Boris Johnson wears a blue rosette, but is not a true conservative (Image: Matt Cardy / Getty Images)
He is determined that the party’s politicians are evil and that its members are grouchy hagiographers. Boris Johnson and Co could cure any disease and would still be demoned.
What is frustrating is that he does not recognize the number of Conservatives who do not recognize their party. That is, many that the Conservatives consider non-conservative.
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This is not a new problem, but an acute one these days. Like Theresa May and David Cameron, Boris Johnson repeatedly claimed that he would form a conservative “one-nation” government.
A nation’s conservatism could (to borrow Ted Heath) be called the acceptable face of the Conservative Party. It belongs to the small (c) tradition – conservatives believe that one cannot know everything and that institutions, organizations and professional fields are better left to those who specialize in them than politicians. They accept that there should be a social safety net, but are skeptical of senseless social tinkering and goals – politics must be justifiable with public reason.
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was the first to turn philosophy into an electoral creed. In his view, the role of politics was to overcome class stratifications (while accepting that they could never be eradicated). One-nation conservatism emphasizes paternalistic obligations to create prosperity, the cohesion of the country and a common national feeling for all.
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It’s hard to see the last decade as an era of true conservatism. Playing in referendums (even if you discard the economic and political chaos that follows) is not good governance. The condescending tone of the SNP’s democratic mandate does not encourage a collective British feeling. Talking about “Global Britain” while international aid is cut is not a moral policy.
Disraeli was a skilled politician. Cynics who say his philosophy is to advance his own interests and find new relevance to the Tories would be right. Disraeli responded to the industrial revolution and political crises of the 1840s. The upheaval of industrialization opened a gap between the “two nations” of the rich and the poor. It had to find relevance to the Conservatives, as opposed to the free trade campaign and the rise of a liberal urban elite in their political sympathies.
Any true one-nation conservative and true Thatcher supporter interested in long-term stability would be appalled by the militant zeal of the “Brexit or die” mentality. You would be appalled at the government’s hostile environment towards EU citizens; the relentlessness towards the mandate of the SNP; the cut in international aid; the reduction in the universal credit; the casual cruelty towards migrant transitions; the inhumane aspects of Covid-19 deaths; and the human rights protection opt-outs. You would also be appalled by the endless allegations of corruption and feel that this is a favor government.
Johnson isn’t a Thatcherite either. That’s a lazy binary equation. The former prime minister described her style, substance and reasoning as contradicting her party’s “wets”. She wanted to replace the One Nation, the post-war consensus, with Thatcherism, monetarism and the New Right. But that doesn’t mean the opposite of Tory Wet is a Thatcherit today. One-nation conservatism and Thatcherism are decidedly less ideological, nationalistic, and chaotic than current government policies.
Disraeli didn’t actually say the phrase he is remembered for. Instead, it stems from his concern for the two divided industrial worlds in his novel à thèse Sybil (1845). It was Stanley Baldwin in 1924 who said that the Unionist Party, as it was then called, “should represent the unification of the two nations that Disraeli spoke of two generations ago: the unification of our own people into one nation to make our own people ”. “.
In order to reflect openly on Boris Johnson’s conservative and one-nation references, we should ask ourselves two questions: Who is his policy really good for? Is his policy suitable for a unifying consensus that unites the different interests, nations and social classes?
No peacetime prime minister has ever volunteered the British people for domestic and international disruption to the same extent as Johnson did. Cameron and even May were fire starters and torchbearers, but Johnson has an ugly, disgusting nationalism.
Johnson’s “ism” in history will not be conservatism, but narrow-mindedness. We could define his government as a government or a leader who is relentlessly committed to its goals and vehemently denies conflicting views and the dangers involved. Said government or leader excuses failure and rejects contradictions as unpatriotic and ignorant. It’s an angry, lanky populism that some may forgive for its ridiculousness and its silly leader.
As an addendum, we could add that it is less about the scandals than about the cognitive dissonance that goes with them. Gas lighting is another word. George Orwell’s 1984 Ministry of Truth physically changes and erases history; that twists the mind. Wasn’t Boris Johnson standing next to a big red bus promising the NHS £ 350m more a week during the Brexit referendum if we voted for Leave?
“One-nation conservatism,” “Tory democracy,” “paternalism” and “progressive conservatism” are some of the many names given to politics that place high value on the duty of citizens, especially the richest and most powerful, to be help those who are less fortunate.
The philosopher Michael Oakeshott said: “To be conservative means to prefer the known to the unknown, to prefer the tried and tested to the untested, the factual to the mysterious, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unlimited, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the abundance, the pleasant to the perfection, present laughter to utopian bliss ”.
Even the most ardent Conservative has to admit that the Prime Minister is not a Conservative. Certainly his politics and politics do not reflect this. He chases dreams and wages war against facts. This is not a One Nation Conservative.