A Truly Conservative Cabinet At Last? – Not Quite, But It’s The Closest We Are Going To Get | Bradley Goodwin
Unless you have been living under a rock, you won’t have missed it. Boris Johnson is Prime Minister, and a new Cabinet follows like night follows day. The interesting thing to note in all this is that the supporters and detractors of the new team both make a false assumption.
Both sides have already begun to argue that this is a truly right-wing, philosophically conservative government. One side lament the loss of centrism and what they perceive as the loss of Leftist assumptions about society, the other rejoicing at the end of the perceived abolition of these Leftist assumptions.
In truth, neither side is correct. In assessing their measure of what makes a right-wing government they may as well adopt the all too famous mantra of Bill Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Oh, and Brexit too. What makes this government “conservative” is a commitment to free market economics and to Brexit “do or die!”
Both sides are not only wrong, but ignorant of history. Both the free-market and Brexit are causes that the Left can adopt in line with their philosophy and indeed do.
The evidence for my point is simple. Labour, the party of socialism, the party representing the worker’s liberation against the ruling classes, has a history of Euroscepticism long-before most conservatives knew or cared about the issue. The famous generations of Labour bigwigs in times gone by were anti-EU: Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Michael Foot et al.
Even for the free-market, you can find leftist support. The free-market in a sense is rooted in that key value the Left adores: internationalism. Free trade between nations has been supported in the past by those who specifically reject the label of “conservative”. In Frederich Hayek’s work “The Constitution of Liberty”, which finds support amongst Thatcherites, Hayek deliberately reveals himself not to be a ‘conservative’. This rejection of conservatism exposes itself more clearly through his belief that the social order can impinge upon freedom, comparing it to a slave who chooses his slavery but who is still not free. To true conservatives before him such as Edmund Burke, this would have been shocking and likely have incited moral horror within them.
It should be no surprise things appear wrong to such people, when you look at the world through a faulty lens.
The Cabinet actually before us, in its’ priorities, isn’t actually that much different to the one it has replaced. The only true difference is the PR of its’ figureheads, Boris Johnson’s PR abilities being much better than that of Theresa May.
Looking at Boris’ speech outside Number 10 this should have appeared pretty obvious. He spoke relentlessly of plans to spend more money across the board, from our schools to upgrading our hospitals. He spoke of uniting all four nations of the United Kingdom. He even spoke of wanting opportunity for you no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation. Higher spending on public services? Preserving the United Kingdom? Eliminating inequality? Now whose Premiership opening speech and time in office does that eerily familiar too….?
Like I said the only difference between the two was Boris’ superior PR ability. (On a side-note, I found Boris’ assertion most amusing that what is closest to our hearts is animal rights. Not like we value our freedom or our wellbeing as members of society a tad more perhaps? I suspect that this line was included as an acknowledgement to his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, who I suspect may not have been pleased at being excluded from the formalities of his invitation to form a government by the Queen.)
Like in most cases of criticism, there is usually always a combination of both fair and unfair. Most unfair I think are the personal attacks that have been made to Boris’ top appointments in particular. Priti Patel, now Home Secretary, according to the morally righteous twitter jury, has been maligned for her previous support for the death penalty. My criticism is not that she once supported the death penalty, it is that she no longer does. The explicit assumption these critics make, that somehow no rational person could ever support the death penalty, is wholly unfair and I think misguided. Although it is a discussion no longer had, there are people who can make a case for capital punishment, and would do so if the ruling classes ever allowed for the possibility.
Also unfairly maligned, and I think Boris’ best appointment, is the new Foreign Secretary and de facto Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. Most unfair I believe is Raab’s supposed misunderstanding of the Dover-Calais trade connection. The accusation has been that he didn’t understand our reliance on the Dover-Calais route for international trade. What I think Raab really meant was that he didn’t quite know the amount of trade needed to sustain us, and how little we can produce ourselves and hence the quantity of trade we need by this route.
I think Raab can be shown to be the best appointment by looking at his own short-lived leadership campaign. In it he prioritised tax cuts for those on the lowest incomes, educational reform and policies for the family. In most recent times, this seems to be the closest we can get to traditional conservative values at government level. As a bonus Raab’s admission that he wasn’t a feminist shows his ability to stand up for his beliefs in the face of expectation and political correctness. It makes a change to have someone of that character at the top level of government, a break from the hand-wringers of the May Cabinet and Parliament at large.
All in all, this Cabinet is not perfect, or even particularly conservative compared to what has passed. Yet, compared to what it replaces there it seems like a remarkable improvement, even if this not so. What is most revealing is not who makes up the cabinet or what it stands for, but the fact that many are unable to see the similarity between what has just been and what is now to come.