The Crisis for Toryism | Edward Howard
In the modern-day Conservative Party, it can seem hard to determine or understand what it actually stands for. It has moved quite far to the left in recent years on social issues all the while only conserving economic liberalism, and making sure that while Winston Churchill’s statue remains, anything else that bears the stain of Britain’s pre-woke era should go, from Cecil Rhodes to Edward Colston. It has shown that for all of Boris Johnson’s undeniable talents in media appearances and spin, he is unable to govern effectively against this cultural revolution and has been so far frankly useless against it.
But this simply reflects a major issue that has confronted conservatism as an ideology since the Second World War; what does Toryism stand for? Following that devasting conflict, and the various socio-cultural and economic changes that have taken place in society since then, Toryism has been continually lost as a political school of thought. Toryism should stand for its bread and better love for God, Queen and Country, as it had done for centuries after the Cavaliers rose and fell. It should stand for love of tradition, country, religion and heritage against the tide of Whiggish liberalism, but in the modern day has nearly done the complete opposite.
How did this happen? The main impetus was the aforementioned seismic changes that Britain undertook following the Second World War. Such a war would undoubtedly lead to a paradigm shift, and some of it was definitely for the better. However, the main thing that changed for the worse was the death of Britain’s self-confidence as a nation. Here it was; formerly the world hegemon whose commitment to royalty, Christianity and freedom was unique and created one of the best cultures ever to be, and was now in hoc to the United States, and whose spiritual and financial devastation were so massive that it could never truly recover.
Other aspects that defined Britain were slowly being chipped away at this time. The oncoming collapse of its empire, already weakened through the independence of India and the Irish War Of Independence, was inevitable following the Suez Crisis. Margaret Thatcher noted that following on from that, Suez Syndrome was in effect; in her words, this meant that the political class ‘went from believing that Britain could do anything to an almost neurotic belief that Britain could do nothing’, a suicidal attitude that was reflected in its institutions as well. Most notably, the former aristocratic nature of Britain’s government became hard to sustain or justify following its swift moral decay after the Profumo scandal.
Even Christianity, the roots of Britain’s culture and morality, was being undermined, firstly by the then-Bishop of Woolwich John Robinson in his controversial 1963 magnum opus Honest To God, and then through Parliamentary actions and liberal reformers inside the Church Of England, of whom watered down the cold hard truths of the Bible. So, what Toryism was meant to have stood for in the first place was at best being greatly diminished in the case of country, and at worst on the brink of total downfall like the Judeo-Christian roots of Britain that had defined its since its days as a Roman Empire colony.
To make matters worse, to replace this collapse in British self-confidence and the fall of its major institutions, a new ideology filled the void. That being of the New Left, of whose revolution was distinctly cultural instead of economic. Born out of both objection to the Soviet Union under Stalin and an initial lack of purpose following the socialist economic reforms of Clement Atlee, they took on a more cultural revolution, leading to their best and brightest minds eventually undertaking a long march through the institutions. Beyond the various ones of which they captured – the universities, the education establishment, the BBC, the media and later the police – this also affected the Labour Party as a whole from the 1960s onwards, of whose administrations increasingly felt that they had to pander to the theories of intellectuals like Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams over their working class bases in areas like Birmingham and East London.
Hence, when Harold Wilson took office, more culturally liberal types – mainly those of Roy Jenkins and Anthony Crosland – had a huge sway of influence over the government and its actions. This was only put into overdrive once Tony Blair came to power, who made clear in many of speeches – including one in Stevenage where he proclaimed that he was a ‘modern man’ – that he would wage this culture war against what he would later call the ‘forces of conservatism’. It was from this that many traditional aspects of British life were changed, and often for the worse.
Education was dumbed down, and through the abolition of the grammar schools, social mobility for many working class children was destroyed for good. The police became politicised and soft on crime, and whose harshest penalties like those of the death penalty were removed, allowing for violence and thuggery to rise. Immigration continued to be increased and encouraged, leading to depressed wages and community tension as a result. The decimation of industry went ahead without much to stop it, leading to dead communities and the economic fallout in much of industrial Britain because of that. And of course, with the undermining of marriage, the encouragement of single parent families and the pushing of no-fault divorce have killed family life, leading to a lot of people and areas isolated and atomised from one another.
So in response to all of this, what has the Conservative Party – the torch bearers of Toryism as a political philosophy – done to stop this? Sadly, very little. In the 6 decades on since this cultural revolution started, the Tory Party have so far been attempting to pander to the so-called ‘centre ground’ – in other words, having the social dial go continuously farther left in the name of progress, while maintaining basic British values and economics, whatever they may be – and have rarely benefited electorally from this.
This was very clear with the days when Harold Macmillan took charge of the party in 1957. Having authored a book called The Middle Way in 1938 – whereby he recommended that a new political party should emerge of the ‘best of the left and the right’, with Labour’s then MP for Hackney South Herbert Morrison leading it– he tinkered the party to fit this new consensus, which had become popular postwar, and unfortunately the party has mostly remained like that ever since. For all the undoubted good that Edward Heath, John Major and David Cameron may have done, they were frankly useless in fighting the culture war, much to the chagrin of many of its supporters. In some ways they actually aided the cultural revolutionaries, especially in their love of the European Union, of which undermined Britain as a self-governing nation and attempted to create a left-wing harmonious international order that never came to be.
Thatcher herself wasn’t the solution either. Despite her great work, she along with her generation of conservatives, had no better solution for the revitalisation of Toryism than the full blown force of free market economics, whose brute power has no interest in tradition or preservation and whose biggest proponents objected to conservatism in a big way. Some of the basic building blocks of society were undermined by Thatcherism, especially in terms of industry and a shared community, something she didn’t believe in herself.
To be fair, there was at least some social conservatism in her administration, and actual Tories like Norman Tebbit and Alan Clark would earn Cabinet positions in her time, something that rarely happens nowadays. Meanwhile, social liberals have hijacked the economic reforms of Thatcher, all the while dumping social conservatism like a distant relic of the past, further undermining Toryism as a political ideology.
In short, the crisis of Toryism isn’t that it doesn’t have pertinent meaning anymore – culture still matters, and even many who are economically left wing still support country, national identity and culture and preserving it – but that it’s meaning has itself diminished to the point of meaning nothing.
If Toryism nowadays means being a liberal of not even of Whig tradition, then what good is it nowadays? That is a question the party will have to ponder if it wants to survive.