What is the difference between Left and Right? I have always had trouble with this. When I was small I learned the difference from a Natural History Museum guidebook which, on one page, had a picture of Tyrannosaurus rex on the left, and Iguanodon on the right. As a five-year-old I knew my dinosaurs long before I could appreciate the difference between Left and Right, and even today, when I have trouble with directions, I bring those two picture to mind and I’m all set.
If only real life were that simple.
Boris Johnson, whom posterity will record as the greatest statesman of this or any other age, once summarised the difference between Left and Right more of less as follows (if memory serves – I cannot now find the quote…)
The Left prohibits everything that isn’t specifically allowed.
The Right allows everything that isn’t specifically prohibited.
This seems to me to be a pretty good yardstick, a star to steer by, and – it might seem – a succinct description of the difference between Labour and Tories in post-NuLabour Britain. Distressed by the appalling financial mess bequeathed by the outgoing Labour government, I joined the Conservative party and even went out leafleting before the last General Election.
There are certain Conservative principles which I think are self-evidently correct. For example, that economies should be based on sound money (what Gordon Brown called ‘prudence’ before he lost the plot); that the habit of entitlement and dependency into which many have fallen is a Bad Thing; that good governance should be based on democracy and the rule of law; that government should play as little part as possible in the regulation of peoples’ lives; that advancement should be based purely on merit.
Such principles, I believed, motivated Margaret Thatcher, unarguably the best Prime Minister of the twentieth century, after Churchill. However, I have a suspicion that many Conservatives have difficulty with some of these (especially the last one.) And there are other things, now, things I’m
passionate about keen on, at which many conservatives might baulk.
Environment. Climate change is real and observable. We need nuclear power. I’m all for renewable energy. Fracking might be fun, but isn’t a long-term solution. And, dammit, wind farms are beautiful.
Immigration. Britain is great because of its immigrants. They might now be Poles, Somalis and Latvians where there were once Pakistanis, Bengalis, Jews and Afro-Caribbeans, and before that, Huguenots, and, if you go back far enough, Normans, Vikings, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Celts. I am a child of immigrants, so, naturally, I think immigration is great. Yes, it causes problems. Yes, one wonders what is meant precisely by ‘multiculturalism’. Yes, this island is crowded. But immigration is not a zero-sum game: the idea that immigrants ‘take British jobs’ is nonsense.
Wealth. I am not a Banker-Basher. Yes, bankers have done some terrible things lately – the worst in my view being the LIBOR fixing scandal. But the habit of vilifying bankers smacks to me of Leftish envy and not a little antisemitism (the caricature of the Jewish Moneybags is not far away.) However, I suspect that the economic and social health of a nation is related to wealth inequality (though the literature on this is complex and confused – believe me, I looked.) Some wealth inequality is good for business, but I think that a very large inequality of wealth becomes counterproductive. It dampens aspirations rather than encouraging them, and through that, reduces social mobility.
Education. People might be offered equality of opportunity, but it is a fact that some people respond better to formal education than others. Selectivity is not elitist – it is good. Pupils with smarts should be nurtured, irrespective of family background. This is why grammar schools were a good thing. My parents came from poor backgrounds and were able to aspire to better things as a result of grammar-school education, which was free. The time has passed for re-introducing grammar schools, however – the reason being that the great experiment in comprehensive education has failed. Teachers and educationalists acknowledge this, if tacitly: in the state schools patronised by the younger Croxii, there is aggressive streaming on the basis of merit.
Taxation. The current government has really missed a trick here. Rather than increasing taxation, the economy might be helped by reducing it. Income tax should be cut sharply to a flat rate for everyone, and a range of other taxes including fuel duty, stamp duty, inheritance tax, corporation tax and so on and so forth should be reviewed, reduced or even abolished. One should speculate to accumulate – the Treasury would be more than compensated by the economic recovery that would then ensue. The increase in personal wealth might compensate if only to a modest extent the fact that many people receive low pay – and would be simpler to administer than the current labyrinthine arrangement of tax credits, in which people are taxed with one hand and then given handouts with the other. I guess one can only do so much when one is in bed with the Liberal Democrats, but the Conservative Party should have been more pro-active in this department.
Europe. I like Europe. Europe is great. I have been to quite a lot of Europe recently. Is very nice. I like. The idea of the European Union is a good one. I have no problem with ‘ever-closer union’. In reality, though, the EU is riddled with over-regulation and poor governance. I don’t believe that it has ever passed one of its own audits. The whole issue of the Euro says it all, really. The imposition of a single currency on a range of disaparate countries without the prior establishment of a central political and fiscal authority was a triumph of grandiose lunacy over hard reality. The fact that many of the member nations flouted their own fiscal and economic criteria for membership made it worse. There is little chance that working inside Europe will ever change things – Britain should secede. The argument that Britain would lose out because the EU is our biggest trading partner is a fallacy – we’re already in the shit.
Freedom. If Conservatives (and conservatives with a small ‘c’) are meant to adopt a laissez-faire attitude to some spheres of activity, such as the economy, then they should perhaps question their motives in others. I am very worried by the link between conservatism and some rather unwelcome, regressive attitudes in the United States, and there’s a danger that such things could be mirrored here. Why should Faith trounce Evidence? What’s wrong, for example, with gay marriage – really? If drug addicition costs the country so much, why not decriminalise drug use? The savings for the NHS and the criminal justice system would be enormous.
And there are other matters, seemingly more prosaic, that affect the nation’s health. Planning is one. As soon as anyone suggests any infrastructural change of benefit to the nation, the plans are immediately tied up by pressure groups of local nimbies and years of public enquiries. The government is attempting to change this – but I doubt that they’ll get very far.
The reason, I think, is that the Conservative party is in thrall to its local organisations. In principle, that’s good. I suspect that the Tories are far more accountable to their members than is the case for many trades unions. The problem is that the membership of the party is getting older. I think the average age of a Tory party member is something like 63. Now, whereas it may be the case that anyone under 30 who is an active Tory probably needs their head examined, an elderly membership will be resistant to change of any kind, good or ill. Around here, the Tories are generally a bunch of Daily-Mail-reading bungaloid curtain twitchers, furious about immigration, and are guaranteed to object to anything that smacks of change, especially if it benefits young people. Since I turned 50 my head has screamed noooooo!!!! and I don’t plan to renew my membership.
Many years ago when the world was young I was incensed when a Leftie cousin characterised Left-wing politics as ‘intellectual’, as if any other politics was stoopid. Although I can now see where he is coming from (why! some of my best friends are Lefties!) there does seem to be a distinct lack of thoughtful Tories, especially at local level, banging the drum for sensible, progressive policies based on sound fiscal principles that promote economic development and the good of all.
What shall I do? Now, I regard socialism as philosophically flawed, and the LibDems as straws in the wind. But I can no longer vote Tory. I shall vote nationally for my MP, Norman Lamb, who is a good constituency MP despite the fact that he’s a LibDem. Locally … well, there are a few good local Tories. And some bad ones. I shall have to learn which is which.