It never ceases to amaze quite how far party politics descends into cliché-ridden banality in the United Kingdom, and the extent to which politicians resort to low-hanging fruit to nourish their base.
Last week the Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference, and I couldn’t help but be irritated by the obligatory reference to Margaret Thatcher trotted out by every Conservative when playing to his or her base. This time it concerned the recently announced tax rises, which the PM justified with a strange “what would Mrs Thatcher do?” routine.
David Cameron did it. George Osborne did it. Iain Duncan Smith did it. And probably Theresa May too. But it’s particularly vexing coming from Boris Johnson, in whom many saw a break from “Conservatism” in the sense that it has come to be defined since Mrs Thatcher’s premiership. Instead, the party is reaffirming its credentials in a way that would, were it a private sector business, fall foul of numerous trading standards regulations far beyond the guilt of even the most cynical snake oil salesmen.
Anybody who has any sympathy with genuine, “small-c” conservative ideas – admittedly a dying breed – knows that the Conservative Party is as far removed from this worldview as the most zealous revolutionary Marxist. Its continued veneration of Mrs Thatcher is ample evidence of that.
Thatcher was not a conservative by any definition of the word. Her politics were revolutionary in that sense. And her legacy is the utter destruction of all values, or perhaps more accurately; the elevation of monetary value over all else. Thatcherism set out to abolish hierarchy in a manner that would please Marx himself, while declaring war against the last vestiges of Tradition in this country – presumably because they offended the market. Indeed, it speaks to the political illiteracy of our times that Mrs Thatcher is ever described as right-wing at all.
Moreover, Thatcher’s ascent to the premiership in Britain was a watershed moment marking the end of the post-war consensus and, by extension, the decline and ultimate abolition of the patrician class. That this ideological direction was devoid of conservatism is evident from its wholehearted support and later adoption by Tony Blair’s “New Labour” project which, in his own words, was a declaration of war against “the forces of conservatism” – something he definitely saw as not mutually exclusive with the continuation of Thatcherism.
Inevitably, I am merely elucidating here what fellow travellers are already acutely aware of; that very few Western conservatives are any such thing. This applies particularly to Boris Johnson.
I’d like to finish with a brief and witty description of Thatcherism as described by one of her predecessors, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton. When Thatcher derided past conservative governments as being packed with Old Etonians (a reference to England’s premier fee-paying school), Supermac famously countered that Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet was ‘more Old Estonian than Etonian’.
Make of that what you will.