Blair's Britain, by the Conservative Party

Home Affairs
Thursday, February 28, 2013


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Last week’s announcement that a small proportion of the Department for International Development Budget may in future be used by the Ministry of Defence was greeted with a flurry of derision from international aid charities, and swift apologetic clarity from Government Spokesmen that any budgetary transfer would be minor, and primarily for the purposes of the stable delivery of aid.

Many forget that DFID is not a department which even existed the last time a Conservative Prime Minister was in office, nor did many of the array of charities and NGO’s which now operate and rely on its largesse. All are, and will be increasingly seen as a relic of a time when Blair thought he could single handedly change the world (for the better), and the Government thought we, as a nation, could afford to pay for his crusade.

International aid, if delivered to foster stability, democracy, regime change or trade partnership with the UK, is an essential part of smart power, the strategy of focussing every element of national influence to a single goal, a strategy increasingly expertly applied by David Cameron.

It does not require a department separate from the Foreign Office however (in the US “USAID” is firmly overseen by the State Department), nor a budget enshrined in law which equates to one third of the defence budget and rising.

The debate around the DFID budget, and DFID’s existence, appears to often occur between DFID, interested MPs, and aid organisations, and the era of Blair’s Britain echoes between them. To most of the nation it is a bizarre internal conversation that in no way reflects their burning concerns.

I doubt the country at large would consider international aid in the top 10 priorities of Government, members of the Conservative Party would be unlikely to consider it in the top 20, if at all. Reflecting this view, Justine Greening, upon being appointed to the role of International Development Secretary, is said to have warned David Cameron that she “didn't come into politics to distribute money to people in the Third World!”

It’s too late for Cameron to personally change course on Gay Marriage (though the act may be pushed into the next Parliament), Europe is largely out of his hands, and any move on Energy Policy would require at least 5 years to implement; how he handles DFID could be indicative to the extent he is willing to reset his course from blind and brutal modernisation, to big-tent conservatism.

The 2005 Conservative moderniser’s revolution did not come from the members of the Party, from the body or mind of British conservatism, but from a narrow group at Central Office, who borrowed their vision liberally from Blair and Mandelson.  Those third way adherent voices must still echo in CCHQ and Downing Street, but they never found a home in the grassroots of the Conservative Party.  The modernisers were granted tacit, brittle support not in their ideology, but their perceived ability to strike a sharper image, and to win elections. Blair in image was required, not in policy. The dissatisfaction that boils up in the Conservative Party now is from its membership, from its voters, from conservatives. They are the same people who rejected in the strongest terms the 13 years of Labour government that changed Britain beyond recognition, they voted for change, not the continuation of the progressive agenda by other means, and they are still angrily waiting for that change.

Rather than even being patronised to keep the faith by the party leadership, despite forming the majority of the (rapidly decreasing) Party membership, they are met with a quiet disdain, branded as bonkers, bigots, stuck in the past, marked for the dustbin of history, even by those who once claimed, wrote, and voted to be of the same conservative ideology less than a decade ago.


They were told by Francis Maude that if they didn't care for the London Olympic Opening Ceremony they didn't care for modern Britain, and that this was a shameful, almost criminal offence, despite that vision of modern Britain being almost entirely the product of the 13 years of Labour Government, autuered by a man who refuses to accept a Knighthood from his Monarch.

They were told that there isn't time to bring before Parliament the manifesto pledge to consider the repeal of the ban on fox hunting, but there is plenty, eons of time, to adopt proposals for the now totemic, toxic issue of gay marriage; whatever it means for the party's unity, ability to win the next election, or the necessity to focus on the economy.

They were told by Margot James that the cull of conservatives had not gone deep enough, that Parliament was still afflicted by their out of date vision, slow to evolve to the fragile brave new world for which this finite and distant elite have assumed the torch.

They were effectively told that Blair’s Britain was here to stay.

