For the first time in my life, I have joined the Conservative Party. It cost £25 and took less than a minute online. But it has been a long personal political odyssey that included being so disaffected with the brand of so-called Conservatism espoused by David Cameron and George Osborne, which threatened to fasten us with iron cuffs to the European Union in perpetuity, that I voted Ukip in 2015. Indeed, I stood for the seat of North Warwickshire for Ukip on a pro-countryside ticket, campaigning to save the very aesthetic soul of England from Osborne’s bulldozers.
I have joined the Tories in support of the moral conservatism that lies at the heart of Theresa May’s vision of a one-nation Brexit Britain. This vision reaches out to both the hard-working middle class and the working class across the country. It was vindicated by the recent Conservative victory in the former Labour stronghold of Copeland in the Lake District and its near victory over Ukip in Stoke, a poster city for urban neglect.
I like to think that the moral conservatism of Theresa May – a church-going vicar’s daughter with a strong sense of politics as a vocation – is now returning the party to the days of the late 1950s when Quintin Hogg, then chairman of the party, said: “Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force … corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself.”
Osborne and Cameron declared war on three pillars of British conservatism: property; the English countryside; and traditional village communities and values.
Whether it was in cosying up to the building sector and renewable energy lobbies, grandstanding over HS2, supporting obscene amounts of foreign aid or plaguing the countryside with wind farms, the Osborne-Cameron vision was not of a Tory Britain that I could recognise or vote for; and I wasn’t alone.
Osborne, especially, is not a true Tory interested in the sort of morally conservative vision that May seems to believe in. In America, he would be a Democrat. Indeed, there are rumours in Westminster of Osborne and the likes of Anna Soubry and Peter Mandelson forming a new party in Britain actually called the Democrat Party. It would be similar to the SDP breakaway “centrist” party of 1981, whose roots were in disaffection with a hard-left Labour Party.
Personally I would welcome such a breakaway party as the likes of Osborne and Michael Heseltine have no place in today’s Tory party after the passing of two referendum bills through Parliament – not to mention the Brexit vote itself.
I remember once asking George Osborne at a Spectator party why he had declared war on the green belt. He replied that “building everywhere” had been happening in Britain throughout the 20th century. He was certainly no guardian of England’s aesthetic soul.
Indeed, Osborne’s inflammatory “Project Fear” rhetoric, febrile negotiations with the EU over the referendum package, alarmist talk of “punishment budgets” and manufactured Treasury projections post-Brexit all added up to a disgraceful betrayal of Tory party values and principles.
I think history will remember the Eurosceptic Tory rebels who stood against Osborne and Cameron – helped by the Falstaffian “people’s army” led by Nigel Farage – for exactly the same reason that the small group of arch-Tory rebels are now regarded as heroes for standing up to the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain and his Tory establishment cronies. May is no establishment party stooge: over Brexit she is putting the national interest (and the will of people) before party.
This was the same in the late 1930s. Without the moral courage of such Tory MPs as Ronald Cartland (the devout Anglo-Catholic brother of Barbara Cartland, who was one of the first MPs to be killed in the war), Harold Macmillan and Anthony Eden – who helped to topple the establishment prime minister and replace him with Churchill – Britain could indeed have ended up like the set of Len Deighton’s SS-GB now showing on the BBC.
History will remember the similar courage shown by the likes of Cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and others in taking on their own pro-EU establishment leader. In doing so they were being true to the nation-state values of true Toryism.
It was interesting that Gove has chosen to “confess” to Christian Today that he is a sinner and that he should never have stood as PM. This shows a sense of moral conscience and purpose.
As for Ukip, leader Paul Nuttall’s loss in Stoke was hardly surprising. He would have been another Catholic MP, but for some reason he didn’t emphasise his faith during the campaign. Perhaps this was a mark of his own lack of conviction, reflecting how Ukip has lost its way ideologically now that its very raison d’être is now being so effectively and ruthlessly carried out instead by Theresa May.
It looks like Ukip has been found out by the electorate as not really being a party at all – but rather just a cause or a movement. Albeit a hugely successful one at that, under Nigel Farage.
The party is hopelessly split and broke. Both Farage and its major donor Arron Banks want the party to be “radical”. But I can’t see how Ukip can be radical without either veering radically to the far Right or Left. Neither direction is the road to Westminster seats or power.
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