In recent years, conservative thought has found itself the reserve of the silent majority. Both the 2015 and the 2017 UK elections are a testimony to this phenomenon, as are the 2016 EU referendum, American election and basically every European election since 2012. The results are almost exclusively a consistent shift to the right, often from the centre left or further. They are observable, the phenomenon is one of fact.
To say that conservative thought has found itself the reserve of the silent majority is, more broadly, to say that there has been a consistent shift to the political right. Even in France, with the succession of Marcon over Hollande, there was a marked shift in the political barometer to the right. But global- or at least western- political affairs aren’t the concern of this article; what is, is the problem facing the British conservative in the face of neo liberal centrism.
There was an avenue for right wing expression and conservative social policy in the 2010 election and before, because really, the Tories had nothing to lose by lacking centre ground ideology, by hugging Blairite Labour, or the weak, weak politics of Miliband. The Conservative Party was in a position to be bold- echoing that of current day Corbyn’s Labour- because the focus of media critique was firmly affixed on the shortcomings of centre ground politics and the disarray of the Labour party during the financial crash and beyond. As such, A bold and brazen manifesto of tax reduction, property ownership, public sector cuts and immigration curbs was coined. Such quotes as “In the end, it is not the state that creates sustainable employment – it is business people.” Inspire and invigorate even the most tired conservative-sentiment-holder into patriotism and euphoria.
But all that changed, as things so often do, in 2015, when the Tories suddenly had everything to lose. The same tired cycle of political deceit hit home hard and to quell the ever-exploding right wing sentiment amongst the electorate captured by the likes of UKIP and the brilliant Nigel Farage. The Conservative party resorted to a few extreme promises (cough EU referendum cough) in a bid to silence and appease the conservative thinkers amongst their voters, and to prevent them going too far astray of the party. The Conservatives sought to essentially dilute their policies to a palpable level of yet again, centrist fetishism and weak, neo liberal concessionism, with a thin veneer of conservatism on show.
Unfortunately for the conservatives amongst the Tory voting majority, they won, and as such abandoned conservatism in all but name. From the get go, they began imposing taxes on everything, from sugar to beer, artificially stimulating markets, allowing for global companies to dominate and destroy the small and medium business economy upon which the 2010 manifesto was built, spouting rhetoric supposing to expand the welfare state, pathetically defending the NHS as a nationalised enterprise, timidly playing down the idea of privatising (saving) it with their tail between their legs, with the conviction of a lettuce and the tenacity of a lamb going to slaughter. The Tory party- and I say Tory here quite intentionally- had traded ideologically valiant politics of strength for the fickle mistress of power. They had sold their soul.
This did two things: Firstly, it has, in a flurry of short sighted foolishness, magnified the tenacity of Corbyn and his ideology when compared to the pitiful subservience to centrism and blandness of the post-election Tory party, and, secondly, rendered conservative thinkers politically homeless. UKIP have served their purpose and whilst still technically providing a right-of-centre party political answer, had no real traction nor scope past dealings with leaving the EU, and as such, in 2017 when yet another election was called, a frantic internal monologue swiftly greeted conservatives; namely who the hell to vote for when the Conservative party so poorly reflected the wants, needs and desired social trajectory of conservative thinkers. Reluctantly, and in the face of a still perceived as devastatingly undesirable and weak Jeremy Corbyn, the conservative vote came out in droves, providing the Conservative party with a bigger share of the vote than they got in even 2015. Ironically saved by Brexit, I’d wager.
Now, however, in 2018, at particularly this time (local elections), we will see the manifestation of this poorly executed political strategy. Far from the whitewash that was the county council elections of 2017, at a time when Corbyn was at arguably his lowest point, we are seeing now what was always coming in the face of a Conservative party shift to centre, and that is frustrated abandonment by the electorate. You see, far from being a sanctuary of “moderation” as Mr. Macron so lusts to put it, the centre ground is merely (and quite visibly) an island upon which a party can elevate themselves to power. And that, it seems and is so perceived, is all that political parties of the centre want. Power.
Not change, not improvement, not implementation of a certain doctrine or to change things for the better, just power. Sure, sometimes things improve- like, most recently living standards, wages, and the pound- but that’s a mere consequence of civilisation and the remnants of actual party philosophy. Sometimes, things just improve. The centre-ground prevents any real development, any real progress, by virtue of it being a please all stance. It always stagnates a party, and it always leads to failure. Elections simply become a changing of the guard.
And the electorate are tired of the guard. They have been for decades, it’s just that the mainstream parties keep rebranding the centre just enough to make it look different. Ideology, conviction and philosophy is what makes a party palpable and electable, and the Tories, unfortunately, are harrowingly lacking in that department. Corbyn might be lagging at the moment- hell, he might even be on his knees- but his time will come, in the absence of any viable path for the right wing and conservative minded voter but that of abstinence.
There is nowhere to turn for a conservative thinker, not really. We are in limbo, we are asphyxiated by the toxicity of fringe parties, the bias of first past the post, and the reluctance of the Conservative party to change, to adopt a meaningful and different, proudly conservative philosophy and show people it isn’t afraid to diverge from the droll, damp status quo. Voter apathy is a fickle friend, and a dangerous foe; it should be inspired with caution.