The Coronavirus and the Conservative Party: Time for a Refund?
Since 1945, and arguably since some time before that, the Conservative Party in government has been reliable for one purpose only – this being to let down anyone stupid enough to vote for it. Last December, I thought it would this time be different. The Conservatives had spent two years under attack by an Establishment openly at war both with conservatism and with the causes of conservatism. They swore blind they would take on that Establishment and give us our country back. That was what they promised. It was in their obvious interest to deliver part of what they promised. So millions of us pinched our noses and voted for them. We gave them their best majority since 1987.
Six months later, we are in week six or seven of a lockdown without precedent. Hundreds of thousands of private businesses have been closed since the third week of March, and many will not reopen. Much of the public sector has been sitting at home on full pay, with all the usual contributions dripping into gold-plated pensions. The National Health Service has been made into a new established religion. The police are so in love with their new powers that they are taking more besides. The public finances are a wreck. We are looking at an internal and external collapse of the pound. Cash will probably be abolished. Our mobile telephones will be repurposed as identity cards. Anyone who fell into a coma just before the last election, might, on waking now, assume a Labour victory, followed by an Enabling Act that had taken us into a kind of Venezuela plus social workers. Instead, we are where we are with a Conservative Government.
We can forget any claims that the Coronavirus made all this necessary. The statistics on which Boris Johnson put us under house arrest have turned out to be the usual junk science. Even their author believed so little in his predictions that he ignored the lockdown rules he demanded for the rest of us. I have no doubt this is an unpleasant illness. But there have been no hecatombs of dead. The claims that we should look at these numbers or those, rightly understood, or wait for the excess mortality figures, can be dismissed out of hand. It is special pleading that needs a degree in statistics to unpick in its own terms. To justify losing between a third and a half of gross domestic product, however, we need to be shown streets somewhere else in the world filling up with the unburied dead. There are no such streets. Or there are the claims that the virus may come back before Christmas, and that it will be bad beyond imagining. It might – in which case, we have wasted all the resources that might then be needed on a first wave that has turned out no worse than a severe seasonal flu.
Or, as a last and desperate excuse, we are told that Mr Johnson was forced by public opinion into the lockdown. If true, I do not see this as a valid excuse. Governments are elected to do what is right, not give in to the demands of opinion polls or the BBC. I have little time for the woman, but I cannot believe Margaret Thatcher would have done this to us – nor probably Tony Blair, beast that he was.
Boris Johnson and his ministers are guilty of a gigantic error of judgement. I accept that Sweden and other countries that avoided the same kind of lockdown are still heading for a big depression. But these countries have governments that must deal as best they can with the insanity of others. Our government has been one of the lead actors in the madhouse theatre of the past two months.
So far, I have tried to look on the bright side – here, here and here. This unnecessary economic shock may be followed by a more pleasant reconstruction of the environments in which we live and work. It may compress a decade of change into a single year. But it may just as easily leave us with an L-shaped depression and a police state. To be sure, the ministers have no idea of how to end the lockdown, and the likely chaos and hardship will probably make Labour as plain a government in waiting as Labour was when Tony Blair took over in 1994.
This being so, there may be no further reason to consider voting Conservative again. We gave them an historic opportunity. Perhaps they will now do something remarkable and smooth the transition to a new and better normality. But I see no reason to believe they will. Better, I think, to hope for the fast emergence of a new party of conservatism. Unless they are more stupid than they already appear, we have nearly five years before the present idiots are swept away. That gives us time to make alternative arrangements for the avoidance of a Labour Government. The platform of this new party is easily summarised in three principles:
First, our nation is a kind of family. Its members are connected by ties of common history and language, and largely by common descent. We have a claim on our young men to risk their lives in legitimate wars of defence. We have other claims on each other that go beyond the contractual.
Second, the happiness and wealth and power of our nation require a firm respect for property rights and civil rights. It is one of the functions of microeconomic analysis to show how a respect of property rights is to the common benefit. The less doctrinaire forms of libertarianism show the benefit to a nation of leaving people alone in their private lives.
Third, the boundaries between these first two are to be defined and fixed by a respect for the mass of tradition that has come down to us from the middle ages. Tradition is not a changeless thing, and, if there is to be a rebuttable presumption in favour of what is settled, every generation must handle its inheritance with some regard to present convenience.
I will not develop these points. I have done so elsewhere, and it was by making similar noises that the Conservatives won so well six months ago. Instead, I will offer my considered advice to the leaders of a new party of conservatism. This is to ban from any position in or membership of this party any person who has ever been elected as a Conservative candidate, or has ever been employed by the Conservative Party – and to ban anyone who has ever worked for a Conservative politician in any capacity that amounts to employment on behalf of the Party. These people are generally worthless in themselves. I know this from personal experience. I grant that most of my experience is of people who are now almost as old as I am. But I doubt their juniors are any less worthless. They can be trusted to inject into a new party the same degree of personal and institutional corruption that has made the Conservative Party unfit for purpose. I suggest starting with political virgins. They will be less fluent and less superficially able. On the other hand, it would not be hard for them to be more honest and more committed to their stated ideals.
I do not think any exceptions should be made. I know that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steven Baker have their fans. I am decidedly not among these. A wall of separation needs to be built and maintained between a new party of conservatism and the Conservative Party far more impermeable than the Labour Party in its days as a party of the patriotic left built from the Communist Party.
It goes without saying that Nigel Farage should lead this party, and that he should run it as an absolute dictatorship. He is not the best leader to be imagined for such a party. But he is easily the best on offer. He has a record of leading his parties to victory. He has a justified loathing of the Conservative Party. He has much experience of keeping the insane and tainted out of his parties. My only advice to him is that, this time, though an absolute dictator, he should make some effort to reach out to the young and able as his eventual replacements.
I say all this as someone who has personally enjoyed the lockdown, and done reasonably well out of the lockdown, and who can expect to continue doing well after the lockdown. But I am also old-fashioned enough to believe that recommendations of public policy should be made on other grounds than personal convenience. On any objective view of the public interest, the Johnson Government has brought calamity upon us. It is both our duty and our interest to look about for the means of dispensing with the future services of these people.