Ed West writes for the Spectator.
A Conservative voter in 2005 and 2010, I spent a great deal of the weekend thinking about Tim Montgomerie’s piece on why he’s sticking with the Tories (yes, social life does start to thin out in your late 30s, after all). Some of his arguments are persuasive, and many other points trouble me, but like a fair few others here I now fall into the separatist rather than the puritan camp. I’ll be switching next year, and here’s why.
1. The Cameroonian takeover is a symptom of a deeper sense of defeatism and moral cowardice and is not confined to a small clique. The Conservatives have bought into the Left’s idea that they’re on the wrong side of history, and so follow a policy of pre-emptive surrender on every social issue. The party has come to accept the centre-Left consensus on social issues, just as it did on economic issues under Heath. I’m not interested in any political movement that doesn’t believe in itself.
2. On that theme: gay marriage. Never has a government managed to lose so much good will over so un-crucial a subject. Whatever our churches argue, if you don’t believe there is anything wrong with homosexuality, there is little rational argument for not extending marriage to same-sex couples (and as Edmund Burke argued, even Christians must employ secular arguments). Max Wind-Cowie made the best Conservative case for it here.
But Cameron did not address the real problem with SSM, and UKIP did – that it is incompatible with a liberal society so long as we have equality laws, none of which the Cameroons have done anything to dismantle (Cameron and Osborne voted for the Equality Act, Sexual Regulations, which did for Catholic adoption agencies). Does anybody seriously believe that Cameron’s ‘quadruple-lock’ will protect churches? Already businesses are being harassed, and how long will it be before churches schools are in trouble because their views on SSM don’t conform with ‘British values’?
UKIP did actually raise the problem of SSM and equality law, which to my mind is far less cynical than Cameron’s stance; although I can’t mind read Nigel Farage, I imagine what really annoys him is not the site of men getting married but of small businesses being brought through the courts because they fail modern-day test acts.
In the words of Tim Stanley, UKIP’s philosophy is “libertarianism with prejudice”. It wants the state to stop taking on the role of the church and instructing us on what is right and wrong, something the Tories should be doing but fail to.
3. Economics is the one thing that might drag me back to the Tories, but even here Osborne hasn’t even made inroads into the deficit, and at the same time no one outside the top 10 per cent can feel a recovery. UKIP is incoherent in its economics, as Tim states, and there is a conflict between the free market purists and the red faction, led by Patrick O’Flynn, but all large political parties have to be an alliance of sometimes squabbling groups; it’s why so many of us were reluctant to leave the Tories.
4. Some of their ideas make a lot of sense: simplifying the tax code, raising the tax thresholds, scrapping university targets, abolishing departments such as Culture, Media and Sport, protecting the green belt and, of course leaving the EU.
5.Osborne’s obsession with getting mothers back to work suggests one of the most serious failings of any political party – a lack of interest in building up its own base. I believe everyone should have as much freedom as possible to choose their life’s path, but that the tax system should at least not punish those lifestyles that are most beneficial to wider society. One-income, two-parent middle-income families are the bedrock of communities, providing social capital, trust and financial stability, yet the British tax system has for many years penalised them.
It’s not just bad for the country, but for the party, too; in the US there is a 16-point Democrat-Republican voting gap between married and unmarried women, partly because marriage and family-formation makes people more conservative. (The causal arrow goes both ways, of course). So make it easier for people to form families.
6. The Tories are only making noises on immigration because of UKIP. Small-c conservatives think mass immigration a deeply foolish idea, yet the party has been cowed. Do they look at what’s happened in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets and think it’s made Britain a better place?
7. The American experience shows that as a country becomes more diverse working-class majority voters move to the Right, and there are signs of this happening here – but not to the Tories, who are hated in much of the north of England. Whether that’s fair, historically, only UKIP have the chance of being a genuinely national right-wing party.
8. Tim dislikes UKIP’s isolationism, and to some extent I agree, at least with the sentiment. It’s reasonable for a rich country to give away 0.7 per cent of its income to help poorer countries, but the question is whether foreign aid is effective; and there is a fair amount of evidence that it isn’t – in which case it’s simply moral vanity, one of the worst characteristics of the Left (and the Cameroonians). That said, I don’t mind the label Little Englander – empires are a bad thing and every time we intervene in the Middle East we make things worse, the latest case of ‘mission accomplished’ being Libya.
9. Tim says UKIP are pessimistic, but many of their voters were young in the 1960s, and it’s not irrational to argue that in some ways things have got worse; the great crime explosion of 1955-1992 is not a figment of people’s imagination, but of historical record; nor is the huge decline in stable marriages that took off around 1977 with the Homeless Persons Act. There are other indices of falling social capital, such as the decline in the proportion of households that give to charity. In many, many ways our social attitudes have got a lot better in 40 years, but we have lost a great deal too; that’s not to say things can’t, or won’t, get better.
10. I like UKIP’s amateurishness, despite the embarrassing oddballs who sometimes get through. And I like the fact that Farage didn’t study PPE and doesn’t talk in this weird Triumph of the Political Class-speak. In contrast with the Tories, even if Cameron does go, as Tim hopes, he will just be replaced by another person who’s ‘just watched Love, Actually, and think it’s a manual for how to govern the country’, in Douglas Carswell’s immortal phrase; most likely George Osborne or Boris, both more Cameroonian than Cameron.