Modern British history is largely a history of Tory rule and misrule. The Tories governed Britain from 1886 until 1905 with only the Gladstone/Rosebery minority administration of 1892 to 1895 breaking their dominance. They were in power every year from 1916 until 1945, either on their own or in coalition, except for 11 months in 1924 and from 1929 to 1931, when minority Labour governments clung to office. The Tories governed on their own from 1951 to 1964, and from 1979 to 1997. They governed first in coalition and then on their own from 2010 until…Well, think of a number then double it.
Opponents who know that the Conservatives are not only a party of privilege but are perfectly capable of betraying the best interests of every class in the nation ought to fear them. They ought to know that the lesson of history is that once in power they tend to stay there for a generation or longer, and dedicate all their energies to removing them.
Listen to the far left clique now in control of the Labour party and much of the trade union movement and you can make the mistake of believing that it wishes nothing more than to fight them at every turn. For it is true that the left in general and the far left in particular hates Tories. But they are not frightened of them. Not remotely. If they were frightened, Labour members would never have gifted the Conservatives the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, not once but twice, a recurring act of self-indulgent infantilism whose stupidity is best captured by W. B. Yeats’ old denunciation:
‘You have disgraced yourselves. AGAIN!’
If they truly feared the Tories, far leftists would be saying in public that Corbyn is every bit the disaster his opponents warned he would be, and showing that they have learned from their mistake. Instead, they can only mutter disloyalty while publicly telling their baffled and rapidly diminishing audience that the candidates with the potential to be the next Labour leader were the supposed ‘rising stars’ of the party, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner: politicians few people have heard of, but who just happen to be far leftists too.
If they truly feared the Tories, Corbyn’s disillusioned former supporters, who have now broken away – the ‘not so far left’, I suppose you could call them, or ‘the near left’ – would not be offering Clive Lewis as their candidate either. What distinguishes all three is their lack of distinction. They have no reputation in the country. They have given no indication that they can appeal to the millions who are now fleeing from Labour. They have no ideas of how to rebuild Labour in hard times. Most significantly, not one of them has demonstrated the slightest ability to put Conservative ministers under pressure.
Commentators track the failure of Labour by looking at election results and opinion polls. As telling is the smug security of Tory politicians in office. Today’s anti-Tory left never wounds the May Government. Corbyn’s shadow cabinet has not forced one minister to resign. Liam Fox, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss look way out of their depth, and accident and scandal prone. All previous oppositions would have flexed their muscles and stifled snorts of pleasure as they contemplated the ease with which they could bring them down. The far left has left them in office and in peace.
Corbyn’s tenure of the Labour party, therefore, has not only guaranteed that the right will remain in power for as far ahead as anyone can see, it has also guaranteed that individual Conservative politicians will remain in power, however ill-equipped or personally disreputable they may be.
The paradox of the far left giving the Conservatives an easier ride than any Liberal or Labour opposition has done since the 19th century is no paradox at all to anyone who knows left-wing politics. ‘Tory’ is a remarkably capacious label on the left. By no means is it confined to actual members of the Conservative party. To the far left, Liberals are Tories, supporters of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband are Tories or ‘red Tories’ or just as bad as or no different from real Tories. By this reckoning, my description of 130-years of Tory dominance at the start of this piece was too modest. Britain has only ever had ‘Tory’ governments in one form or another. Labour and Liberal prime ministers may have occupied Downing Street but they were still Tories at heart. A ‘Tory’, it turns out, is anyone who disagrees with the far left.
Although the belief that ‘all politicians are the same’ is everywhere, the current Labour leadership expresses the attitude of the revolutionary socialists of the 20th century. Whatever names they give themselves, there is no real difference between the ‘capitalist’ parties – or ‘neo-liberal’ as they would put it today. When you dig down, you find they all support the bourgeoisie. Indeed, their apparent differences are a snare, which deludes the working class into thinking they have a choice where no real choice exists.
On this reasoning, what does it matter if one non-entity succeeds another as leader of the Labour party? If a Corbyn is followed by a Rayner, Long-Bailey or Lewis? All that matters is that the far-left retains control of the party until the glorious day when the country finally realises its mistake and turns to a truly socialist Labour party. Better to wait than to allow the ‘red Tories’ of the Labour right to regain power and delude the voters once again by pretending they have a ‘real choice’ when in truth they have no choice at all.
In the interim, who cares if actual Tories win election after election? Who cares if Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt stay or go? Who cares if the number of Labour MPs falls to 200 or 175 or 150 or…Well, think of a number then halve it.
The fallacy that there is no ‘real difference’ between the parties allows the far left to tolerate Tory government for as far ahead as anyone can see. When you think that everyone except you is a Tory, then you can learn to live with actual Tories in power with surprising ease. Certainly, you are not frightened enough to exert yourself to remove them or to learn the lessons of history.
The conservative dominance of the late 19th century killed Gladstone’s plan for Irish Home Rule – England’s last chance to avert a war in Ireland, which lasted from 1916 until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (and may not be over yet). The Tory dominance in the first half of the 20th century brought the return to the Gold Standard and a ferocious attack on working class living standards in the 1920s and the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s. The long Tory rule from 1979 to 1997 saw the failure of a criminally negligent Government to attempt to help the old industrial areas cope with the collapse of manufacturing. The long Tory rule from 2010 to the distant future has already seen a return to the austerity of the 1920s, and is now bringing us a hard Brexit – a European policy, which in its wilful disregard for the national interest, is the appeasement of our day. In other words, there is always a price to pay for Conservative party rule, although and alas, middle-class far leftists rarely pay it.