This is the first election in my life in which I shall vote Conservative. I voted Labour in the last local elections as a sort of last fling at the ballot box. But not this time. This time I’m going to go all the way with Theresa May.
Like a lot of Eurosceptic Labour voters, I was drawn to May by her declaration that Brexit would mean Brexit. But Brexit has hardly come up in this campaign, and while the PM is said to have floundered, Labour has supposedly surged. Nevertheless, for me, and countless voters like me, the issues might have changed but the dynamic hasn’t. I don’t like Labour anymore. I do like Theresa May.
This is the hardest thing to write. You see, I was born Labour and when you’re born Labour you’re supposed to bloody stay that way. Oh, I’ve been moving to the right for a long time, but that’s philosophy not party. Would I actually VOTE Tory? Not until now. The Tories are the party of ‘them’ – the boss, the landlord, the people who have stuffed heads on their wall. To always vote Labour is to reaffirm an historic loyalty to your class – even after you long ago left it. In 2005, I even ran for Parliament for Labour.
But here’s the thing: the party I owed a loyalty to was a historic myth. The party of Clem Attlee, Jennie Lee, Methodism and the Welsh valleys. Life under Blair and Brown couldn’t compete with that romanticism. They did some good things, they made the country a much nicer place. But what did 13 years of Labour leave behind? War, unemployment, debt. From the inside, I witnessed the party dilute its soul until it was really just a front for professional politicians trained to talk like Tony Blair – supported by the cash of public sector trades unionists. A local Labour party meeting is essentially the staff room of a comprehensive reconvened in someone’s front room.
There’s some irony that I should choose to give up on Labour at the moment when it apparently regains its religion. Isn’t Jeremy Corbyn more my kind of man? Yes and no. I’ve grown to like him; he’s a genuine crusader and very English, with his jam and allotments. But I know the Labour Party well enough to remember when he was a joke. Corbyn is not that Thirties Left that I think of when I hear the strains of the Red Flag. He is the Eighties Left, with its peculiar mix of feminism and admiration for Arab nationalism; weird, not like us, quite unproletarian. There’s an old gag that sums him up. How does a social worker fix a lightbulb? They don’t. They form a support group called ‘coping with darkness’.
Enter Theresa May. She’s not as popular as she was six weeks ago. The Right of the Right is already knocking her for being insufficiently Tory. But don’t they realise that people like me couldn’t consider voting for her if she was?
May’s definitional moment came in 2002 when she told the Tories that they were at risk of being seen as the nasty party. She was correct. Since Thatcher they have appeared obsessed with a particular strand of economic thinking: they would sacrifice the workers on the altar of free markets. Not May. I don’t know if she always thought like this or if Brexit was a wakeup call, but after the referendum she said that Brexit reflected a profound sense that government and economics have not been serving the whole people. As a patriot who loathes to see his nation divided against itself, I get where she’s coming from.
No, she won’t turn out to be another Ted Heath. She will keep taxes low and encourage free enterprise, and rightly so. I’ve become far more conservative on those issues; far, far more conservative. It’s partly to do with my advancing age – paying taxes is a wake-up call – but also a conversion to Catholicism. My faith has taught me that change comes not from waiting for other people to do something but from doing something yourself. Experience has taught me that whenever the state tries to do much, it generally backfires. At 34, my sense of my ability to change the world has shrunk but my sense of responsibility for those close to me has grown. I seek a Toryism that lets the ambitious get on and keeps the vulnerable safe. I want a government that is unashamedly Christian in ethic. May is not the Messiah, but at least she knows who the Messiah really is. Personal salvation comes not from welfare or the NHS or ‘intersectionalism’, whatever the Hell that is. It comes from faith and good works.
So, for me this election is a chance to take stock, to reflect on how much I’ve changed as I shuffle into middle-age, and how much the parties have changed. Roger Scruton once wrote that Labour was formerly the party that protected people against impersonal forces, rather conservative in its own way. That was the root of its enduring popular appeal.
Well, the positions of the parties have switched. Today it is the Tories who want to protect me against bureaucracy, mass migration, the European Union, terrorism and greedy capitalists. Without reservation, I lend Theresa May my vote.