After my teenage flirtation with Maoism, I became Chairman of my Conservative Association at University and I remained a member until Margaret Thatcher was betrayed. I was not a "Tory" but a Thatcherite and was as utterly out of place in its ranks as she was (though she, impressively, was such a force of Nature that she wasn't aware of it). We didn't just think Socialism was a bad idea promoted by kindly fools. We thought it was an evil and destructive doctrine; a threat not just to prosperity (a point we didn't even need to make in those days, with trash and corpses piling up in Britain and the Soviet Union in evident collapse) but to freedom. We didn't apologise for capitalism and free markets. We loved them, while rigorously distinguishing between capitalism and capitalists and between markets and the people trading in them. We knew that what capitalists, business-people and socialists had in common was that they were human and therefore prone to lie, cheat and steal if given the chance. Deregulation and privatisation were designed precisely to deny them that chance by promoting more of the only thing that can keep homo economicus virtuous – competition.
How very unlike most Tories we were in that respect. Their stance was more that of a well-meaning but stupid vicar in a village full of social and economic problems. They condescendingly assumed ordinary folk can't take care of themselves. They were far too inclined to treat voters as children to be directed, protected and bribed with little "treats", rather than as adults free to make (or break) their own lives. In talking down to voters, they conspired with Labour (which openly and honestly sees people as mindless drones to be directed by the Guardian-reading "woke") to turn elections into corrupt and despicable "benefits auctions"; a destructive game Labour is usually bound to win. They were also inclined to "Buy local" economic parochialism. A Thatcherite doesn't give a damn who supplies goods as long as consumers get what they want. A Tory thinks the companies that fund his election campaign and employ his voters should be protected from nasty foreign competition and is therefore far too ready to be swayed by old Gerald down at the golf club into agreeing to raise barriers to market entry over a glass of electric soup. Or by old Den to temporarily nationalise the company his board has brought to ruin. Wet Toryism does more harm to economic competition than Socialism's open enmity to it.
Such Tories are every bit as much to blame for Britain's failure to fulfil its potential and for the decline in its citizens' freedoms as Labour. I am inclined to hate them more for it because of the way they "wave the Red Flag to oppose the Red Flag"; naming their child "Liberty" while selling freedom out at every opportunity. At least Labour is open about wanting to enslave you – "for your own good", of course. Tories incrementally rob you of your liberty while haw-hawing about freedom. Yes, Labour usually first proposes all the worst ideas but Tories fret, pander and make unprincipled compromises where they should fiercely oppose. Worse, they fail to make positive, principled proposals, leaving Labour to set a cretinous agenda. They are, as the Left calls them, "reactionaries" and I loathe them for it.
So, once these Tory "pragmatists" (their euphemism for "unprincipled shits") took back control of their Party from "that bloody woman", there was no place in it for me. Besides, with Tony Blair falsely but plausibly presenting himself as her heir, it seemed back in the 90s that the final battle against that insanely destructive doctrine was won. It took first John Major's assault on the presumption of innocence and Tony Blair's assault on habeas corpus to make me realise that the battle for freedom never ends. With that dark, slow realisation came a scary appreciation – doing business in two Continental European countries mainly with citizens of the others – that the "Social Chapter" of the acquis communautaire meant that, while the spectre of Communism may have been exorcised from Europe, the zombie of Socialism still walked. All this, while working cheerfully on helping my clients to rebuild East European economies it had wrecked.
There was little that I could do from a distance except blog. It never occurred to me to rejoin the Conservative Party. Stung by its betrayal and more aware of its true nature than most of its political opponents I probably hated it even more than the most partisan of my Labour relatives up North. I changed my mind after the EU Referendum result. The Party had been run (and its membership had been declining) for years on the assumption that its EU sceptical grassroots were simply out of touch with popular opinion. Suddenly the metropolitan liberals discovered that it was they who were the "swivel-eyed loons" on this subject. I felt that without the divisions about the EU (now far greater in the Labour Party) and with the inevitable return to the fold of UKIP voters, there was an epochal opportunity for the Conservatives to become once more the "natural party of government" in an essentially conservative nation. I wanted to support the Daniel Hannan classical liberal faction within the Party as it (I hoped) took control.
I have been disappointed so far. The nature of the beast is still just as I remembered it and Theresa May – possessor of a second-rate mind untroubled by principle - is its archetype. I was a Conservative Party counting agent at my local authority elections this week and spent a few hours in the dejected company of candidates and volunteers in a solidly Labour London Borough. My impression was of a Party that sees Labour as the engine and itself as the brakes. Or perhaps more kindly Labour as the arsonists and itself as the Fire Brigade. No Marxist ever subscribed so thoroughly to his doctrine of "historical inevitability" as these people. A consumer regulator might usefully force both parties to change their names to the "Let's Fuck it Up" and the "Let's Fuck it Up More Slowly" Parties. The only encouragement I took from the evening was when I wandered off and mooched around the Labourites. My God, what an unappealing bunch they are, at least in London.
The Trotskyite takeover of Momentum/Labour still offers an opportunity. So many young people have lost interest in practical politics because their votes really don't make a difference. The muzzle is off Labour's rabid hounds and as the recent elections showed, the voters don't like it that much. Where the Momentum push was hardest, the voters responded worst. If the technology existed to clone Owen Jones and Eddie Izzard so as to put one of each on every Labour voter's doorstep, the Conservatives could just stay home and prepare for government. More practically, I can't help but feel that there's an argument for the Conservatives to offer voters the first principled choice since Thatcher was deposed – so that our votes really do matter next time, as they always should.
What say you, gentles all? Should they? Can they? Will they?