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Samizdata quote of the day – has British conservatism lost its way? (Spoiler alert: yes)

First, we have got to a point where there is huge ideological flabbiness and confusion in the party. This stems ultimately from a lack of hard thinking. It has of course always been true, and famously, that the Conservative party is a broad church containing many different kinds of opinion. That is true, but it still can’t contain every kind of opinion. Traditionally, the Conservative Party has had within it a range of views on economic policy, from strongly free market to a softer bigger-state conservatism, but it was always anchored by a strong collective belief in the nation, in standing up for the United Kingdom, and in social conservatism. But this has changed in recent years. The accommodation to the trends of secular progressivism and liberalism, about which I shall say more in a moment, and the changes in the composition of the parliamentary party which this has entailed, have dragged the party to the left on social issues. There is now a strongly socially modernising wing within the Party which, at times, and on the fringe, veers into active support of “woke” values. So the Conservative Party is now all over the political spectrum, socially and economically. It is no longer sufficiently distinct from the Labour Opposition either economically or socially. No wonder strong conservatives are drifting away.

– Lord Frost, discussing has British conservatism lost its way?

32 comments to Samizdata quote of the day – has British conservatism lost its way? (Spoiler alert: yes)

  • Kirk

    Based on performance, I’d say the question would be better phrased as “Did British Conservatism ever really exist…?”

    Even Maggie Thatcher had more than a bit of the old socialist impulse going, in my opinion. If she hadn’t, she’d have unwound NHS and the rest of the postwar BS right along with it.

    Raw fact is that the more socialism you have, the quicker the death for your society. Britain hasn’t had a really conservative pragmatic government since the post-Napoleonic era, and I’d argue that even some of those governments were deludedly interventional. The results were there to observe, in how the paternalistic controls they attempted led to stagnation, allowing the rise of Germany’s economy as pre-eminent. The most humorous was the drive to label every imported product with the name of the nation of origin, that led to “Made in Germany” becoming a by-word for quality…

    Socialism and interventionism always lead to own-goals. Look at the idiocies here in the US, that led to our industry shipping itself overseas…

    They never, ever learn.

  • If she hadn’t, she’d have unwound NHS and the rest of the postwar BS right along with it.

    Wrong, that would have ended her government the next day. She did what she could & worked within political realties that can’t be wished away.

  • bobby b

    Change some names, and he could be describing the American Republican Party.

  • DiscoveredJoys

    From the speech:

    We need to get tax-and-spend down. We need to reform the planning system. We need to reform our health system over time and we need to remove the crushing burden of net zero on energy costs and try and bring industry back to the country….

    We need a government machine that can manage institutions in line with the government’s actual priorities, and a system of governance with levers that ministers can pull and make things happen. We need a state that can control the borders, fund defence properly, police the streets, defeat extremism, stand up for the nation and its history, and push back on post-modern woke ideas in public institutions.

    A political will, sadly lacking, to drive car with one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. Perhaps it would be more effective to pick just one driving style for now and change once benefits have been shown?

  • Paul Marks

    J.S. Mill did not call Lord Stanley – later the Earl of Derby (the leader of the Conservative after he and Disraeli had masterminded the undermining of Sir Robert Peel) “stupid” (as he, in a bad moment, called ordinary Conservatives) – on the contrary he thought the man was highly intelligent and principled, but that his principles revolved around a fanatical belief in state intervention, indeed J.S summed up the political philosophy of Lord Derby with one word “Liberticide”.

    The same is clearly true of Disraeli – held up as a great “Social Reformer” by British history books (and he was – that was precisely what was wrong with him – and it is why he despised Prime Minister Lord Liverpool who had rolled-back-the-state, dramatically reducing government spending, abolishing Income Tax and restoring gold money).

    I write this to show the problem is not new – there have always been people in the Conservative Party, including the leadership of it, who have wanted bigger government – these days they call themselves “One Nation” Conservatives – which is bizarre as these individuals do not believe in national independence, they believe in the rule of the people of the United Kingdom by officials and “experts” – including by international bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

    Disraeli had two political virtues (yes he had political virtues – not just vices) – they were his belief in national independence and his opposition to rule by officials, Disraeli was an opponent of he creation of the Civil Service – rightly understanding that personnel-are-policy – if the elected politicians can not hire and fire the staff then, over time, elected government, subject to the voters, moves closer and closer to be being a SHAM.

    The modern “One Nation” group of Members of Parliament reject both these virtues of Disraeli – as well as supporting endless statism, they also support rule by officials and “experts” – at an international level.

