Brendan O’Neill

How I lost my Tory-voting virginity in the name of democracy and press freedom

How I lost my Tory-voting virginity in the name of democracy and press freedom
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Today, for the first time in my life, I voted Tory. And somewhat disappointingly I haven’t sprouted horns yet. I haven’t been overcome by an urge to pour champagne on homeless people’s heads or to close down my local library and guffaw at any rosy-cheeked child who pleads: ‘But I want books, mister.’ I don’t feel evil. Maybe that stuff comes later. Maybe it takes a few days before you turn into a living, breathing Momentum meme, screaming ‘Screw the poor!’ as you ping your red braces.

In fact I feel good. It always feels good to vote, of course, to hold the fate of the political class in your hands. Election Day is such a wonderful if fleeting reminder of where power ought to lie in a democracy: with us, the crowd, whether we’re clever or thick, good or bad, old or young. I love this feeling, and the undoubted terror it temporarily induces in those who rule over us. But it also feels good to have lost my Tory-voting virginity. For one simple reason: I believe in democracy and press freedom, above everything else, and only the Tories have committed themselves to defending those two things.

Do I think Theresa May is a good PM? Nope. I think she’s performed atrociously in this campaign, descending with eye-watering speed from a cocky declarer of a snap election, when she went a bit Tom Paine and promised to confront the anti-democratic elements in the political class, into a U-turning, debate-dodging wreck who always looks like she’s about to blurt out: ‘I can’t do this. I’m out.’ Do I like the whole Tory manifesto? Absolutely not. There’s some awful stuff in it, including all that nonsense about tighter policing of the internet. What illiberal arrogance. The public will need to have words with Mrs May about this.

But there are those two things in the Tory manifesto that sing out to me, and which ought to sing out to everyone who thinks people should a) control the fate of their nation and b) have the right to read anything they want.

The first is the commitment to do Brexit properly. None of that Soft Brexit, Namby-Pamby Brexit rubbish. The Tory manifesto says we’re out of the whole EU, meaning ‘we will no longer be members of the Single Market or the Customs Union’. This is the rupture the 17.4m demanded, and the Tories say they will execute it. The Tories alone seem to understand that when an idea wins the backing of more Brits than have ever voted for anything in history, making this the most populous, democratic cry ever made in this nation, then it must be acted upon. They know, at some level, the meaning of democracy, and the others do not.

And the second is the manifesto commitment to kill off Leveson II, which will save us from another pompous showtrial of the tabloids by a great and good who only see The Sun when the bloke who polishes their chandeliers leaves his in their WC. And also the commitment to scrap Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014. This piece of legislation would force media organisations to sign up to state-approved press regulation or risk being landed with ridiculous costs if they ever get sued, even if they win. This illiberal financial strong-arming of the press to buy into state oversight would reverse 350 years of press freedom. It is an outrage. And both Labour and the Lib Dems say they will enforce it. I cannot, under any circumstances, vote for any party that would enforce Section 40.

Democracy and press freedom are the foundation stones of modern Britain. It was the struggle for these two things, for the supremacy of commoners over kings and the right of the press to speak freely, that made this nation we now live in. Sure, the Tories might backtrack on their promise to enact the democratic will and protect press freedom, but that these two ideals are in their manifesto, in black-and-white, gives us the moral authority to hold their feet to the fire post-election.

In recent years, nothing has better summed up the left’s vicious turn against the plebs it once claimed to like than its disgust with Brexit and its fear of a free, raucous press. In its Brexitphobia, we see its deep discomfort with the whole idea of democracy, with allowing even ‘low information’ people a say in politics. And in its constant, shrill state of fury with the allegedly dangerous red-tops we see its fear of the reading public and what they might start to think if they have access to all sorts of strange, outré opinions. The left’s abandonment of democracy and press freedom really signals the death of this once great movement. Well, I still believe in those two things, and so today, happily, I voted for the only party that says it believes in them too.