Tory talismans?

AuthorBale, Tim

He is absolutely right, for instance, to point out that Johnson is far from the first Tory leader to be accused of presiding over the death of 'authentic' Conservatism, nor the only holder of that office to draw selectively on his party's past in order to produce a platform designed to cope with contemporary political pressures. The parallel Saunders draws with Disraeli is an apt one - not least because, as he notes, Johnson appeals in particularly populist fashion to the idea of One Nation, in 'cakes and ale' contradistinction to the supposed puritanism of his 'progressive' opponents. Saunders is spot-on, too, when he notes, first, that Johnson's talents lie not in leading his party in any particular direction but in holding it (and its heterogeneous electoral coalition) together and, second, that one of his signal achievements is to have convinced so many voters that his administration has little or nothing to do with the administrations that have been running the UK since 2010. Finally, Saunders is surely correct when he notes the trend towards the hollowing out of many of the institutions that in the past have bound the Conservative Party into this country's liberal democratic system - a trend that has come about partly as a result of the Tories' increasing taste for creative destruction, of which its enthusiasm for Brexit is the most recent example, the first being the Thatcherite revolution of the 1980s.

One might add, of course, that, because the party's ultimate rationale is to retain office, Brexit may well turn out to be even more of a problem than many Tories realise. After all, making a success of the UK's withdrawal from the EU - at least in the sense that they themselves would understand success - would require deregulation on a scale that relatively few of the party's voters (particularly those newly acquired in 2017 and 2019) would be willing to back. This renders Brexit (and its advocates) effectively constipated for years if not decades to come.

One might also take issue with Saunders' tendency, which he shares with so many other observers, to focus on what divides the Tories' current electoral coalition - essentially its often markedly different views on the roles, responsibilities and extent of the state - rather than on what unites it, namely its cultural conservatism, its English nationalism and, demographically, its age and its (lack of) education. True, all that may fade in importance with generational replacement...

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