Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Tories deserve to be hated

If not for the reasons many of their critics hate them

Artillery Row

“I hate the Tories.” It’s an easy, thoughtless refrain, trotted out across the swelling ranks of the British left on a daily basis. Here’s the thing, though: the Tories deserve to be hated.

Let us take a moment to consider their “achievements”: a soggy Brexit, eventually dragged out of them after years of prevarication and resistance. A sky-high tax burden. A raging culture war, which they have no idea how to fight. A Net Zero policy that has managed to sever the link between capital and commodity prices, meaning we can look forward to crippling energy bills for years to come. 5.7 million people on Universal Credit. A housing shortage. Annual net immigration at 600,000. More expensive food, likewise booze and fags. No wonder the punters are pissed off.

Much of the blame must lay at the pudgy feet of Alexander Boris

It didn’t have to be like this. After 22 years of Blairism, 2019 offered the chance to take the country in a decisively different direction, with the prospect of a decade in power to see it through. An 80 seat majority gave the new Conservative administration the latitude to push its reforms through with precisely the same fervour as New Labour. In ’97, Blair was elected — by ’99 the UK’s settlement was gutted. By 2010, the country had been almost entirely rewritten in the progressive image.

Perhaps we can blame David Cameron for not immediately dispensing with landmines like the Equality Act. It was in 2019, though, that the Conservatives’ real chance — possibly their final chance — to rewire and restitute the United Kingdom came. And they absolutely fucked it.

Much of the blame must lay at the pudgy feet of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

He was always a dilettante, but my mistake was thinking him not only power hungry and lazy but also ruthless and clever. A lazy, clever, ruthless Prime Minister, who wants to remain in office, would obviously lean into the voters that elected him. Instead Johnson, upon his historic victory, immediately went in the opposite direction: Blairism on steroids, with added incompetence.

It was a strange, silly choice and one that guaranteed, once his popularity took a concomitant nose-dive, he’d be out on his ear. It is baffling that he lasted three years, though not as baffling as the bunch of Conservative activists on the right of the party who still believe he shares their interests.

The easy excuse is the pandemic. However, Johnson’s performance was not only poor — he became a sort of anti-Churchill, unable to inspire confidence nor offer the basics of leadership — but painfully short-termist: the inevitable inflationary blowback of his brutally expensive scattergun measures were never properly prepared for or explained.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest every single one of Johnson’s predecessors since the war, Conservative or Labour, would have done a better job. Furthermore, below the crisis, the business of government went on — and the direction of that business, which the Prime Minister is ultimately responsible for, was explicitly defiant of his supporters.

It should not be a surprise to Tory MPs that the scale of their failure engenders such contempt. Some are following Johnson’s Uxbridge example and running away. Lots are planning to fight what is likely to be a brutal General Election — a more respectable position. Unfortunately, some of the people planning to tough it out are characters the Tories would be better off losing, from not only Parliament but the party: figures like Caroline Nokes on its left and Jonathan Gullis on its right add little and irritate lots.

If these people were stocks, you’d sell them

The general decline in the quality of Tory MPs is certainly part of the problem. Rigorous centrally-controlled selection processes favour the kind of pliable midwits who, whilst perfectly pleasant company at constituency barbecues, are unable to articulate ideas or argue in a persuasive and accessible way. Many seem unsure why they are Conservatives. To take those previous examples: based upon her views, Nokes should be in Labour or the Liberals; Gullis in the type of organisation that can’t win a Parliamentary seat. If these people were stocks, you’d sell them. If they were labradors, you’d put them down.

That’s not to say the Tories don’t have any decent politicians. I think it’s very possible that the country’s next Conservative Prime Minister, if the Conservative Party continues as a serious political force (not guaranteed), is Kemi Badenoch. Examples of interesting figures with heft and potential are few and far between, though.

The feeble performance of the past decade — but particularly since 2019 — has created an even more annoying phenomena: former ministers, failures, taking to Twitter or newspaper columns to bewail the state of things. Yes, I get it, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab — the country is in a complete mess. Whose fault is that?

Of course, I have zero expectation that things under Labour will be better. Despite the excitement of many around my age, who seem convinced Labour will turn the country around whilst continuing to pursue precisely the agenda that landed it so deeply in the mud, I fully expect a Keir Starmer government, if it does arrive, to be every inch as dismal as anything we’ve experienced to date.

Like many Western countries, we’re no longer even managing the decline — we’re simply declining. The Tories were elected to make us better. We’re sicker today than we’ve ever been — and the prognosis is grim.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover