I realised something suddenly while in the DUP’s prosecco and orange juice reception yesterday. Looking around the room I barely recognised anyone. In fact, other than personal friends, I knew more of the travelling DUP contingent present than any of the Tories. None of the Tories there you ever see at events we would go to. Perhaps assisted by a dose of early-afternoon inebriation I concluded that the party’s informal structure is best represented by overlapping Venn diagrams based on personal loyalties and various political spectrums.
While sitting watching Theresa May’s speech this morning I had this thesis confirmed. While the crowd of liberty-minded people I was sat amongst reacted to every paragraph with cries of disdain, and looks of pure incredulity, in the hall there was a different response entirely. Row upon row of the party faithful clapped enthusiastically as every clumsily triangulated, abstract, knee-jerk, state worshipping line was read out.
I had grown to like Theresa May, I really had, and this is especially odd as I made a point of saying that I wouldn’t vote for her during the short-lived leadership contest. Her Brexit speech on Sunday was brilliant and had reconciled me to eating my own words. But today’s speech is not what I look for in a Conservative leader. It’s pretty much the complete opposite.
May started by bashing the liberal elites and, as happy as I am that she’s literally lifting lines directly out of the Vote Leave handbook, her interpretation of what happened on 23rd June is that of the liberal elites. And that is what seems to have informed a lot of her speech.
She acknowledges that people feel cast adrift but fails to answer the question of ‘why?’. She poured scorn on those who just wanted government to leave them alone and praised the power of government to help ‘ordinary working class people’. This patronising conclusion can only be reached once you disregard basic facts. We know that where government does more, people earn less. Even disregarding the competitive drain that arises through the sucking up of taxes, and the poaching of all the best people with inflated purchasing power through wages, bigger governments do more under the auspices of this ‘help’. As if to underline this fact, May then went on to talk about enhancing workers’ rights.
Can anyone argue with a straight face that the philosophy behind this is any different from that of Jeremy Corbyn? Both leaders share the belief that life is unfair because the state hasn’t worked sufficiently hard to make it fair. They believe that things aren’t ‘just so’ because someone, perhaps a ‘vested interest’ or one of May’s businesspeople who ‘aren’t playing by the same rules’ has prevented it. They both believe that government meddling promotes meritocracy when in actual fact we’re pretty good at recognising people for their talents and their potential when we’re regulated by nothing more than our own self-interest. And if people aren’t playing by the same rules, maybe we should look at how the state designed them.
So in 2016, when technological innovation moves at the speed of light and government should be looking at smarter ways of doing things, a Conservative Prime Minister is about to govern like Harold MacMillan. With all parties seemingly sharing the same ideas about the role of government, it’s starting to resemble the post-war consensus, when we haven’t even had a war.
Leaving our libertarian viewing lounge someone raised an interesting point. Yeah, it was really nice that Alistair Brownlee helped his brother Johnny when he needed it. But then, they both lost. You would think this fact would be self-evident, but clearly not.
It’s increasingly inevitable that career politicians end up with such a high opinion of the work they do, when all the evidence suggests that they’re doing harm. The more they do, the more people become alienated. If Theresa May wants to address liberal elitism, she could start by acknowledging that government is the source of the problem. And the rows of applauding party members could remember that’s what we’re meant to believe.