My rant on the UK general election, or the confession of a Christian conservative :)
Below are extracts from a message I received today from a friend. It neatly summarises the problem conservatives have in this and possibly every election since 1997. As I generally lean towards the Conservatives, but with a soft spot for the Lib Dems, I was struck by this conundrum and thought it worth a little effort to answer these points step by step.
“ All I know is that they were talking about the green shoots of recovery just before labour lost power. Then it went downhill big time. Now it's ok again. The conservatives blame labour for the mess, but if my memory serves me right everyone seemed happier and there were not so many people complaining.”
The Labour party presided over the economy for more than a decade, and one man, Gordon Brown, kept a steely fist tight on the reigns of policy. The economic collapse was not just about the US, but about London as the financial capital of the world, a position Gordon and his cohorts pursued at great lengths. They loved the world of the rich capitalist investor and deliberately de-regulated the City making it vulnerable to the financial predators that have wrecked havoc. Ed Milliband worked as Brown’s right hand man through all of that, yet they refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Brown was supposed to be the magician of finance, yet he built a boom that went spectacularly bust, worse than anything under the Tories. Perhaps because Labour needed desperately to be seen as the friends of business and enterprise, they were much weaker in standing up to the City than the Conservatives would have been, a bit like Labour can be tougher on social welfare than the Tories because of the inbuilt presumption that they would never do anything to fundamentally hurt the NHS.
The Labour years under Brown were times of indulgence from top to bottom all based on borrowing on credit. Brown and his cohorts ignored this, preferring to enjoy the adulation of a population sold on something for nothing. You didn’t need to work harder or more efficiently, you just had to be a savvy investor, or a media guru, or a celebrity and it was all yours. This was the era when celebrities and sports personalities began to rake in money by the bucket load, and Labour politicians loved it and couldn’t get into the next photo opportunity soon enough.
Of course while the free credit was rolling everyone FELT happier; people bought homes on credit, holidays on credit, clothes on credit, furniture on credit, and of course took out the cost of higher education on credit. The problem was that Labour were in love with credit because of its instant gratification – it kept voters happy and that meant Labour in power with the myth of a mantle that brought joy and happiness to all. They didn’t for one moment pause to think about where it was all leading – to spiralling national debt, and personal credit meltdown where the poorest were to be hit the hardest. They simply didn’t care so long as the sun was shining.
In this they were very much children of the Thatcher era, which made a similar mistake which resulted in the housing boom and bust of the 1980’s. The difference was that they should have known better, because they had that mistake to learn from. But Labour is bedevilled by a sense of being holier than thou, and Brown’s epic mantra of ‘no more boom and bust’ proved to be pure hubris. The man strutted the world stage as though he were ‘superman’ going to save the world when it was his policies that had made catastrophic contributions to a global problem!
Of course it wasn’t all Labour’s fault, and yes the US prime market was the peg that slipped pulling down the fiscal house, but it was the City of London that was the world’s financial capital, not New York, and Labour sacrificed everything to keep that so. They were more to blame than say France’s govt was for the French collapse because of the special place of London in the whole scenario.
Now would the Tories have done any better? Well, when Labour came to power they did so explicitly promising to stick to the existing Tory budget, a budget that delivered a sound economy by the end of the 1990s. That was largely the product of the amiable Ken Clarke, one of the nicer Tories. The Tories are not intimidated by the economy in the way Labour are, its their home turf and they thus have a surer hand and a less naïve one. Yes, they are unashamed capitalists in a way that Labour aren’t, and that gives a whiff of the grubby side of making money. But Labour while uneasy about the dogma of capitalism are absolutely addicted to it and perhaps more naïve about it as a result.
They might talk about equality and so forth, but in reality they are just as likely to end up as business consultants on boards of big business, enjoying the cudos of being one of the movers and shakers. Power is what all politicians crave, and money is one way in which you accumulate power to yourself, so it is rare to find a politician not seduced by financial opportunities.
Remember that other architect of new Labour, Lord Mendleson? He lost office twice, first through taking loans so he could by a big, big house, and secondly under suspicion of easing the way for multi-millionaire Indian businessmen to get a British passport. New Labour were up to their eyes in big money, from the Bernie Eccleston affair through to dismembering the Speaker of the House of Commons which directly led to the MPs expenses scandal. The Labour party swilled around in big money and yet clothed itself in the old mantle of the lovers of the poor and needy. They talked ethical foreign policy, yet ended up in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading proponents of the doctrine of War on Terror. It was Labour that sat on their hands while Israel bombed to bits Beirut. It was Labour that tightened the immigration laws and introduced deportation under armed guards. It was Labour that changed the regulations on immigrants claiming benefits. Of these last two actions I know because I was trying to help refugees suffering at the time because of the consequences. It wasn’t nasty Tories, it was cuddly Labour which added a stench of hypocrisy to it.
“As for cosying up to the rich, most of the cabinet are rich. Do you really think they know what's it is like for the honest, working man? Also deregulation of the banks caused the mess because no one was watching what they were doing. Who are the biggest supporters of deregulation? In my view the mess we are in is due to greedy bankers not by labour spending.”
