The Tories need to find their soul

Rakib’s Britain: Business-as-usual politics are not going to cut it after Boris

“The Tories need to find their soul” is the latest article in Rakib Ehsan’s online column for The Critic, “Rakib’s Britain”. The previous article, on forgotten rural communities in the south, can be read here.

So here we are — after a crushing number of resignations, including among ministers that he had just appointed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resigning. While all of this SW1 melodrama is fast food of attention-hungry politicos, Britain remains a country beset by a myriad of socio-economic and socio-cultural problems.

The country is in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. It is an especially dangerous time for British conservatism, when stable family units with prudent working parents are struggling to make ends meet and unable to save for their children’s futures. Cost-of-living pressures are being felt well beyond “dysfunctional” households characterised by long-term worklessness and historic profligacy — and any conservative politician who suggests otherwise is living in a parallel universe. 

While members of the government have repeatedly championed the UK’s employment figures, there needs to be a discussion of how secure and well-paid these jobs are. Johnson’s promise of a low-immigration, high-wage economy remains a distant pipe dream. The government’s flagship levelling-up agenda has stalled — with Labour now more trusted than the Tories to combat regional inequality in modern-day Britain.

Britain could be on the verge of a post-Covid divorce explosion

Meanwhile, there are serious concerns on the education front — especially when one considers the damaging lockdown-related impact on the motor-skills development and speaking ability of young children.

On top of that, Britain continues to suffer from a housing crisis of epic proportions. A combination of desperately poor rates of house-building, large-scale immigration and domestic family breakdown has left Britain with a housing market that is bursting at the seams. The latter is barely discussed — even though the splintering of households through family breakdown is placing strain on both housing availability and affordability. 

With family courts suspending operations over the course of the pandemic, Britain could be on the verge of a post-Covid divorce explosion, especially with the recent liberalising “no-fault” reforms. Meanwhile, home-ownership competition between “priced out” Londoners and local residents in growing “Thameslink” commuter cities and towns — such as Bedford, Luton, St Albans, Cambridge and Peterborough — threatens to undermine social cohesion and local civic pride. 

On top of all this, Britain — whilst remaining one of the most successful examples of a hyper-diverse democracy in the modern world — cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to race relations and community cohesion. Racial and religious identity politics may not be representative of the sensible mainstream in Britain, but it is given quite the platform by mainstream media outlets and is disproportionately influential in the social-media sphere. 

This morning saw the resignations of both the Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis and Security Minister Damian Hinds — at a time where the UK-wide terror threat level remains “substantial” (meaning an attack is likely). Britain does not only have to contend with various domestic strands of ideological extremism, but also the ongoing threat of hostile foreign state activity. Yesterday, the heads of the FBI and MI5 issued an unprecedented joint speech at Thames House in London, warning business and academic communities of Chinese state espionage. Robust US-UK political leadership is essential when it comes to confronting the Chinese Communist Party regime’s nefarious activities in the Western world.

For all the tit-for-tat and game-playing in SW1, the reality of the matter — and it pains me to say it — is that Britain is a country engulfed in multiple crises spanning various spheres of policy. The degree of chaos at the heart of government not only shames Britain on the international stage, but also runs the risk of intensifying domestic forms of political disaffection.

In the post-Johnson world, post-Brexit conservatism needs to be the politics of stability and security. The government’s central priority should be alleviating the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis, with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) recently providing a set of recommendations on how this can be achieved. There needs to be a “shoring up” process — and at the heart of this is urgently addressing the true scale of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. 

Stable families are the cornerstone of robust societies

Britain is at risk of losing an entire generation of young people who are falling by the wayside — our “lost children of the pandemic”. Meanwhile, the “levelling-up” agenda is beginning to reach “Big Society” levels of failure — a policy con currently devoid of meaning and substance. If the government does not deliver results in improving public services, supporting local civic assets, lifting educational standards, boosting the uptake of apprenticeships and creating well-paid jobs in left-behind communities — urban and rural, post-industrial and agricultural, North and South — it is virtually ushering in a swathe of new Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs into the Commons. 

The outgoing Johnson may well have been an obstacle to the governmental implementation of a more family-centred social policy that recognises the value of stable marriages. Many of Britain’s social and economic ills can be traced down to the breakdown of the family unit — and this must be reflected in government policy across a variety of departments. 

As it stands, “the family” largely continues to be a non-topic in our mainstream politics. That needs to change under the new Tory leader. Stable families and resilient communities are the cornerstone of robust societies. There must be an uncompromising rejection of both laissez-faire individualism and identitarian group-based advocacy under the post-Johnson Tories. Being electorally successful means little if there is no programmatic identity, and non-existent philosophical grounding, when in government. 

The route to extended power for the struggling Conservatives is blending social-justice commitments with values based on the traditional triad of family, faith and flag. A wholesome progressive conservatism — patriotic, community-spirited, family-oriented — that focuses on threats both foreign and domestic can both unite the parliamentary party and generate electoral support in many parts of Britain. 

There is no denying that whoever throws their hat in the ring to be the new leader of the Conservative Party will have their work cut out for them. The survival of post-Brexit political conservatism is at stake. 

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