    There are many good people in the Conservative Party – whether they will succeed within it, or whether their future is in another direction, remains to be seen. But regardless of that – the rule of officials and “experts”, especially at an international level, must be ended – or the public will be, in effect, slaves.

  • Paul Marks

    Short version.

    Either the future of the Conservative Party is the principles that Lord Frost (and John O’Sullivan – ex adviser to Margaret Thatcher and head of the Danube Institute) outlines – or it has no future.

    “But we are a broad church” – a church that includes atheists, especially in high positions, is not a church. And a political party that should be about individual liberty and national independence can not have within in it people, in important positions, who despise these principles – and support rule by officials and “experts”, indeed support rule by international organisations.

  • Runcie Balspune

    For me, the Conservative Party has only ever been the not-Labour Party, because if you don’t vote the wrong lizard might get in.

  • Andy

    Historically the Conservatives were the party of King, Church, and Country. Do they believe in any of these anymore?

    ‘We need to get tax-and-spend down. We need to reform the planning system. We need to reform our health system over time and we need to remove the crushing burden of net zero on energy costs and try and bring industry back to the country’

    They’ve had 9 years (plus 5 more in coalition) to do these, bit late now

  • Martin

    The curious thing about the current Tories, especially the likes of Truss and Sunak, is how shit they are at actually being politicians. The Tories have had opportunistic and relatively unprincipled leaders before, but they could show a level of political smarts that was at least impressive. The height of Sunak’s principles appears to be some weird obsession with how apparently every child doing more maths at school will somehow vastly improve an economy that has been extremely reliant on City of London shenanigans and effectively uncontrolled immigration. Meanwhile Sunak does almost everything possible to alienate Conservative supporters, at least those that are from the lower middle classes/working classes (ie. those well outside Sunak’s wealth and social bracket), while indulging in pointless performative gimmicks (eg Rwanda) that means while he enacts left-wing policies the left scream fascism. To me this shows Sunak is either some brilliant saboteur or just politically stupid.

    Having reluctantly voted for them so often, I am pondering now in hindsight when the party probably became a lost cause. David Cameron was crowing the other day that gay marriage was one of his proudest political achievements. This suggests that the dire rot goes back to at least 2005. Some point to 1990 with Margaret Thatcher being pushed out. Others claim the Tories have been containment since the days of Peel. I haven’t made my own solid conclusions yet.

    Unfortunately, based on the actions of its (weak) leadership recently, I suspect Reform is just another containment device. If Hope Not Hate (Communist front group) are effectively getting veto power over your candidates, then you aren’t much of an alternative to the Tories.

  • Roué le Jour


    To me this shows Sunak is either some brilliant saboteur or just politically stupid.

    The question not asked is why would the fabulously wealthy Sunak want to be PM if not to direct taxpayers money into his friends pockets? He was, remember, chancellor during the scamdemic when half a trillion quid was frittered away. One might even wonder, in echoes of declining Rome, whether he purchased the position?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    If you are PM, you enter the history books!! Had anyone heard of Sunak before this!

  • Martin

    The question not asked is why would the fabulously wealthy Sunak want to be PM if not to direct taxpayers money into his friends pockets?

    Plausible. I have read that property developers are regular big time donors to the Conservative Party. They have an economic interest in very high immigration as it just increases the demand for housing and housebuilding. I’d be surprised that this isn’t at least partly why the Conservatives have let immigration run riot despite promises to the electorate all my adult life that they would not do it. The interests of many wealthy Tory donors do not coincide with Tory voters of much more modest means.

  • Blackwing1

    What is generally referred to as “conservatism” will always fail due to a lack of moral underpinning. Consider Rand’s comments from “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”:

    “Sensing their need of a moral base, many “conservatives” decided to choose religion as their moral justification; they claim that America and capitalism are based on faith in God. Politically, such a claim contradicts the fundamental principles of the United States: in America, religion is a private matter which cannot and must not be brought into political issues.

    Intellectually, to rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies—that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives’” claim that their case rests on faith, means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic the enemy is right, but men must hold faith as superior to reason.

    Consider the implications of that theory. While the communists claim that they are the representatives of reason and science, the “conservatives” concede it and retreat into the realm of mysticism, of faith, of the supernatural, into another world, surrendering this world to communism. It is the kind of victory that the communists’ irrational ideology could never have won on its own merits . . . .”

  • Fraser Orr

    @Perry de Havilland (Wiltshire)
    [Thatcher] did what she could & worked within political realties that can’t be wished away.

