brexit than May's offering, so some Brexiteers also want to bring down May's government by voting no confidence in it.

The Conservative Party has no future like this. It has betrayed its own members; its membership is at record lows, particularly in the youngest age groups. It has betrayed its manifesto commitments. It has betrayed the majority of those who voted in the referendum. May's administration has achieved nothing in government, except false claims and insincere promises. It will get no credit for whatever it achieves. The Conservative Party cannot survive as a variant of every other liberal-progressive party – because every other liberal-progressive party can pose better. Having some conservatives is not sufficient differentiation – voters cannot count on a party that is so internally contradictory.

The Conservative Party can either die or split. The skeptics should separate from the consensuals. The two groups can caucus on most things, but they must separate to avoid tarnishing a shared party with their divisions. The conservatives then would be free to choose a leader – like Margaret Thatcher – who can articulate the flaws in the liberal consensus, not ape it.

Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of San Diego
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