The Tory politicans are pretty wealthy in general, that is true. But there are many who are self-made people who got there through working their way up through the ranks. John Major is a classic example, brought up in poverty, flopping school, working and doing night school. Another is David Davies, son of a single parent brought up on a council estate. On the other side, Harriet Harman is the daughter of some nobleman and went to the most elite of girl’s private schools and Oxford, while Tony Benn, God rest him, was a multi-millionaire despite having resigned his life peerage. Ed Milliband might have gone to a comprehensive but his family were well-healed intelligentsia and his house alone puts his wealth above a million pounds. And besides, just because you went to Eton, it doesn’t make you without empathy, indeed it can create a sense of having to earn your privilege with a love of public service etc. More to the point, MPs are all on high salaries, and most come from some form of middle class privilege. The whole thing about toffs is a Labour propaganda tool and it says a lot about how unthinking most of the British electorate are when such nonsense easily sways opinion.
And they presume they know what living and growing up poor is about. That’s what makes it worse. I was born in a one roomed caravan, went to local schools including the local comprehensive. That doesn’t make me a natural socialist. Socialism isn’t about ordinary people, its about ideology, largely devised by the middle classes on the basis of what they think is best for working people and the poor. All very worthy but very, very patronising. Mandleson was even caught on camera saying that they, ie the Labour party leadership, knew what people really needed. Tony Blair, son of a business man and privately educated, was no more a man of the people than Cameron, and a lot less so than Margaret Thatcher who grew up over a grocer’s shop. The one thing posh socialists hate are working people who don’t agree with them, as I discovered while an undergraduate at Oxford. The raging middle class socialists would lambast Thatcher with a vicious hatred that appalled me. These were not nice people at all, but people fired up with blind hatred and blistering prejudice. And Brown was one of the worst at this. I remember when he ranted about a girl not getting into Oxford yet getting a pile of As as an example of eltism. Well I went to Oxford and got there with a set of poor grades. But back in the late 70’s Oxford was free to offer places to those they assessed on the basis of their own exam to have potential. Yet because of the anti-elitist idealogues I would no longer be allowed to enter because some swat could cram A levels better than me. Now you only get a chance if you get three As at the very least. But socialists won’t even discuss this with you in a sane, respectful way because it just so obviously blows a whole in the way they see the universe between ‘them’ and ‘us’.
As a young boy my father, who worked in the local factory as a lowest grade employee, was constantly out on strike. He hated it, because it was all a manipulation by idealogues who bullied and cajoled ordinary workers into playing along with their political games. Socialists are not necessarily nice and cosy people but all too often patronising bullies who forget that the consequences of their playing politics is empty pay packets and starving kids. That’s why unions became a plague rather than a blessing as they were in the early years of industrialisation of the extension of democracy in the UK.
“ I don't think either left nor right have the answer. The answer is somewhere in the middle and Tony Blair for all his failings was probably the closest we have come to the middle ground.”
Blair! Where to start?! Well he was a charmer, public school charmer to boot. He was wealthy and had a life of privilege, and he loved to be surrounded by the luvvies of Cool Britannia and the dirty money of the Levi’s and the Ecclestones. And as we know, he likes being rich himself. Of course he was disarmingly honest in acknowledging his failings some of the time, and I admire that in him. He was also cleverly disarming by being ‘call me Tony’, which actually enabled him to avoid being scrutinised very closely. He was a great politician, and what he achieved in Northern Ireland is among the most laudable achievements of the past 500years and for that alone he deserved enormous credit. He was very unstuffy yet nicely of the elite in the way which most British people like, makes them feel safe and comfortable. Which is why Major and Miliband were not popular, and Cameron and Blair were. We don’t like the puffed up peacocks such as the mindless Colonel Blimp, the yaw yaw of so many Shire conservatives, but we do like a sort of public school confidence. Makes us feel safe. It’s why so many people secretly want their children to go to public school. That’s what Tony had by the bucket, and its why we trusted him on Iraq. I certainly did. I never dreamt a politician from such a background would ever blatantly be disingenuous about something so serious and where it was all presented on the verity of his word and so a matter of honour. An Englishman’s word is his bond, and Blair broke that. Its that which has left people very uneasy about him, even today. Public school boys don’t cheat, or at least not over such a matter of honour and office. To do so is basically to be a cad.
And what is the middle ground? Socialism as redistribution of wealth is long dead, buried along with the Soviet Union. But the Big State is alive and well. Modern political philosophy is largely rooted in the Big State and the Free Market. Labour and Conservatives both more or else agree on such issues, with Labour perhaps marginally into the Surveillance State and the Tories more into the unfettered market. But basically they are singing from the same hymnbook. And as a result mountains are made from political molehills. Its foxhunting or press regulation, a degree more or less of private money in hospitals, one curriculum or another in our schools. And on and on. The pettiness of much contemporary politics is mindblowing, which is why the Scottish referendum where people could see reach choice about very real outcomes set Scotland afire with passion. Now people are trying to stop that passion reaching England, with Cameron’s English votes for English laws being doused in cold water rather than engaged as a real debate over principles, precisely the things that set the electorate on fire in Scotland.