    And probably more that was really possible She would have been out on her ear in 1983 were it not for the two black sheep of the starting of North Sea oil revenues and the Falklands War. The latter of which gave her such a large majority she could actually change things despite the dampening of the “wets”. And it was when she pushed a bit too far outside of the Overton window with the poll tax (and perhaps by starting first in Scotland) that was her eventual downfall. She saved Britain from spiraling into irrelevance, of becoming Portugal or Tunisia, and all the governments subsequent floated on the profits of her changes.

    And yet when she died we heard the people whom she saved, whom she made wealthy, singing “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

  • Paul Marks

    Martin – I think you are being unfair to Liz Truss by lumping the lady in with Mr Sunak.

    Liz Truss has been fairly true to pro liberty principles all her life (most certainly not perfect – but more pro liberty than most politicians) – but was betrayed and destroyed.

    It is all very well saying that she should have been a better politician – but facing such vastly powerful forces (the Bank of England, the international Cantillon Effect Corporations, and-so-on) what could Liz Truss do? Remember Britain is not a Presidential system like Argentina – it is a Parliamentary system where a Prime Minister may be removed on the orders of the establishment (sometimes the international establishment).

    Only if a majority in the House of Commons are really committed to liberty (both national independence and individual liberty) can a Prime Minister who is pro liberty hope to succeed. Hence my point about pro statism “Conservative” Members of Parliament – such as the infamous “One Nation Group”.

  • Paul Marks

    I think Nicholas Grey is correct about Mr Sunak – he did NOT, I believe, become Prime Minister to steal money or to give it to his “mates”, I believe that Mr Sunak became Prime Minister, as Nicholas Grey says – for reasons of prestige.

    To be known as the Prime Minister – or the ex Prime Minister, yes even being an ex Prime Minister makes someone famous for the rest of their life.

  • Martin

    Martin – I think you are being unfair to Liz Truss by lumping the lady in with Mr Sunak.

    I don’t think so – she wanted to increase immigration further because it was good for ‘GDP’, so we’d largely have the same fiasco as we have under Sunak.

  • Kirk

    Wrong, that would have ended her government the next day. She did what she could & worked within political realties that can’t be wished away.

    I don’t think you’re getting what I was saying… Thatcher was, in the end, a politician. Not a real leader, someone who does what needs doing and makes it stick.

    Britain needed reform; she “did what she could”, and left it at that. Political expediency.

    You didn’t and still do not need “expediency” or “the art of the possible”. You need someone to make the unpalatable possible, who is going to do the necessary, not the politically expedient.

    This is why I don’t have a hell of a lot of respect for either Thatcher or Reagan; both of them were trimmers, half-measured compromisers who gave up far more than they should have. Reagan’s acquiescence to the Democrats left us with what we have today: A situation where we’ve gone so far into fiscal suicide that it’s not even funny. He should have broken the Democrats and the RINO members of his own party, or at least highlighted the problem by making a much bigger issue of it. Likely would have cost him his second term, but the point would have been made.

    The problem with people like Thatcher and Reagan lies right there in their political nature: They’re willing to compromise, knowing damn good and well that the compromise is going to lead to long-term consequence that someone else will have to pick up after.

    Well, gee… Today, here we are in the “long-term” for the both of them, and where are we? In a ginormous mess, left over from their “political expediencies”…

    Would have been better had they both burnt their bridges and set the issues out where everyone would have to address them, instead of kicking the can down the road. You’ll note that we’ve run out of paved road, yes…?

  • Stuart Noyes

    My partner works in the care industry. Just one of the social areas where government money is treated as a magic money tree. Perry said something I disagreed with previously but I do think the culture of this country needs changing. Responsibility should be ordered from the individual to family in many cases. The last resort should be public money.

    Speaking to a security guard years ago he said everyone wants the goodies but doesn’t want to pay for the basics.

    These are the ideas the Conservative party should be pushing. Along with monetary security. They should also be putting the British people first in all things and remove many of the anti democratic international agreements that hold minority support among us.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    I don’t know about Reagan, but Mrs. Thatcher became famous for saying, “you turn if you want to. The lady is not for turning.” This was about her economic policies, just before the economy turned for the better. So she could, and did, make hard decisions. Hundreds of economists wrote an open letter, printed in the papers, predicting bad things for the nation. So she had the guts for the job.

  • Paul Marks

    Martin – I agree that Liz Truss was wrong on immigration – but, overall, I still think you are being unfair.

    Kirk – the United Kingdom has a Parliamentary, not a Presidential, system. Had Margaret Thatcher acted in the way that, say, the President of Argentina is now – the lady would have been turned out of office.

