Legacy of failure

13 years of missed chances, bungled crises and miserable inaction

This article is taken from the October 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister was to her enemies, then and since, a tyrant. But one whose faults, however legion, never included weakness. She was in control. However, whatever the public’s perception, she was anything but dominant. Endlessly she bemoaned her lack of good men. And as Tory leader she ran, and governed, against her own party and government. Up to the point of publicly bewailing what “the Government” did. She was, in short, oppositionalist even to what she in office was doing.

Is it our settled path to be governed by Blairism with characteristic Tories?

The tone of Thatcherism for Thatcherites was habitually regretful — “if only!” — rather than triumphant. Yet she got more done than any other prime minister in the last century. Whoever leads the Conservative party after the next election will need to hone their skills of opposition, as that is where they shall assuredly be — and in such a minority that they will regret bitterly the failure of leading Tories to oppose what this government has done in office.

All polling points to Sir Keir Starmer being in Number 10, the oldest person to enter it as occupant in half a century. Labour’s majority will be overwhelming, and — unlike the one gifted to them in 1997 after John Major’s government disintegrated in sleaze and inadequacy — it won’t come wrapped up in any supposed great narrative. 

Few will credibly claim that Starmer’s Labour won because the tide of history has taken it there. Labour will be in power because the British people are now firmly settled on simply booting the Tories out. The result will be negative, determined and bloody.

How did we get here? As the joke goes, the answer depends upon where you think “here” is. Rohan Watt, sometime advisor to Liz Truss, reminds us that after what had been twelve years of Conservative-led government, Truss thought that “here” was a disaster. 

Truss not only had a sense of the size of the problem, but also of the scale of the response needed. It is unkind to note that she, serially overpromoted by all her predecessors since 2010, was personally not up to it. But at least she knew that conservatism was facing its greatest challenge since socialism.

As Lee Reynolds, a non-Tory Brexiteer, notes, it is hardly surprising that a parliamentary party is in the state that it finds itself in, given that so many of its MPs are in the Commons chiefly thanks to the promise to “get Brexit done” even though they didn’t want to do it. Nor have they objected that, by and large, its possibilities have been junked. Sometimes the world is just.

The problems these Tories left unaddressed are social in nature as much as they are the economic ones that Truss aimed to remedy. They continue to be built up, layer upon layer, by what Reynolds calls the watchdog state — which is as unaccountable as it is ineffective. 

Yet Reynolds’s gravest charge is the utter Tory failure to build the things that matter: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. Of all the Brexit freedoms squandered, this is by far the most culpable, with the worst long-term problems looming in consequence.

The Tory failure is, as Helen Joyce mordantly details, spiritual too. The care of souls is what Trans extremists have squarely set themselves at, and this Tory government has, in law and administration alike, conceded to them. Penny Mordaunt, Maria Miller and Caroline Nokes head a very long list of Tory MPs who have not just done the bidding of Stonewall et al, they have cheered them on and denounced their critics. 

Does it have to be like this? To coin a phrase, is there no alternative? Is it our settled path to be governed by Blairism with characteristic Tories?

No Westminster-model country has suffered a revolution like the one Pierre Trudeau inflicted on Canada. A man who sat out the war against fascism — going to Harvard instead, after failing to get his Rhodes Scholarship — remade Canada in his own image. Symbolism, the hard stuff of law, belief in country: whatever there was to undermine, Trudeau père did so.

What have Tories at Westminster done about the blob since 2010?

What Tony Blair did to Britain is as nothing compared to what Canadian liberals have done to their own country. Perversely, no other (mostly) English- speaking country now has such poor immunities against American fads as the one the elder Trudeau left behind him.

His son, Justin Trudeau, has built upon this dismal legacy. He introduced possibly the most extreme repression in the name of Covid security any Anglophone democracy attempted. His demonisation of mere political opponents — “the truckers” — and deployment of anti-terrorism laws against them were grotesque. 

Justin Trudeau’s agenda went hand in hand with eugenicist euthanasia against the old, poor and weak and reliance upon the slanderous cod history of endorsing pretended genocide and falsified mass graves. In doing so, Trudeau and his Canadian liberals have casually insulted every such real crime the twentieth century offered.

Jon Kay’s piece on the falsification of Canadian history in our April issue should, though, be understood in the context that Trudeau’s Liberal party has been as dominant there as the Tories have been here. Liberals rarely lose on the strategic and society-defining issues of our Canadian future. 

Except, in Pierre Poilievre, Canadian Conservatives have found a winner who polls even more handsomely than Starmer does here. The lesson that Poilievre should teach British Conservatives is to build, build, build, to know who your enemies are and do something to counter them.

That a country as vast as Canada has home ownership problems comparable to those that beset the densely-populated UK is astounding. It is a situation that Poilievre, even before he became Tory leader, has credibly promised to address. 

By contrast, Britain’s Tories failed to build and now pretend that in the future there will be a mega-city where once there was Cambridge, and other embarrassing fabrications. Canadian Conservatives have addressed their voters’ issues. As Mrs Thatcher would have vulgarly put it: they are intent upon looking after their people.

Poilievre goes further though, fully intending to take an axe to the Canadian “blob” — most noticeably CBC. Canada’s version of the BBC is so transparently parti pris in favour of the Liberal Party that it makes the BBC look fair and detached by comparison. What have Tories at Westminster done about the blob since 2010? Talked then walked, leaving the blob as firmly in control as ever.

Might the incoming Labour government somehow tackle the problems the Tories have taken thirteen years to make worse? Perhaps they could, if they had cleaved to the Blue Labour mantra of Left on economics but Right on social issues. 

However, as Sebastian Milbank sets out, there is no serious prospect of Starmer adopting this approach. Indeed, armed with the vast majority that Rishi Sunak is going to hand him, but also without the money Blair in 1997 inherited, idle Labour hands will most likely revert to baleful meddling type.

“By any objective measure” Milbank writes, this has been the most liberal government in British history. The Tory modernisers, “the heirs to Blair” — Cameron, Osborne, Gove — won, and this is the country they have left us: broken, bust and despairingly crying out even for stolid Labour. 

There’s a lot of ruin in the country, and more now thanks to this government. Opposing it will be the hard task of the next Tory opposition.

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