The Conservative Party used to be a vehicle for liberal reform. Our dispossessed classical liberal forefathers migrated to the Tories in the 1970s in eager preparation for the dismantling of Keynesian economics and nanny state tendencies. They were so effective at disseminating the new ideas that, for a time, even the statist Labour Party began to run with them.
Today’s Conservative Party, however, is no longer the champion of liberalism. To its detriment, the party has slipped back into the “high Toryism”, which for so many years drastically separated it from the liberals. Indeed, the party has morphed into Britain’s version of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union. Reverting to a bland mix of big government and social conservatism, the Conservatives are not only betraying their modern legacy but also alienating voters like me.
Quite simply, the party has now accepted the main premises of the left. Theresa May has consistently shown how “social injustice” tops her agenda, prioritising it not simply in the last conference speech, but in her first official statement as prime minister. Rather than prioritising the economy, housing and the country’s debt, she instead constantly highlights racial, gender and class injustices.
Indeed, she is the first Conservative leader in many years to use the term “industrial strategy”. Her 2017 manifesto went even further by proposing several new business regulations, including tighter rules on takeovers and mergers. In Mrs May, we have a leader driven by a desire to increase the power of the state in order to solve corporate and societal problems.
Alongside her lack of trust in business and the market, Mrs May holds back from defending the value of personal autonomy. Despite the Royal Society for Public Health’s urging to end the War on Drugs, she has not relented. Instead, she blames “middle-class cocaine users at dinner parties” for the scope and scale of drug gangs. The Home Office is willing to give 12-year old epileptic Billy Caldwell a special dispensation to use cannabis to ease his symptoms, yet the party line remains firmly against legalising the substance to help countless others.
Our politicians behave nowadays more like technocrats, crafting policy not out of philosophical vigour but out of the desire to get cheap popularity. In June, Mrs May unveiled her £20 billion boost to the NHS, ostensibly to be paid out of the “Brexit dividend”, though the Institute for Fiscal Studies maintains that taxes will most likely have to be raised.
On social policy, the broadly applied “civic nationalism” the Tories champion has disturbing implications too. The Government’s support for Prevent, a strategy designed to eliminate extremism in Britain, entails individuals being reported and referred to the Home Office. This in itself is not surprising, but the fact that this statute places a legal obligation on certain individuals in the public sector, such as those in healthcare and education, to file a report on those they perceive to be “extremist” is troubling.
As home secretary, Mrs May introduced the Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the “snooper’s charter”, which gave police and intelligence officers the power to see and collect internet connection records without a warrant, and permits them to engage in “targeted equipment interference” – what we know as hacking. The Prime Minister’s attitude to the internet can be summarised in her manifesto statement: “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.”
I am not against the Conservatives, but I am of the opinion that the party’s direction of travel is not sustainable. Carrying on, in the absence of a clear set of values, only heightens the risk of Jeremy Corbyn taking the keys to No 10.
Because young people are put off when they see that Conservatives are trying to meddle with their screens and their bodies. Today’s high Toryism generates a cabal of new government departments, higher taxes and electoral dissatisfaction – all the while smacking of mere opportunism.
In reality, policies designed for “everyone” end up pleasing no one. Today’s Conservative Party ignores the very philosophy that is responsible for its past success: faith in free markets, limited government, and personal responsibility. We need to channel our classical liberal forefathers and recapture the imagination of the country. If the Tories fail to provide the ideas and inspiration for tomorrow, Mr Corbyn will.