The Conservative challenge

There is an interesting article ~ thanks to my Anglo-Canadian friend Chris Pook for bringing it to my attention ~ in The Telegraph by Charles Moore, a respected British journalist with a publicly well known Conservative bias, which is headlined: “It’s not all about ‘me’, Theresa May, but a great party that keeps renewing itself.”

He begins by stating that “No one has ever fully explained the most persistent phenomenon in European democratic political history – the success of the Conservative Party. Its very name implies it is behind the times. To some, it reeks of the few, not the many. Yet in the century in which the many have been allowed to vote at all, they have chosen a wholly or predominantly Conservative government two thirds of the time. Friday’s local election results confirm the general view that they will do so again on June 8. In the world crisis of the elites, only the Tories have managed to change sides and stay on top at the same time.

Why?” he asks, and answers that “Although I have no neat answer, I suggest it is partly because the Conservatives have fewer prejudices than their rivals. This sounds a weird thing to say – the Tories are always supposed to be more racist, sexist, stuffy etc than the others. Indeed, their present leader once warned them against becoming the “nasty party”. Yet it is, in practice, true.

Being unintellectual – even, on occasions, plain stupid,” he explains, “the Conservatives don’t carry that dreadful weight of needing to prove you are doctrinally correct which bedevils life on the Left. They find it easier to confront reality. In February 1975, their overwhelmingly male, old-soldier-dominated parliamentary gang, fed up with two election defeats, chose a woman to be their leader. They cast aside their prejudices because they thought she was “a brave girl”. She went on to win the next three general elections … [and] … To this day, by contrast, the Labour Party has not chosen a woman leader. Its attitude to women is infected by doctrine: it seeks the unattainable, perfect feminist, rather than the best person to run the country.

Last year,” he goes on, “the Tories did it again. The world gasped at the chaos which ensued when David Cameron lost the EU referendum which he himself had called. After a sharp tussle of betrayal and assassination, however, the Conservatives picked, without a contest, a woman from the losing side. Within days, order was restored. Untroubled by the logical thought-processes which afflict rationalists in politics, the Tories had felt their way to the solution.

He then gets to the upcoming British general election …

Now,” Charles Moore writes, “Theresa May is seeking an electoral mandate, and her enemies lie prostrate before her … [and] … Nobody thinks of Mrs May as a flexible sort of person, but she has won herself an astonishing degree of freedom. She supports free trade, yet is scooping up protectionist votes. She herself voted Remain, but is now so well trusted by most Leave voters that she has swallowed UKIP whole. She is the Oxford-educated wife of a prosperous City man, yet she has become the scourge of the boss class. She sits for plush Maidenhead, but, as Friday’s results show, is going down big in the West Midlands and the east end of Glasgow. Her planned election trips do not concentrate on leafy heartlands, but include raids on enemy territory such as Manchester and Leicester. She has convinced people that she is decent and straightforward, yet boasts about being “a bloody difficult woman”.

He goes on to explain that: “Her main opponents are much more prejudiced than she. They fall into three groups. (Until Friday’s results, I might have mentioned four, but the poor Liberal Democrats seem to have relegated themselves.)” They are:

First “the out-and-out Remainers, who probably constitute about half of those who voted Remain last year. They are such prisoners of their European prejudices that they have become professionally pessimistic. In their house journals, such as the Financial Times, they grasp at every straw of evidence that the economy is doomed. They can be presented – often unfairly – as people who just don’t like their country very much. In different ways, Tony Blair and George Osborne are both trying to become their spokesmen. Mrs May easily can place them on the wrong side of history;”

Next comes Jeremy Corbyn. His prejudices are magnificently impervious to evidence, and were already perfectly formed before he entered Parliament a third of a century ago. His dream of Britain as Castro’s Cuba or Chavez’s Venezuela will never die, but it will never win either. Mrs May needs him just where he is;” and

Last comes Jean-Claude Juncker. I argued last year that he was a massive plus for the Leave campaign, but it never occurred to me how much this gift would go on giving … [because] … Mr Juncker’s prejudices lead him to believe that for the European Union to win, everyone else must lose. This makes dealing with him unpleasant, but also simple. At that famous dinner with Mrs May last week, she said she wanted Brexit to be a success. He replied: “Brexit cannot be a success.”

Mr Moore then goes on to warn Prime Minister May about running a “me” campaign. He says that: “All great party leaders reach out beyond their party. The two previous successful leaders of the past 50 years – Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron – did that notably. But all depend upon their party too, and once they forget that fact, things start to go wrong. Claim all the credit, and you will get all the blame … [and, he adds] … By “party”, I do not mean just activists, constituency associations and parliamentary colleagues, but that whole wider, looser, deeper structure of culture, history, class, money, media and (yes, even among Conservatives) ideas from which Conservative success somehow emerges … [and he concludes that] … So far, Mrs May’s public performance has been an impressive example of her party’s strange capacity for renewal which I describe above. In private, though, there are already too many who feel unthanked and too few who are working out the future. What Mrs May calls the “overriding task” of Brexit is concealing the lack of thought about what sort of country we want to be when we leave. If she thinks this election is all about “me”, she is riding for a fall – though not, probably, on June 8.

There is so much in this for Canadian Conservatives. We too, especially, in our (relatively) new, Haper-MacKay built CPC, are supposed to be rich, racist, sexist, stuffy and so on, but we are not: we are, in fact, the party of Main Street, not Bay Street … a subject on which I have commented, several times, before. Also, as I just said, yesterday, we are a party that can, and, for the most part, instinctively is moderate, principled and responsible.

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