Conservative politicians have become so prideful about the internal problems of the Labour Party that they have betrayed one of the foundational principles of their political outlook. As a result of this departure from its philosophical roots, the Conservative Party is now nothing more than a shell of what it once was and its only purpose is to maintain political power free from scrutiny. It is a view that I have known for a long time but that I had never connected the dots; my previous focus on this had been how the Tories were now a neoliberal party rather than a conservative party, however they now seem to be ideologically untethered, seeking power for the sake of it.
Historically British conservatives have been characterised by many different philosophies such as those of Burke, Locke, Disraeli etc. but this is no longer the case. Since the beginnings of the Tory Party in the 1670s and 1680s these politicians held a few common principles: support for the monarchy, support for a paternalistic state, support for the sovereignty of parliament, and the preservation and veneration of cultural traditions. This was later built upon by later political leaders like Disraeli and developed One Nation Conservatism, the idea that the rich should have a moral duty to help the poor but they shouldn’t be coerced into doing so through taxation or state power, which stayed true to the Lockean and Burkean roots of the party. However in the modern era the Conservative Party does not believe in conservatism. It is a neoliberal party that has jettisoned historic conservative principles in favour of becoming disciples of Thatcherite neoliberalism and Bismarckian realpolitik.
To illustrate my point I’ll give a few examples. Last week there was a speech in the House of Commons by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon in which he talked about the issue of ISIS in Syria. Labour MP David Anderson challenged Fallon to guarantee a debate in Parliament “in advance of any decision to deploy UK Reaper aircraft [drone] outside Syria and Iraq”. Fallon’s response was one word: “No”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on the Prime Minister to consult Parliament before any military action takes place, and this takes place after allegations were made in the press that the British government was preparing to escalate military operations in Libya. The British government has continued to refuse to promise a parliamentary debate.
Another example is in reference to the upcoming EU referendum. After returning from continental Europe David Cameron delivered a speech in Chippenham about the progress of his negotiations. However, as was pointed out in the Commons by the Labour leader, Cameron’s absence from Parliament contradicts his negotiating position: “He’s trumpeting the sovereignty of national parliaments of part of renegotiations but doesn’t seem to accept the sovereignty of this parliament to make the statement he should have done”. By ignoring his parliamentary duties, the Prime Minister is betraying the roots of his own party, which is further evidence of how the modern Conservative Party are actually a neoliberal party.
The third example I’d like to give is the fallout from the House of Lords’ blocking of the cuts to tax credits. An actual Tory may have made the point about the Lords’ having blocked a finance bill but Osborne took it one step further. Osborne time and time again pointed out the fact that the Lords is unelected, but this argument is out of the liberal tradition rather than any Tory tradition. Furthermore Osborne’s response to this was to pack the Lords with Conservative Party peers.
Tories, who as I mentioned earlier support parliamentarianism and tradition, have historically argued that the Lords is a place where the ‘well to do’ of society come together to improve legislation. Osborne’s suggestion, by implication, argues that the Lords can be packed with Tory appointees and the ‘quality’ of the members worsened. If we look at the House of Lords through the prism of conservative philosophy, we can easily show that Osborne’s approach to the Lords is totally inconsistent with the approach of people like Burke or Pitt.
How can Tory politicians claim to be British conservatives when they refuse to debate issues in parliament and wish to exercise executive authority over issues? Tony Blair was criticised for trying to make the British government more presidential but Cameron is avoiding parliamentary scrutiny in order to avoid being held accountable. The Conservative Party feel that they have no meaningful opposition and as a result they have become totally concerned with enacting policy rather than adequately justifying it.
This contempt for Parliament and more traditional aspects of the British political system illustrates that the Conservative Party is in no way in keeping with the philosophies of Pitt, Disraeli or Peel. I’m not suggesting that political parties never change to meet new circumstances, but to claim that this government could be considered in keeping with the tradition of British conservatism would be clearly false.