Is Britain Now a One-Party State?
Boris Johnson's party is unstoppable, but Thatcher laid the foundations
Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, was once asked what she considered to be her greatest achievement, and is said to have replied “Tony Blair.” 1997 was a low point for the Conservative Party; so sweeping was the rejection of the Tories that I wondered if my party would ever win again. Twenty-three years later, it’s hard to see the Labour Party winning an election in my lifetime. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has become, in effect, a one-party state at the national level, and that party is the Conservative party.
The echo chamber of Twitter skews far more left-wing than the man in the street and can be deceiving when it comes to party politics. The “corruption” of Boris Johnson over getting a donor to pay for the refurbishment of his state-owned Downing Street flat because his fiancée (and, I declare an interest, my friend) Carrie Symonds allegedly didn’t like the decoration. Johnson should have recorded any such donation or loan before using his own funds to make the difference.
But if this is “grifting” or “corruption” then it’s incredibly inefficient corruption. The said flat isn’t owned by Boris or Carrie. It’s not like they are pocketing the spoons. If Carrie thought the private residence looked a bit faded for the UK’s Head of Government, which won’t always be her fiancé, and that we could do better, and Boris asked a political donor to pay for it, the effect is to relieve the public purse of a burden. The wallpaper and upholstered couches won’t move house with the couple. Symonds has not in fact been ‘caught pocketing the spoons’. And if the alleged “sin” is simply that Boris and Carrie should have stayed within a small budget, and Carrie disagreed and sought a way to buff up the flat without costing the Exchequer money, then the “penalty” is almost a year’s salary for a backbench MP paid by Boris himself. In effect, the couple have made a giant, if forced, donation to the nation. The next Prime Minister will look at swish walls that Boris Johnson has paid for.
The Head of Government in the UK is not, of course, the Head of State, who is Her Majesty the Queen. Hence Prime Minister’s Questions where the Leader of the Opposition and other sundry elected MPs shout rudely at the PM for half an hour every Wednesday lunch, with questions he doesn’t know about, something we cannot imagine either Trump or Biden doing. Every nation has its own traditions and this one works well for the UK. But the lack of reverence for the PM is not total. We may not want to install him in Buckingham Palace, but it’s reasonable that the UK’s PM should get to redecorate a flat which s/he is essentially forced to occupy to a reasonably high standard. If this is the extent of Carrie Symonds “grift” or “corruption” then she is truly terrible at both.
The UK’s voting public clearly agrees. The press having made much of Wallpaper-Gate in the last week or so, they have received a major black eye in the results of a by-election, compare it to a Special Election, for the ultra-safe Labour seat of Hartlepool, and in the UK’s local government elections. Hartlepool has not only “gone Tory” it has a huge Conservative majority of seven thousand votes which represents a “safe” Conservative seat for the new incumbent, who is also the first woman to represent the area. Equally, the Conservatives, who, as the governing party, are expected to lose seats in council elections, actually made gains, and in fact made quite a lot of gains. Even the Guardian and the BBC will be unable to spin the result as anything other than a triumph for Boris (and by extension Carrie, as the UK clearly doesn’t give a monkey’s about her taste in couches).
Jeremy Corbyn was a Russia-loving, antiracism-hating, leader who encouraged antisemitism in Labour throuh his gross indifference, driving excellent Labour voters and MPs out of the party. Keir Starmer did manage to exorcise much of the antisemitism and to end Labour’s ridiculous left-wing drift, but he will also need to drag the party hard towards the right to make it electable again. Most Britons found the photo of Starmer ‘taking a knee’ over racial violence in a totally different country to be offensive. I think the picture is so bad it makes Starmer unelectable.
Certainly, Labour needs to face unpleasant truths. The UK public is small-c conservative. They are also full of good humor, they like a joke, they do not take themselves too seriously and they reward things that work. Boris Johnson is messing up small things but succeeding massively at great things, such as Britain’s phenomenal vaccination program, which beat the rest of the world both in being the first nation to announce a vaccine and in vaccinating almost to herd immunity levels. A great many Britons have seen friends or relatives die of COVID-19, and while Boris’s government made mistakes, as most governments did, its immensely efficient purchase and distribution of vaccine shots has made Great Britain one of the safest places in the world to reside. Messing up on small things is of no moment to British voters when the big stuff is going right.
More than this, David Cameron, Tony Blair, Boris Johnson, all operated within the broad framework that Margaret Thatcher laid out. Low taxes, less regulation, property ownership, school choice, and firm alliance with the United States. Thatcher herself was also constrained by the ‘welfare state’, meaning that from womb to tomb, British citizens, in extremis, will be cared for by the state. Healthcare, including dentistry and eye tests, are free at the point of use for those who can’t afford them. There is public housing, pensions and unemployment benefits, plus free public schooling. There are guaranteed college loans for anyone who needs them, which the borrower must pay back only when he or she lands a job above a certain salary. Perhaps on some level Thatcher would have liked to deviate from this; she could not. The British electorate has set its sights firmly in the middle. The Conservative party have accepted this. They do not fight the NHS or any part of the welfare state. There is no British ‘Mitch McConnell’ trying to bury ‘Obamacare’. But Labour, for their part, have not accepted the constraints in the other direction. Until they do, until they see that only a pro-Forces, pro-American, pro-NATO, pro-capitalist, party can succeed, they will continue to lose to Boris, and indeed to all of Boris’s successors as Conservative Prime Ministers, no matter how nice those PMs make their flat.
Have your say in the comments!