What Does the Conservative Party Actually Stand For? | William Hallowell
In May, the public found itself asking Keir Starmer and the Labour Party what they stood for after poor local election results. Now, it asks the same of the Conservative Party.
It is, surely, the sign of a government in trouble, when it begins to renege on its manifesto promises – not least, abandon the principles on which it was elected and stands for.
Reflecting on Sir Keir Starmer’s speech on the last day of this year’s party conference, he did not effectively outline his ‘vision’ for Britain under a Labour leadership. Rather, he took personal swipes at the Prime Minister and even his father, and filled his speech with generic political rhetoric emphasising the importance of hard work, and so on. The majority of his words were meaningless and vague. However, the one valid point he did raise was on the direction of the Conservative Party’s leadership.
A well-established Remoaner, Starmer was not, and could not, pass on the opportunity to reinforce Labour’s categoric opposition to Brexit. Whilst this is arguably the most significant factor in explaining his unelectability, he did raise a fairly reasonable point on Boris Johnson’s leadership and Brexit. In 2019, the promise to deliver a Brexit that the people voted for in 2016 was what won Johnson his majority. Undoubtedly, he may not have won the election had he not chosen a pro-Brexit stance.
The point raised by Starmer was this: now that Brexit is done, the country moves on and the political landscape shifts, where does that leave Johnson’s Government? I believe Starmer described the Prime Minister as a one-trick pony that has now performed that one trick. That Brexit was, arguably, the only major thing that Johnson stood for, what now of his leadership? And what now of the direction of the party? What is the point, Starmer argues, of Boris Johnson now that he has carried out the one thing he promised to do?
The Prime Minister may as well make fuel for the fire out of his manifesto, because it means little. One commitment the Conservative Party made in 2019 is that they, in any circumstances, would not raise National Insurance contributions. Of course, the unforeseeable coronavirus pandemic ensued soon after the election, but what is the point in a Government that carelessly and willingly breaks their manifesto promises? The decision to raise these contributions is so unforgivably cruel and so anti-conservative – and it will undoubtedly drive voters away.
No longer can Conservative MPs and supporters use ‘high taxation’ as a stick with which to bash the Labour Party, for it would make them hypocrites. No longer can they claim that it is the Conservative Party who value and reward ‘hard work’ or ‘individualism’ because clearly they don’t – and any argument for the Conservatives being the party for meritocracy has now essentially been made redundant. If anything, these unwarranted tax hikes punish hard working members of society, for they are the people being made to pay for the Government’s poor spending record throughout the pandemic.
As for other issues, the fundamentally dangerous idea of coronavirus vaccine passports, the lack of support for academic freedom, handing £50 million to the French in order to prevent migrant Channel crossings and in fact the lack of action over their commitment to thwart and deter these crossings, as well as the lack of will to actually ‘conserve’ anything politically, socially and culturally, are some of several examples where the Government is failing, and revealing itself to be forever more anti-conservative.
Icons of British conservatism, like Baroness Thatcher, would be turning in their graves to see what the Conservatives have become. No longer do they ‘take the fight’ – as it were – to the radical Left unions or violent opposition. No longer do they emphasise conservative ideology and its importance. Thatcher’s remarkable stoicism, favourable hubris and hard-line approach to the picketing miners, the Argentines or the IRA, would be hard-found in a modern Conservative Prime Minister. She, the symbol for how the Conservative Party should govern, would likely be ashamed of how the party has declined. The former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, said Thatcher was a leader defined by her enemies, and perhaps that is a good thing. But to have no political enemies, as Boris Johnson does not, also defines a leader… and not in the same way it did her.
The party must do more to reinvigorate its ideology, and like Labour, its vision – even if that means a change of leadership. They must rebrand, and if Johnson is incapable of doing this, he should give way to allow a more suitable leader to steer the party away from shallow waters and back to where they should be. The Conservatives must return to what made them conservative; otherwise, how different are they to any other political party?
The outcome of the next General Election seems uncertain. Though the Conservatives are often several points ahead of Labour in the opinion polls, it is hard to see how they would win a majority, and a comfortable one at that – and the same could also be said for Labour. Seemingly, both parties have become as unpopular as each other, leaving the public uncertain of what both actually stand for; but the Conservatives must be first to redefine themselves.