Will Anyone Defend the Tories?
The answer, it seems, is no.
The Conservative Party is a morally bankrupt organisation that no reasonable person can defend. In fact, no one, not even those paid to defend the Tories, not even the Tories themselves, are trying.
In other words – the Conservative Party is collapsing from the inside. For Tories, the situation is very bad. It is not just that the Conservatives can’t convince others that they’re serious about anything – which they evidently can’t - but it is also that they can’t convince themselves.
Take those most obviously invested in the future of this Conservative government – top Tory MPs. Communication discipline, originally a tool that ensured clarity and certainty to a government’s position on an issue, is increasingly abused by a party that recognises the near impossibility of self-defence. Tory MPs increasingly hide behind the government line. Buttressed by well-worn cliché and pointless generalisation, they have made speaking while saying nothing an art. Reducing formal mechanisms of accountability to ceremony devoid of content or meaning, the Conservative’s only message is that they don’t have one.
Jeremy Hunt, whose person epitomises the forgettability and emptiness of current Conservativism, presumably provides evidence of this in anything he ever does or says. I would posit, however, that Mr Hunt has outdone himself. Last week, he pronounced a corker of meaningless cant. At a recent speech at the high altar of faceless neoliberalism, Bloomberg HQ, he proposed the solution to our problems was four ‘Es’ – ‘Entrepreneurship, Education, Employment and Everywhere’.
No ideological strategy, no sense of mission, no passion, no belief – Jeremy Hunt’s announcement was as worrying as it was weird as it was absurd. Because, at a time of generalised national and international crisis, British political Conservativism’s best offer seemed to be the resounding discovery that three good things and the word ‘everywhere’ all began with the letter ‘E’.
But it’s not just ministers, who have always attempted to escape the rigours of formal mechanisms of political accountability. The problem for the Conservatives is deeper than that. The right-wing media, often accused of being the Conservative’s uncritical cheerleader, has dropped its pompoms and given up.
In the place of politics, there has developed a prominent substitute in the bitter cultural insurgency against the forces of ‘woke’. Notice, for example, the traction that Harry and Megan have got in the wake of Spare, or the right-wing furore at the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
Take an example. The Spectator, the magazine at the heart of the thinking cultural and political British right, has largely abandoned any defence of the current government. In its latest issue, its cover was explicitly critical of the Conservatives, and in the issue before this, no article in the entire magazine defended the Party.
Instead, a cultural and analytical turn has overcome the right-wing media establishment. Those that want a battle don’t find it in boring politics. Instead, the pugnacious sort, those like Jeremy Clarkson, Dan Wootton, Piers Morgan or Douglas Murray, look to the dirt-bath of cultural warfare. And the others, the more sensible One-Nation-ers, offer analyses; the likes of Katy Balls, Fraser Nelson, David Frost and Nick Timothy opt to show what is the case, rather than place moral judgement on it.
The upshot is that the sensible right has retreated into cool analysis and so, rabid and angry cultural warriors seize what’s left of the narrative. For everyone apart from short-sighted pundits and angry xenophobes, what is obviously worrying is that the most active and self-assured conservative commentators tend to be the most right-wing. And, for the Conservatives, what is worrying is that the only thing they do well - narrow-minded cultural warfare - is not something that appeals to anyone but extremists.
Torn between the twin torments of political lunacy and political irrelevancy, the Conservative establishment has given up defending a cohesive project. The Government acts like a passive bystander, unable to sew together the tattered fragments of something that might possess meaning or positive direction. And the pillar that kept the edifice up – a gushing media willing to overlook the Party’s worst excesses – is kaput, unable to excuse or explain an order it is largely responsible for. What is left is an indefensible mess.
And so, those ever-present questions, about “what happens next?”, “who wins the next general election?”, and “can the Conservatives turn things around?” are actually not that difficult. Even the Conservatives have stopped believing in the Conservatives. What hope do they have of convincing the rest of us?
Illustration: Olivia Jones