I wrote this before Gary Lineker, David Attenborough and the crazy events of the last 24 hours, but it seems more relevant now, not less.
In an email to thousands of Tory supporters this week Suella Braverman blamed “an activist blob of leftwing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour party” for the government’s failure to stop small boats crossing the channel.
This is a familiar theme – a belief among right wingers that there is a sinister elite of lefties who really run the country, thwarting common sense Conservative policies. Probably in collusion with the EU, or other foreigners.
Leftie lawyers, Senior Civil Servants, University Lecturers, Equality and Diversity managers, Teachers, probation officers, Guardian journalists, you name it. An establishment of metropolitan liberals pulling the strings behind the scenes. Working for their own priorities not the good of the nation.
Some times this is extended to include do-gooders, and senior CofE clergy. Government Ministers took to social media and the TV studios last Easter to fight with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And don’t get them started on the BBC. Stuffed full of liberals and lefties. Even if it is run by a prominent Conservative with a curious relationship to Boris Johnson’s financial affairs. Even current and former England Centre forwards are part of the problem, particularly if they take the knee.
This hysterical nonsense from the Daily Mail is typical:
There is something very odd about the Conservative Party being publicly at war with Britains civil institutions.
Old fashioned Conservatives weren’t hugely ideological, instead they concerned themselves with preserving the best of the old ways in a world that was changing fast, mostly that meant preserving hierarchy and conformity over meritocracy and diversity. They were the officer class, trustworthy, competent, and honourable.
When duty called they would make their sacrifices along with every one else. Plenty of aristocratic families lost their sons on Flanders Fields, or Dunkirk or D Day. When they sang “I vow to thee my country” they really meant it. Harold MacMillan’s formative political experiences weren’t PPE at Oxford, but serving as a Captain in the Grenadier Guards, spending 12 hours wounded in a fox hole during the battle of the Somme.
They respected Britains institutions; the independent judiciary, the law, the police, CofE, the BBC, and sought to preserve them. The knee jerk desire to conserve everything no matter how daft was brilliantly satirised by the Kinks, in their affectionate spoof of English conservatism:
Some time during the reign of Margaret Thatcher the Tory Party changed. The Conservatives became ideological, and over the decades they have become a vehicle for all kinds of wacky right wing idea, experimental free market economics, and extreme identity politics.
Thatcher also gave the Conservatives a sharply authoritarian streak – her chosen right wing ideologies would be imposed whether people liked it or not. Her world was us and then, and anyone who stood in her way was a target.
The patient would swallow the medicine whether they liked the taste of it or not.
The tendency to attack any civil institution that doesn’t bend to the will of a Conservative Government started here.
The Conservatives have been in power for 28 of the last 45 years, and yet this is not the country they thought they were creating. Despite long periods championing socially conservative policies Britain has become massively more socially liberal. Their attempts to reshape the economy fell foul of financial markets. Brexit promised to restore Britain to the top of world affairs, but instead has relegated us to the lower divisions. There is a palpable dislike of Modern Britain by the political party who has shaped it, often in the shape of the ridiculous war on woke.
The reasons for this failure are pretty obvious
People will make their own minds up regardless of what Government tells them. The Government can demand social conservatism, but people can just chose otherwise. The dogmatic right and the dogmatic left share the same false belief that you can simply command people to think in a particular way. It just doesn’t work. You have to persuade people not demand of them.
And even with a big majority and a supportive press you still need proper, well thought through policies. Too many Government Ministers have believed that a good policy is one which catches the news agenda, rather than one that works in reality. Too many policies just didn’t work, and. the disaster of the Truss/Kwarteng budget was the culmination of policy making that had lost touch with reality long ago.
But instead of facing up to these failures Conservatives have given to paranoia and conspiracy theory. Rather than admit their own role in that failure they have created a sinister conspiracy of leftie lawyers, civil servants, academics, who thwart their plans at every step. Pulling the strings behind the scenes. The idea is as seductive as it is ludicrous.
If you want to know what is really going on you can read the Whatsapp messages between Simon Case, head of the Civil Service, and Conservative Ministers, during Covid. It is impossible to tell which is the Minister and which the Civil Servant. They are all chums. Similar social background, similar education. Some worldview, same jokes.
The elite that really rule Britain are the same as they always were. Privately educated, privileged, top universities. Same social background, mutual friends. They all start out at the same schools, and end up on the board rooms of the same companies, whether they move through journalism, politics, the professions, the civil service.
They are chums. The same kind of chums who have always been there, and while Britain might go through periods of meriticracy, as in the 40s, or the 60s, they always find a way to sneak back again. No impartiality, not separation of political and civil services roles, just a bunch of chums having a big laugh. Needless to say these generations of chums have always been Conservatives. By nature and by politics.
For the Conservative Party there is a clear choice to make. Do they continue with the paranoid fantasies, and overheated conspiracy theories of liberal elites pulling the strings, or do they take the long walk back to the reality based community.
Simon Case will be thrown overboard, only to find some lucrative slots in corporate boardrooms. Rishi Sunak will try and gently ease the Tories back towards the real world. But too many on the British right would rather wave their angry fists at imaginary enemies. And we know from the experiences of the US right that the road to fantasy land takes you to some very dark places.