Peter Hitchens

The problem, not the solution

The Tory party has failed conservatives, says Peter Hitchens. It cannot convincingly replace the anti-British, anti-marriage, intolerant, multicultural, amoral rabble of New Labour

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The last thing we need now is a Tory recovery. Proper conservatives should dread such a thing as much as Labour’s serious faction dreaded victory in the March 1983 Darlington by-election. They longed for the most crushing defeat possible, because it would have provided the pretext for a well-planned putsch against the doomed romantic party leader Michael Foot, chosen in an emotional spasm in 1980. But, to their fury and dismay, Labour won in Darlington. Michael Foot was saved and duly led his movement to ruin, with some dignity, a few months later.

Just as I said a year ago in an article for this magazine which has never been rebutted, let alone refuted, by any Conservative thinker, the Tory party is now a train-wreck, not a train, an obstacle to the cause it pretends to serve. The reasons are both mathematical and political. Only an unimaginable miracle could give it a parliamentary majority ever again. If it achieved such a position, it would in any case fail to pursue conservative aims in foreign, economic, social or cultural policy. It cannot agree on any such aims because its different wings hate and despise each other. Ice and steam can compromise, it is true, but the result is just a tepid wetness. Its collapse and disintegration are essential, so that this country’s civilised people understand the urgent need to form a new political instrument which can defeat the anti-British, anti-marriage, intolerant, multicultural, amoral rabble of New Labour and which would use its victory to some purpose.

I set out this position just before the sordid manoeuvre that placed Michael Howard at the head of the party. A change of leadership, as I predicted then, has done nothing for the party’s popularity or ability to win an election, and still less for the great causes of national independence and liberty, justice, order, honesty in public life, rigorous education and the rest.

In fact it was interesting to watch several prominent liberal-Left commentators keenly seeking a Howard takeover. Such people do not love Mr Howard any more than they used to. They were worried — rightly — that a final collapse of the Tory party would bring down the whole existing party system. With the Tories gone, Labour’s equally decrepit and unworkable coalition would lose all discipline. Without the bogey of a mythical return to ‘Thatcherism’, what on earth would hold New Labour together? They make Yugoslavia look harmonious. The eclectic Liberal Democrats would be compelled to take real positions on real issues. Neither of these parties could cope with the shock. Britain, almost alone in Europe in having the same party balance it had before the end of the Cold War, would have undergone the political convulsion it so badly needs. Many good people, now trapped in movements they loathe, would once again be free to think and speak their minds.

The liberal commentariat dread such an outcome. They want to preserve a political system which they understand and which generally serves the Fabian socialist world-view which they formed in the universities of the late 1960s and early 1970s — and have never bothered to re-examine. Instinctively, they recognise that a true realignment in the post-Gorbachev world would threaten the dominance of their ideas. They complain about the low turnout at elections, they see the traditional parties shrivelling, they observe the growth of new movements and the extraordinary results of by-elections and opinion polls, but they do not recognise what this means — that the major parties at Westminster no longer speak for the major currents of thought in the country outside.

That is their problem. The mystery is why others, who have no interest in keeping things as they are, also refuse to abandon this system in which two political corpses, leant against each other, prop up an undesirable settlement. Part of the reason for this is that conservatives in Britain have stopped thinking. They believe, almost to a man, that Anthony Blair succeeds because he has ‘stolen their clothes’. When something is universally believed it is often completely untrue. This pitiful drivel is not just untrue, but the direct opposite of the truth.

The Tory party, throughout the 20th century, tried on and increasingly liked Labour’s clothes. You could say that for much of its period in government during that century it was in office but not in power. Its penetration by social-democratic ideas is one of the greatest achievements of the Fabian gradualists who long ago sought to do precisely this. If Christopher Patten and Michael Heseltine are conservatives, then what is a social democrat? What was the principal ideological difference between the government of John Major — the prototype of New Labour — and that of Mr Blair? The brief, overrated pseudo-conservative convulsion of Thatcherism fooled far too many people into thinking this had changed.

But the truth is that by 1997 the Tories had accepted so much of the Left’s thought that it was hard for them to argue against its logical conclusion in Mr Blair, Mr Brown and Mr Campbell. The slow-motion coup d’état which placed the state under the full authority of political commissars was the end of a process they had begun themselves with their platoons of special advisers. Their own long failure to defend the hereditary principle as a valued part of the constitution left them headless and gutless when New Labour turned on the Lords and began to jostle the monarchy. They had actively taken part in the egalitarian trashing of the education system. They had emasculated the police, destroyed the power of parents and teachers over children, undermined marriage, sought to attack juries and mused publicly about introducing identity cards. They had initiated the process leading to capitulation to the IRA, and so couldn’t oppose surrender when it took place. They were even more compromised on the European project. Because they no longer really believed in British interests themselves, they couldn’t even see that the Iraq war was not in British interests.

The rejuvenated Labour party is in the hands of blithe, shameless cynics who are delighted to endure the attacks of stupid leftists who think they are ‘right-wing’ if they can convince enough dim Tories to believe the same piffle. The successful advance of a breathtakingly radical programme proceeds unnoticed and unopposed. New Labour is indeed a new danger, but it can only be beaten by people who both understand its nature and fundamentally disagree with it. That will not happen until the wreckage of the Conservative party is cleared out of the way.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.