Immaturity, simplicity and populism prevail in our politics - and it's toxic - Alastair Stewart

Is the Conservative Party conservative?

That question was once the indulgence of politics geeks who enjoyed pinpointing the heirs to Benjamin Disraeli's one-nation brand. But no more.

Disraeli was the first to transform the philosophy into an election-winning strategy. In his view, the role of politics was to transcend class stratifications (while accepting they could never be eradicated) and present equal opportunities, if not equitable, outcomes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But whether it was David Cameron, Theresa May, or Boris Johnson, the number of actual one-nation Tory prime ministers is few and far between in recent years. Liz Truss was a hard-right zealot and Sunak a fiscal conservative, but both spoke of uniting the country. However, the mantle is only rhetorical if not backed up by concrete policies.

The biggest casualty of the last 12 years is the oppressive feeling that opportunities have been cut down. There is a great line from The Sopranos that sets the multi-faceted, post-cultural tone for a show that was only superficially about gangsters. "I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over."

Whether it be starting a family or buying your first home, we know that something has gone very, very wrong in our society. Things that should be filled with apprehension, worry, and doubt are filled with an abject feeling of failure before you have made the ascent. The standards of living of not just our grandparents but now our parents are a pipe dream.

Now, the easy comedy of the nagging parents incessantly asking when you have a child or buying your first home is over. So drastic is the shift in sands that most parents of friends avoid these topics altogether. We live in a country where most families need to budget their heating (if they can afford to have it on at all), never mind a home deposit.

Whether one blames the Tories, in power for 12 years, the SNP, in power for 15, or the world in general, it does not matter. We have reached an Orwellian impasse where governments promise better tomorrows with insane constitutional or economic measures that can only ever satiate their memberships - not the much-touted national interest.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with patient Sreeja Gopalan during a visit to Croydon University Hospital, south London on Friday.Leon Neal/PA WirePrime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with patient Sreeja Gopalan during a visit to Croydon University Hospital, south London on Friday.Leon Neal/PA Wire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with patient Sreeja Gopalan during a visit to Croydon University Hospital, south London on Friday.Leon Neal/PA Wire

Once upon a time, reproaching governments was a scapegoat for feelings of inadequacy. Not anymore - immaturity is the prevailing orthodoxy of elected administrations who think governing is about shouting the loudest. Complexity breeds simplicity and populism, and it is toxic.

Joined up, cross-party thinking is required for colossal emergencies. Britain had several grand coalitions and national governments throughout the Great Depression in the early 1930s. There is a strong argument that the National Government provided Britain with stability when it was most needed. It finally ended at the start of the Second World War when Churchill's wartime coalition replaced it.

I was no big fan of David Cameron, and I sincerely believed at the time his policies of austerity, including the bedroom tax, were cruel and unfair and detached from the reality of people, particularly those with disabilities.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Theresa May's awful bean-counting approach to Britons living in Europe was hard to stomach. The relish amongst the hard right to downplay legitimate questions about the status of Europeans in Brexit Britain was disgusting.

And then there was Boris Johnson, our morally illiterate premier, who finally caved to his self-made scandals. His Brexit vision reigns in all its hellishness and cognitive dissonance.

Liz Truss was season 12 of a show that once held mild promise and enjoyed moderate ratings. Once consistent and well thought out, the plots became outlandishly unbelievable, matched in their nonsense only by two-dimensional leads whose actions made no sense and their speech left tired and irksome.

One Nation conservatism belongs to the small ‘c’ belief in the philosophical over the ideological tradition. Conservatives hold that you cannot know everything. Institutions, organisations and professional fields are better left to those who specialise in them than politicians.

Paternalistic obligations will bring about prosperity, the cohesion of the country and a sense of shared nationhood for everyone. Conservatives accept there should be a social safety net but are sceptical of mindless social and constitutional tinkering and targets – policies must be defensible using public reason.

It is a cliche to say that the world is complicated, but the solutions presented by the latest iteration of the Conservative Party are harrowing. There is little to suggest things will be better under Sunak. 'Not being Truss' will get you so far. But there is still a chance to inject a degree of legitimacy by calling a general election. The massive economic decisions Sunak will have to make, to say nothing of cleaning up his predecessor's mess, require a fresh mandate.

The polls suggest a Tory wipeout to Labour at the next election. It might not be in Keir Starmer's interest to even entertain a National Coalition to lead the country through the congealing emergencies it is facing. Still, even token participation or instigation would be a unifying move if he is the next prime minister.

Where once we could put our faith in leaders to rise to the occasion, we can only pray they do not make circumstances worse.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There is a Turkish proverb that says, "The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the Axe, for the Axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was made of wood he was one of them."

Today, you could well believe the Conservatives are the axe - and we the trees.

Alastair Stewart a freelance writer and public affairs consultant