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Artillery Row

Badgers complaining about foxes eating chickens

Some of the government’s critics need more introspection

It’s difficult to present yourself as fresh and energising when your political party has held power for over a decade. You end up picking ideas up from the cutting room floor, sniping at your fellow party-members while desperately trying to convince the public that your specific brand of conservatism is meaningfully different from what came before. Truss and her Cabinet are already sagging under the weight of such pressure, being labelled as zombie-Thatcherites for milquetoast economic reform. 

The Conservative party looks set for electoral wipe-out, thanks in part to their own incompetence rather than any bold vision put forward by the Labour party. This is not an issue of “comms”. If the previous century can tell us anything, it is that consent for almost any policy can be manufactured within a generation or two. Witness the spectacle of favoured court-eunuch Matt Chorley attacking Truss and her economic plan for failing to stick to the party manifesto, blissfully ignorant to that fact  that her party has gotten away with lying seven successive manifestos about their immigration plan.

Politicians are not supposed to be journalists; not media commentators mouthing off on Sky about “unworkable” policy proposals. Chorley is a journalist, and for that reason shall be exempt from the worst of the scorn — that shall be reserved for those who once held the levers of power and happily encouraged the disastrous decisions that have brought Britain to the brink of crisis. 

Nobody knows more about frustrating meaningful policy reforms than Gavin Barwell, one-time Chief of Staff for Theresa May and now Life Peer. With such an illustrious career in Conservative politics, it may come as no surprise that Barwell finds the current direction of government to be distressing. Writing in a piece for the Observer, Barwell attacks Kwarteng’s mini-budget for failing to consider the question of “fairness”, stating that “it is morally indefensible” to cut taxes at a time when millions of people are struggling. The plan lacks “credibility”, particularly considering the sacking of Blob favourite Tom Scholar from his role as permanent secretary to the Treasury. 

Perhaps most galling is his decision to attack the Truss government for their role in prompting a mortgage rate rise. Barwell was once Minister of State for Housing and Planning under May, having previously served as a government whip. He has spoken about what the Prime Minister asked of him in this role: “She was very clear that she wanted housing moved up the political agenda, and she wanted in particular to tackle the housing crisis and put together a white paper to address that.”

Barwell is particularly proud of his role in producing this white paper, and has since pointed to annual net additions to housing stock increasing significantly under his tenure. Of course, one can easily link this increase to a post-recession return to the mean. During his tenure, he strongly favoured localism over central control — a common (and perhaps intentional) decision taken by politicians unwilling to upset their home-counties constituents by getting tough on supply. After all, Britain’s housing crisis is primarily the fault of poor legislation: legislation that can only be repealed by government, not over-ruled by councils or side-stepped through local initiatives. 

I won’t attempt to defend Liz Truss

I won’t attempt to defend Liz Truss, who has already made clear in her short tenure as Prime Minister that she lacks the vision and strength of will to carry out the necessary changes to put Britain back on the path of growth. Rather, I take issue with the lazy mischaracterisation of our nation’s problems, and failure to engage with Conservative politics as they really are, as opposed to what Barwell and his fellow-travellers would like them to be. 

Is Liz Truss a neoliberal? What does it matter? There is hardly anything about the Conservative party that resembles neoliberalism in any meaningful sense. Small tax reforms (then reversed) hardly compare to five successive ministries that have increased the size and scope of the NHS, hiked taxes for the productive sectors of the economy and blocked housebuilding and proper energy production. It’s no longer credible to say that the Conservative party is incapable of governing. They are. Rather, it is a failure on the part of us not to see that our political class is quite comfortable to accept the new regime as a given. They have squatted over the New Labour legacy for twelve years, strengthening it in some places and weakening it in almost none. 

Nobody puts it better than Peter Hitchens, who has consistently shown that he is one of the few commentators working today with accurate political instincts: “The Tory Party is what we have. But it can only fight the Blairites if it stops trying to be like them.” I will not repeat his solutions, although suffice to say I find them to be correct. One addition I would add is to embrace the coming of proportional representation. That Britain has been allowed to indulge in fetid Tory nihilism for so long is thanks to an depressing quirk in our electoral traditions.  There is no better way to repudiate the pretenders like Gove than to expose them to the scrutiny of the electorate. 

The old way of politics is to treat moral considerations as if they are somehow exempt from the political sphere. Mass immigration, or Net Zero, or any other similarly transformative social projects are treated as an abstract force. Probability is meaningless in politics: we have made a conscious choice for decades to follow the path of social-democratic collectivist decline. The current moment has no need for men like Barwell, who embody the Blob’s aversion to its state responsibilities, providing solutions that nobody wants under the cover of subterfuge and weasel-words. 

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