It has been cited by progressives and modernisers in British politics that the re-election of Barack Obama proves that elections cannot be won on the back of old school conservatism anymore. The fundamental mistruth in this statement is that had the 2012 US election taken place in the demographic America of 1990, the result would have been a landslide victory for Romney. What has changed most significantly in America is not values, but demographics.  Racial minorities, tending to be among the lower socio-economic groups at least at the beginning of their immigrant journey, have a marked tendency to vote left, which is passed on with a surprising degree of loyalty from one generation to another. The same follows in the UK as in the US, but what also follows, is not a tendency among these groups towards a progressive vision, but quite the opposite trend, regardless of voting habits, towards deeply set values of social conservatism.

This is perfectly exemplified by Sam Gyimah’s 2012 Newsnight appearance to investigate the lack of BME Conservative voters. He was told by Bishop Joe Aldred, a Black Birmingham Church leader, that the community had been raised to vote Labour, but on social issues, where members of the community may have once considered voting Conservative, the Party have moved away. He was met with the response that all ethnic minorities have got to understand that if they want equality, they have to support every other minority parties’ vision of equality. This was heard, and met, with blunt disdain and disregard by much of the BME community, and indeed being from an ethnic minority background remains the single largest factor that would make a voter unlikely to vote Conservative. 

It is exemplified equally by the story of the Soho Catholic Church, with an ever growing Eastern European membership, that once offered a place of worship, in the best traditions of Christianity, to homosexuals, but closed its doors to them a week after the gay marriage vote.

What is of most concern, is the example of the lack engagement of the Muslim community within the political debate, and reports that many Muslim leaders in the UK now consider the discourse on social conservatism by political leaders to have fallen so far from their vision, it is no longer worth their engagement. As opposed to those in the Catholic Church and Church of England, the national debate around bellwether Same Sex Marriage Bill was greeted with deafening and foreboding silence by the British Muslim Community.

As the UK moves to a 25% ethnic minority population, the societal shift we will continue to see in the UK has not, and will not, lead to the inevitable embracing of the progressive vision by the British public. It will lead to its inevitable rejection, or more specifically a nation far more deeply divided, and a dangerously discordant society. David Cameron has correctly assessed, to my knowledge throughout the entirety of his political career, that multiculturalism is a veil for tribalism; a bottom up apartheid, where absent a collective national identity, a populace self imposes rigid division, and dialogue breaks down to little more than the brittle treaties of divergent city states. 

The barricades that mark those societal divisions will increasingly no longer afford room for the interchangeable third way politician, all drawn from the same background, with the beard of an ill-defined “progressive vision”, conceivably able to lead any of the main political parties in narrow and minute opposition to one another.  The loss of this brand of politician is of no concern, but we live in a society that is increasingly divided, even moreso since 2010, and if the deep divisions in British society are not addressed, and addressed with conservative values, the unabated continuation of Blair’s project will produce leaders who seek and are able to divide nation, rather than unite it.

It is now becoming widely accepted that the Conservative Party will not achieve an outright majority in 2015, and Eastleigh serves as relevant example of that as any. The election probably won't be lost to those who voted Conservative in 2010 and have switched to Labour, the Liberal Democrats or even UKIP, it will be lost to those who want nothing more to do with British politics, who have disengaged, who won’t vote, let alone leaflet and campaign for the Conservative Party.

The continuation of the Blairite era can be accepted as running now to 2015 at least, but the passing to old age and history of those who served in the Thatcher government will press the question much harder than in 2005 as to what comes next for conservatism in Britain. For genuine conservatives the question must still be who will rid us from Blairite progressive populism, and provide a 4th way for British politics?

The closer we get to 2015 and the acceptance of defeat as a Party in current form, the greater the danger of the Conservative Party dividing into factions. The next year could therefore draw the borders that mark those factions from one another, and from leaders who bid to take the baton of conservatism from the Thatcher government where it still rests, and on to a party renewed of confidence and ideology, and a government capable of restoring Britain in that image. Whoever puts their head above the parapet in this cause, it is highly unlikely they will be more able to win in 2015, or ever, than a David Cameron rebranded in strictly conservative colours.

The question therefore: is there still time to change course?

Cameron was born politically as the heir to Blair, but swiftly discarded the moniker as that image ran its course of utility. Blair’s progressive vision for Britain has run its course also, even Labour has seen that, it is surely now time for the Conservative Party to draw a line under the modernisation (mis)adventure and Blair’s Britain, and return to the surety of conservatism – it must come now, or come too late.

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