I’m not a Conservative Party member, voter or supporter, and never have been.
Many of my contemporaries and friends from my formative days in Westminster politics did go on to senior roles in the Major Government, or into Conservative-supporting journalism, with considerable success.
More recently, I shared platforms with people forced out of the Conservative Party over Brexit and the path that the current leadership has taken it.
I joined Labour in the early Nineties after promising a university friend, who himself went on to hold very senior office in the PLP, because I’m a social democrat, believing in progressive change and reform through existing political and economic structures and systems.
I’ve never held with more Marxist-leaning Left doctrines of wholesale change, class-based conflict and revolutionary (not necessarily violent) upheavals of society. It was partly through the seizing of the Labour leadership of people more allied to those ideals than progressive change that I left Labour some three years ago.
I never shared the view of Tories as inherently evil, of Conservative voters as people to be shunned rather than won over, and of a fundamental “us and them” schism) in British society.
Rather, I always felt that despite some wholesale disagreement on policy, there were many fundamentals on which the left of centre and the right of centre agreed, where social democrats and One Nation Conservatives could find common ground.
These would include a healthy, critical friend support of the civil service and expert advisers, a belief in the institutions of the State, support for the rule of law and standards in public office, and backing for a free press. Perhaps to a lesser extent, some support for a welfare state, public services and local government, though many would argue that was seriously diminished under Margaret Thatcher.
Whatever one’s views of David Cameron Coalition Government, particularly his catastrophic gamble on the EU referendum aimed at seeing off the ERG rebels (who were the “bastards” that fatally undermined John Major) and their fellow-travellers in UKIP, he broadly held to most of the fundamentals that have underpinned the One Nation Conservative Party for over a century.
Defeat in the Brexit referendum and the long rearguard action under Theresa May led eventually to victory for the group of Conservatives centered around the ERG, who could count on the support of many new recruits in the 2017 and 2019 intakes of those signed up uncritically to a populist, nationalist agenda under Brexit. And of course the coming to power of Boris Johnson, the embodiment of a flag-waving, pint-in-the-pub British bloke (an image carefully curated to obscure his Eton and Oxbridge, Spectator journalist true self.)
It is very hard to square the actions of today’s Government with those of the Conservatives under Major thirty years ago. Yes, there were some bad legislative moves then, but look what we have now.
Life sentences for anyone found to be helping refugees and asylum seekers come ashore safely, under the guise of tough new immigration laws. A Brexit that has harmed the haulage, fishing and farming industries, once the backbone of Tory support, to a point where many businesses are now unsustainable and supermarket shelves are starting to go bare. A barely concealed dislike of previously close European partners. Laws that potentially criminalise and imprison journalists, even those from broadly-sympathetic publications, for stories that a critical or embarrassing for the Conservative Government.
A total disdain and calamitous disregard for the Union from which the Conservatives draw their full title, with an ever more independence-leaning Scotland and a Northern Ireland dangerously destabilised by Brexit consequences many warned about.
A wholesale, open and guilt-free rejection of rules, standards, Parliamentary procedure and laws by ministers and MPs, from the prorogation of Parliament through misleading the House, proven breaches of the Ministerial code and much, much more.
Things that once would have brought down ministers and even governments, that would have horrified the Tory Establishment, are now brushed-off and laughed away by Johnson and those he has brought into Parliament and into Cabinet. A whole new ethos prevails.
Whether by design or by lack of it, donors and cronies are able to feed off of the public purse. Sustained by an 80 seat majority gifted them by the worst Labour leader in history, and a Poundshop Churchill tribute act that would have disgusted the man himself, the Conservatives have regenerated, Time Lord-like, into something that shares some genes, branding and affiliation with it’s former self, but which is in effect a whole new entity.
The Conservative Party as we knew it, under Major and even under Thatcher, is dead. Some form of English nationalist populist party has emerged, without many of its own members or traditional voters truly realising it, over the past five years. It is a real threat to our politics, our institutions and freedoms, the things the Conservative Party once claimed to protect.