Sunday, 20 May 2007

The myth of the evil Tory

As a young person taking an interest in conservatism, you steadily begin to notice a stark contrast in the attitudes that conservatives and those on the left hold in relation to each other. Intellectuals, teachers, socialists, Marxists, social democrats, and practically anyone you will meet in the old industrial north of England are quite content to label Tories as evil [1], amoral, greedy - even sadistic (anyone remember The New Statesman?) individuals hell-bent on 'grinding the faces of the poor', to quote Alan B'Stard. There is a very real and honest hatred for the Conservatives up here and being a former lefty myself, a number of my friendships have felt the strain because of it. Despite this, I - and in my experience conservatives generally - are far more understanding of those who hold a difference of opinion. Not least the New Right of the 1980s, many of whom - Brian Griffiths, John Hoskyns and Bernard Ingham included - had been Labour voters throughout the 1960s. Some, like Alfred Sherman, had even been communists in their youth. Sherman, like so many young men of his generation, fought in the Spanish Civil War for the Republicans as part of the International Brigades. Sir Keith Joseph, principle designer of Thatcherism in the mid-'70s was too, once a 'consensus' (read: socialist) Tory. As he told Listener magazine in June 1975:

All the time I was in favour of short cuts to utopia...I was in favour of Government doing things because I was so impatient for good things to be done, and I didn't realise that the Government generally makes a mess.

These were men who had a strong passion for liberty, freedom and justice. They found this first in the quick-fix state intervention of the left, but as the '60s wore on became steadily more disillusioned with 'consensus' politics. They understood the motives of the left, because they had been there themselves, but were quick to realise that as Milton Friedman frequently expressed - there can be no political freedom without economic freedom.

Of course, this is not to say that this understanding makes the right any less scathing or convicted in their derision of the left - quite the contrary - but there is nonetheless a firm understanding that although the group in question are wrong, damn wrong - their policies, however misguided tend to stem from good intentions. This is something entirely missing from the self-righteousness of many on the left. Lady Thatcher is known to have used the old dictum 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' in summing up Britain's post-war experiment in socialism. She understood that voters and politicians alike had honestly believed they were building a better world for themselves and their children in 1945. But good intentions were not enough - they did not work. Socialism did not work. She understood that the designers of the post-war welfare state were doing what they thought was best for the people. But as a former advisor to Lady Thatcher told John Ranelagh in 1990: 'She believes in people knowing better how to run their own lives than the State knows'.

This is a position that shows no outward compassion, no sympathy, and certainly no middle-class guilt. Regrettably though, it will always be admirable to believe in equality, welfare and state intervention, while conservatives will always be viewed as nasty for being tough enough to stand up for what works, however insensitive it may seem - for being able to see past sentimentality and defend the rights, responsibilities and dignity of the free man. It is young people in particular, who have no memory of Britain before the 1980s, who are very quick to damn Margaret Thatcher for any problems with the the society they live in - completely unaware of quite how much this country was falling apart by the time she first took office in 1979. Indeed this writer first picked up Thatcher's People by John Ranelagh as a 'know your enemy' exercise. It was only upon reading about the massive and rising inflation, the union stranglehold, the undignified IMF bail-out, the garbage mountains and unburied dead of winter 1978/9, the 3-day week, the 83% top tax rate, and the acceptance of perpetual British decline that my eyes were opened. It was at that point that I started to accept, and feel grateful for the world around me and how very little I had to complain about.

Yet, as these things tend to go Clement Attlee, Harolds Wilson & Macmillan, and even 'What Crisis?' Callaghan will never be blamed for causing and overseeing the slow, almost complete social and economic collapse of the United Kingdom. Their intentions were far too noble. Lady Thatcher on the other hand will almost certainly continue to be hated and reviled by many in this country long after she has gone for the incredible task of saving it.

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