Things have only got wetter

What have the Conservatives achieved?

Artillery Row

“That is how we will build a new Britain for a new era”, Truss told her not so adoring audience on Wednesday. Not so much with a bang but a shrug, the Conservative Party Conference was over, Birmingham was restored to normality (or as close as it gets), and the country could get on with the business of quietly collapsing.

For Britain, the fall came a long time ago

No matter what other writers have said, this did not feel like the last days of Rome. Even the most dour catastrophist can see that that description would be overreaching just a little. The channel crossings are bad, but don’t quite match up to the flows of barbarians into the late Roman empire. Our recent Emperor proved to be more interested in throwing parties than in displaying good judgement and morality in leading the nation, but stopped short of appointing a horse to cabinet — sticking instead to the time-honoured practice of choosing a bunch of donkeys. Inflation is high, but it isn’t quite at the dizzying level reached by a Roman state desperate to raise money without raising taxes. Yes, crime and banditry have increased, but we’ve not quite given up hope of bringing them to heel again.

On second thoughts, perhaps there are some parallels to be made. But the main reason for rejecting the comparison still stands: for Britain, the fall came a long time ago, from colossus bestriding the world to desperately tagging along in the wake of US imperial ventures in the hope of recapturing some influence. Everything since the shattering of the First World War has been the slow motion collapse of the shards.

Besides, there’s a more recent comparison to hand. Locked inside the concrete walls of the Birmingham convention centre as police cleared security threats, protesters chanted and party functionaries plotted their latest coup, it was hard to shake the feeling that things were getting a little late Soviet — a parallel helped by the long queues for bread which turned out not to exist (the Subway ran out). Nervous looking officials reassured the general public that there would absolutely definitely be no blackouts this winter. In fact, electricity production was likely to be over quota!

The only thing they haven’t tried is Conservatism

Aesthetics aside, perhaps the most deadly problem facing the party is the sense of being tapped out. The Conservatives have been in office for twelve years. In that time they have tried the Cameroon “big society/austerity/greenest government ever”. They’ve tried the Mayite “nanny state/one-nation/vaguely blue labour” approach. They’ve switched to Boris Johnson’s “booster/buccaneer”. Finally, unsatisfied with all of them, they’ve turned to Liz Truss’s libertarian stylings — only to get cold feet and attempt to overthrow her at the first sign of their manifesting.

The Conservative party has been happy to shrink the state, grow the state, radically reform international relations, spend hundreds of billions capping prices whilst preaching the benefits of free markets, and generally reverse on the arrival of the next Conservative PM the policies of the last — trapped in a doom loop of plots and coups that spirals ever tighter, the intervals between disruptions shrinking ever smaller.

In all this time, the only thing they haven’t really tried is Conservatism. The Blob continues to expand its reach into our lives. MPs are repeatedly exposed as having behaved in highly unconservative ways. Radical social change — from matters of race and sex and gender through to family structure — marches on aided and abetted by the government. You can vote for whoever you like, so long as they preach the gospel of American Progressivism and enact asymptotic open borders. If it feels like the last decade has been a subpar Blair tribute act. That’s probably because it has been — an outcome assisted by Cameron’s effort to reshape the party in His image.

Now the party faces a long period in exile. What can it actually say it has to show for its years in Downing Street? What victories would have appealed to its base in 2005, when Cameron became leader of the opposition? What victories would have appealed to itself in 2010? With the party at an ideological low ebb, perhaps a spell on the margins might do it some good. The impotence and frustration of watching your opponents march on unchecked could reawaken the urge to give Conservatism a go. And if the Conservatives find that they want to keep behaving like a Labour tribute act, then they can sit back and enjoy the real thing.

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