What are the Tories for? Time for the Conservatives to rediscover Conservatism

What are the Tories for? Time for the Conservatives to rediscover Conservatism. By Fraser Nelson.

Should it be Boris? He was twice elected mayor of a Labour city and if the Tory mission is to stop Jeremy Corybn, surely you need someone charismatic to see off a populist. …

To their credit, the Conservatives recognise their capacity for self-destruction. Theresa May has survived because they’ve applied the lessons of last summer, or perhaps of the Iraq war: toppling a leader is easy but the ensuing tribal warfare is the killer.

The Tories are divided on Brexit, on the deficit, on where they went wrong in the election and what they should stand for now. Such disagreements were suppressed until 8 June because they agreed to fight a vacuous campaign on a managerialist platform promising ‘strong and stable’ government. Its failure has left them facing awkward questions: not so much who should lead us, but who are we? What do we stand for? What is the point of us?

Philip Hammond unwittingly demonstrated the problem in his Mansion House speech. He mocked Theresa May for not mentioning the economy and rightly said the lowest-paid have done better than in any other major economy. But he credited the minimum wage, a Labour policy now aped by the Tories. There was no link made with tax cuts for low-paid workers, which have encouraged so many to move from welfare to work. And no mention of the corporation tax cut, which sent revenues surging and left employers better able to hire those workers.

This isn’t a failure of communication, it’s a basic lack of belief. Tories used to be able to explain that tax cuts bring prosperity but also — crucially — were able to explain the point of prosperity. It brings a stronger, fairer, more cohesive society: that’s why Conservatives want it. The aim is to reduce poverty, augment life chances, foster creativity and confront social evils. When David Cameron offered tax relief to the low-paid, the results were extraordinary; he managed things so the incomes of the lowest-paid rose faster than anyone’s. But this is a success that dares not speak its name.

As leader of a coalition, Cameron didn’t talk much about conservatism — instead, the party let itself be defined by its enemies as wonkish, selfish, cold-hearted and greedy. But the coalition era did mean that proper conservative ideas were tolerated in isolated areas, mainly welfare and education. The results? Unemployment plunged, poverty fell, thousands of secondary schools opted to become independent of government. …

So when Theresa May stole more Labour ideas at the last election, in a manifesto that sought to bury Thatcher-ism, it fitted a trend. But as the results showed, if voters are sold Labour ideas, they’ll buy them from the Labour party. If they’re told that state diktat, not competition, is the best way of reducing prices, then why not back Jeremy Corbyn and be done with it? …

The social justice agenda that the Tories carved out under Cameron is now being abandoned — to Labour’s astonishment and delight.  … Two years ago Michael Gove said that Tories should consider themselves ‘warriors for the dispossessed’. His suggestion was ignored and Corbyn’s message is clear: Labour are the warriors now.

So who are the Tories? If they’re not insurgents against failed vested interests and uncaring government, if they’re unconvinced by the need to promote individual freedom and social cohesion, if they don’t really believe in competition and won’t even invest properly in a military, then why vote Tory? Their answer, for years, has been: because the other lot are even worse. An addiction to negative campaigning has hollowed the Tories out, which perhaps explains why they haven’t won a convincing majority since 1987. If they’re seen as economic cleaners, called in to sort out a mess, what’s their pitch when there’s less of a mess?

That pretty much applies in Australia too. Why Turnbull?