We need more serious contention in politics, more fundamental debate over real life shaping issues. Gay marriage should not have been manipulated by a consensus of the political elite of all parties, but thrashed out in public debate, and subject to a national referendum. In doing that Cameron showed he was as much shaped by new Labour thinking as anyone. But at least the Tories want to bring such issues as Europe and English laws to the national scene and thus open to real debate among us ordinary people. I feel respected and trusted, even though I will vote to stay in Europe and I also believe in and federal Britain ruled from an upper chamber and with the house of Commons once again England’s Parliament. Labour just seem to want to keep those sorts of decisions all to themselves as part of the political class that knows what best for the rest of us.
I am still just about a conservative because I believe that I am more trusted and respected by the Tories and more patronised and fundamentally ignored by Labour. I have long ago seen through the propaganda of ‘kind’ socialists, and I believe that Conservative values preserve the best of the past, upon which our fundamental liberties are based, and moves carefully forward into modernity, rather than the crash and burn of constant legislation such as we endured under the Labour years, that buried deep into the liberty of English people under the mask of a new Supreme Court and the European Convention on Human Rights. Magna Carta, the division of powers of accountability, the independence of the head of state from political rivalry, the vitality of our judiciary and the loyalty to democracy of our armed forces and police all of these guarantee my liberty and freedom not some socialist quango or bill of rights dreamt up out of the wisdom of our passing age.
Sadly, the right in the UK have poison in their veins, akin to the hate of socialist class war. Fortunately they are not so prevalent or dominant in the Conservative party as they once were, and with the dawn of UKip their presence in the Conservative party seems to be diminishing. I hope so. Racist, homophobic, sexist thinking is sick and distasteful, and it also gives the Big Statists a stick with which to shut down any form of debate on these issues. Leftists tend to avoid some of these nasty attributes, but they too can be just as hate filled and poisonous, self-righteous and delusional. Conservatives at least understand that they can be seen in such a light. Socialists seem oblivious to self-criticism so convinced are they of their messianic role.
I don’t think Osbourne doesn’t care about poor people, I am sure he does, though how much he understands about what it feels to be poor I think is just a limited as that of much of the Labour party. Crack dependant poverty is not within most people’s remit, and certainly not politicians. Even migrant poverty, based on a determination to better oneself and go to heroic lengths to realise that dream, is beyond most people’s imagination. In fact to expect politicians of any party to understand most aspects of the broken underside of human society in the UK is absurd.
So, I am a Tory because I am optimistic about people, and believe in the English tradition of civil liberties. I am a Tory because I believe that they respect me, on the whole, more than others and are less likely to patronise me in a fundamental way. I think Tories are more in touch with England as a whole, with a strong sense of empathy for English people from rural communities and with a sense of an England that has long died in the cities. In this sense I believe Tories offer a better chance for a broad based society whereas Labour is the champion not of the poor, but of the urbanite alone. I am a Tory because it is committed by instinct to smaller government rather than a naïve belief that more money will solved everything, especially social problems.
As for the deficit, the situation is completely mad, with the debt out of control. This is the result mainly of the Blair Brown years of profligate wasting of resources and indulgence, but which Tory austerity has failed to master. This is in part because people are addicted to a state which can churn out goodies and save us from our own stupidity, ie, from our own pile of debt. Tories believe that people, almost all people, given a push can take responsibility on themselves with a bit of support. Those who genuinely cant then deserve the best society can afford.
A just society and a fair society mean ensuring that society as a whole remains wealthy and prosperous as only then do you generate the income to pay for a social network such as in Sweden. I don’t think this means captitalism at any price, but demands ethical capitalism. This is a whole other chapter, but one which makes voting Tory a sensible and responsible act in wanting to build a more cohesive society, one based around the state having respect for each of its citizens rather than the state demanding obedience as of right.
“ The capitalistic system based on consumerism is going to lead to the death of this planet. People don't need to earn more they need to want less. Our needs are actually very few. Live simply and share is what I believe the true solution is. Materialism will never bring true happiness. I think at heart at the Conservatives are more on the side of wealth creation whereas Labour has a kinder philosophy that we are our brother's keeper. I think I lean more to the left. However I am not against a bit of wealth either.”
Yes, consumerism is a nightmare, but one which Labour is as wedded to as you or I. Labour does offer dreams and wishes, but the Tories offer a practical philosophy that gives maximum room for me to follow my own, in this case Catholicism. However, nice many aspects of Labour’s policies are, they are so rooted in a patronising contempt for most people and a belief in their own insights above the rest that I think a Labour government would not only plunge the economy back into disaster, but take us back to the State knowing what was best in every aspect of our lives.They would re-launch a massive state apparatus under the guise of providing care for the needy and vulnerable, when in fact they would simply be regressing to their basic mind set that they alone know what is best for us as the self appointed interpreters of the mind of the people.