Does a political party have to live up to its name? One would expect that a party with conservative in its name would have members and representatives who are, in fact, ideologically conservative, whether socially, in their economic policies, or both. Yet, as the United Kingdom Conservative Party continues its dominance of the political scene in central and local government, we have yet to see the current government truly prove itself to be a conservative as its name suggests.
Many in the party yearn for the days of Thatcher, but have learned to exist in one where her presence is no longer truly felt. Instead, they watch as the party self-destructs in its attempts to match wits with its political opponents. The reason is simple enough: the members and representatives want to fight against the left-wing-body that is attaching itself to political consciousness.
Jeremy Corbyn, the maverick far left Labour Party leader, has defied all expectations to cling to power in spite of allegations of sponsoring terrorism, anti-Semitism, and lack of support from his own Members of Parliament (MPs). His socialist agenda of increased taxes, tax-subsidized university tuition, and the nationalisation of industry, gripped not only the nation’s young, but educated homeowners and the middle class. Rather than making an attempt to showcase the benefits of a conservative, capitalist society, the Conservative Party has attempted to play Corbyn on his own turf.
Economically, the May administration is discussing increased taxes to help fund the plagued National Health System (NHS) and a cap on energy prices. Socially, the government is censoring free speech through its controversial border blocking of commentators such as Lauren Southern, pushing police resources into Twitter bullying and even advocating for big government in the 2017 General Election manifesto. The main tenets of conservatism, lower taxation, limited government, individual liberty and personal freedom, are no longer part of the Conservative Party platform- as is evident from the actions and rhetoric of Prime Minister (PM) May. With the demise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), there are no credible conservative choices. As the party pushes on with a more liberal agenda, voters find themselves choosing between an increasingly left wing group of parties, a choice that many will not find pleasing.
Now, where did this all start?
From 1997 until 2010, the Labour Party was in power. After eighteen years of Conservative rule under Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and later John Major, controversial Tony Blair was in prime position to present the ‘third way’ in politics, a mainly left wing plate of policies. Thatcher’s administration contributed to the ‘Evil Tory’ myth, something that has plagued the party ever since. After losing three consecutive elections to New Labour (Tony Blair and later Gordon Brown) the Conservative Party knew that it needed to change.
Under the next Prime Minister, David Cameron, a career politician with a soft image, the party began to endorse ‘compassionate conservatism.’ A coalition with the centre Liberal Democrats allowed a softer, slightly more liberal government, in which legislation such as the establishment of same-sex marriage in 2013. Though some conservative policies were passed, such as the increase in the tax free allowance, Cameron’s compassionate conservatism turned into a far more moderate conservatism.
After Cameron’s departure in 2016, there was an expectation that new PM Theresa May would bring more conservative ideas into the fold, especially as she was notably more right on many issues than her predecessor. It didn’t happen that way though.
Though more liberal MPs, such as Theresa May and Amber Rudd, are at the forefront of the government, there is a definite wish for a more conservative MP at the helm. Ultra posh, old fashioned Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, has become a sensation in the conservative youth circles due to his eccentric manner, meme worthiness and, most of all, deeply conservative views. As a Catholic, his anti-LGBT marriage stance and anti-abortion views have stirred deep controversy in the British press and in many media circles, though to his supporters, it is more appealing as he is not only economically conservative, but socially conservative. Other conservative MPs, such as Priti Patel and Liam Fox, have achieved acclaim from grassroots movements, but none more so than Rees-Mogg- who even has his own fandom ‘Moggmentum’ (a play on Momentum, the grassroots Corbyn group).
Whether conservatism will return to the Conservative Party is a question many have. Some say it will take a new leader; others say it will take a Corbyn government, such as when Thatcher brought the right back after James Callaghan’s government. For some Tories, this return to centrism is welcome. As for the conservative public, there is a question as to which party they’ll support come the next election.