    The lady was almost removed many times – before the final squalid and disgusting coup of 1990. But Margaret Thatcher managed to a achieve a lot, things the lady would not have been able to achieve had she been turned out of office years before.

    By the way, I share Fraser Orr’s disgust at the way some (some) people reacted to the downfall to the only good Prime Minister of modern times – someone who had done so much for the despicable people who celebrated the coup against her, people who Margaret Thatcher had done so much for – and had risked her life for, more than once.

  • Martin

    Martin – I agree that Liz Truss was wrong on immigration – but, overall, I still think you are being unfair.

    Had any of the three post-Brexit PMs reduced immigration, I would say all sins would be forgiven, even for BoJo. So I think I’m being quite fair. They didn’t need to deliver utopia, they just had to resist the open borders for GDP mentality. Instead, they’ve made Theresa May, David Cameron, and the New Labour governments look like immigration hawks by comparison.

  • What we’re seeing, on both sides of the pond, is that nature abhors a vacuum. The left is galloping leftward, and the right, to fill the gaps they leave behind, is doing the same. This leaves a spot on the right end of the spectrum, if anyone might be interested to fill, but the media immediately attacks them as being National Socialists.

  • Kirk

    Billll said:

    This leaves a spot on the right end of the spectrum, if anyone might be interested to fill, but the media immediately attacks them as being National Socialists.

    I find all the “-isms” about equally bad. You adopt one of them, no matter what else you’ve done, you’ve shut down your brain. “Oh, I can’t do that… I’m a socialist, I have to keep doing this…” or “I cannot compromise my Islamic beliefs…”

    None of this really works anywhere but a truly static world that exactly conforms to the respective belief system you’ve taken up. So, you doom yourself to failure, right off the bat, because you’re a “believer” in whatever lunatic -ism you adopted the last time you really thought about anything, which was probably childhood when a parent or other authority figure imposed their own ideas on you, and you thought “Gee, that sounds good… Let’s let that set the rest of my behavior for life…”

    People do not step back and objectively analyze whether or not their belief system actually works. Islam is largely what it is because it’s entirely ineffective at answering the needs of a modern society with modern technology, and because of that, its adherents start out with a deep and lasting inferiority complex that leads to all the violence. At no point do any of the “Believers” ever stop, look at things rationally, and say “Ya know what? This cousin-marrying BS isn’t working out so well… Maybe we ought to stop? And, the way we treat women? Maybe those “hair rays” aren’t so much the problem as our own deviant sexual desires…”

    Same with the socialists: None of them are able to take in and encompass that their line of BS fails spectacularly, every time it’s implemented. The only difference has proven to be how much socialism they imbibe; if it’s a lot, it means that they either go all draconian and authoritarian in a futile attempt to make it work (looking at you, Russia and China…), or they fail along a timeline directly proportional to how much of the stupidity they try to implement.

    Sad fact is that it never, ever works over the long haul, but the siren call of Marx lures people onto the rocks and shoals, and because the idiots never think, never observe, they have to learn from their own sad failure. Usually, at length; ask a Cuban how they feel about it all, sometime. You’ll get an earful.

    Politicians get ahead because they tell the lies so well, or they concentrate on figuring out how to stay in power while keeping the people as happy as possible. No mind whether or not “the people” are being stupid; no, they’ll never tell them that to their faces or show the work as to just why they’re being stupid. Politicians are the used-car salesmen of state: They know damn good and well that Jonny Dangerous can’t really afford that high-performance two-seat speedster, but they’ll sell it to him anyway, ‘cos that’s what he wants. If he wraps that car around a telephone pole, or someone else’s car? No matter; that sale still went up on the board.

    Actual leaders? They don’t do the soft-soap put-on job; they tell the truth, do the right thing, and then make that stick. No matter how unpleasant. Which is why I can’t consider either Thatcher or Reagan as real leaders; they both knew damn good and well what was going on and where it was leading, but they never could quite bring themselves to do the necessary.

    And, here we are. It’s how George Bush the first failed, as well… He trimmed, giving in to the Democrat traitor party by raising taxes after he said he would not accept such. They responded to his “compromise” by campaigning on his “lies”, and we got Clinton. His son was the same; he never came out and said “Yeah, this Iraq and Afghanistan thing is going to take a generation or two… We can do it like we did Germany and Japan, or we can do it like a punitive expedition on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan…” No balls; he never defended himself against the false charges laid in the media and by his political opponents, being “above all that”. We got Obama; same as Clinton, only worse. We’re still dealing with Obama in his third term, and we’re suffering the effects. Same as with regards to Trudeau; the so-called “Conservatives” in Canada never found a real leader, never laid cards on the table, never actually fought. They went along to get along, and there they are. Observe the wages of cowardice and sloth…

    I have my reasons for saying that Thatcher and Reagan were cut from the same failure-cloth. Neither addressed the long-term problems we had at the time, the ones clearly visible to everyone with half a brain. Instead, they went after the low-hanging fruit, the “possible”. Trimmers, the both of them. The Soviet Union was going to collapse under the weight of its own self-indulgent fantasy; meanwhile? We never addressed the organic problems here in our nations, which have (SURPRISE!!!) festered into the massive fiscal and cultural debacles we face today.

    Looking back on it, the last time we could really have turned all of this around was back then, when things like the deficit were still vaguely manageable. They did not; instead, they did stupid shit like ship all our manufacturing to China. Brilliant move, that…

  • Kirk

    Worthwhile post over at X:


    Read all of it. Mr. Eriksen makes way too much sense, in terms of explaining all the stupidity we see around us.

  • bobby b

    “So kill them.”

    That was pretty good.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Mrs. Thatcher once pointed to the book ‘The Constitution of Liberty’, by Hayek, and declared, “That is what we believe.” The book is a discussion about society, and even advocates private money! So she was not a socialist. And when Reagan was governor of California, he improved the economy by getting rid of lots of laws.

  • Paul Marks

    Nicholas – “The Constitution of Liberty” (1960) has much good in it (although the private money stuff is really Hayek in the 1970s – and by the 1970s he had forgotten what he had once well understood, namely that “index money” can NOT work – and money must be a real physical commodity, not the whim of bankers), but “The Constitution of Liberty” starts with (or at least contains early on) a very bad discussion of some key points of philosophy – showing that Hayek accepted a philosophy, which if followed, undermined (totally undermined) his political and economic positions.

    Margaret Thatcher owed more in philosophy to her father, Alfred Roberts, than she did to F.A. Hayek – and it was fortunate that she did. Mr Roberts gave talks in the 1930s against both Marxism and National Socialism, and supporting Classical Liberalism. F.A. Hayek did much the same thing some years later with his book “The Road to Serfdom” – but there was a vital difference.

    Alfred Roberts (the father of Margaret Thatcher) really did believe in the philosophical foundational principles of the Old Whigs – the principles that Hayek mentions in “The Road to Serfdom” (without ever saying he believed in themselves) and then quietly drops as “certain philosophical assumptions” in “The Constitution of Liberty”.

    Hayek seemed to believe that you could drop the basic foundational philosophical principles of the Old Whigs and Classical Liberals (on what used to be called “the nature of man” – i.e. that humans are beings, able to tell moral good from moral evil and, with effort, to CHOOSE to do what it right against our desire, “passion”, to do evil) and still keep the politics and economics of the Old Whigs and Classical Liberals.

    He was mistaken – because it can not be done, If you reject the philosophical foundations the political and economic house of liberty collapses.

    The creatures (if they can even be called creatures) that Hayek (and this is NOT his invention – he was tragically following fashionable philosophy) presents are not human beings – they are from the philosophy of Bentham, Hume and Hobbes, they neither deserve liberty or are even capable of it.

    Such a philosophy can only end in tyranny and destruction.

    It is just about the opposite of how humans were understood by Alfred Roberts or other normal people.

  • Paul Marks

    Ronald Reagan – as Governor of California he did what he could faced by a State Legislature that was, even then, awful (basically controlled by Democrats).

    And as President he did what he could – faced with a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats.

    Did Ronald Reagan restore America to the, basically, free market economy it had when he was born in 1911? Of course NOT – there was no way to do that in the political situation he found himself in. But he did what he could.

  • Martin

    I won’t bury everything Reagan did, but the illegal immigration amnesty bill he signed was a complete disaster, and this wasn’t a minor error. There were alternative Republican precedents.

  • bobby b

    Reagan’s signature was a compromise in which we also enacted the prohibitions on employers hiring illegal aliens. On balance, given the kid-oriented amnesty program, it was not horrible.

    Politics is the art of the possible, not an all-out war for everything. When you hold out for “everything”, you usually get nothing.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Quite right, Bobby B! I think that Ms. Truss tried to crash through or crash, and the results were not pretty. We can hope that when the Conservatives are kicked out of office, she will be there to pick up the pieces, and rebuild them into a mor libertarian shape.

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