Some thoughts on conservatism

The English are natural conservatives. This does not mean that they are right-wing, or that they tend towards economic liberalism, or that they support wars in foreign countries, it simply means that they think that good things ought to be conserved. To be conservative is ‘to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss’. This is why extremist parties never gained traction in England. While countries in mainland Europe toyed with Fascism and Communism, and asked for their societies to be transformed in ways that would make them unrecognisable, the English asked that their country be kept in-tact, and that any change should be both gradual and reversible without great loss.

The temptation of radicalism is obvious. Instead of gradually making progress towards a better England, we could elect someone who will change everything immediately and make things better. The problem is that, with institutions that have taken hundreds of years to evolve into what they are, they shall also take hundreds of years to transform in any massive way. English people know this intuitively, and this is why they have little time for the radical politics of Jeremy Corbyn, or indeed any radical. It is why in every election, they elect the less radical party, whichever party that may be. In fact, this is the reason that such a radical opposition is so dangerous to England, because it allows the governing party to become more radical without risk of being booted out of government. The claims that a radical Labour party will force the debate to the left is nonsensical; Michael Foot did not drag Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party to the left, nor did Iain Duncan Smith or Michael Howard drag Labour to the right.

Conservatism in the sense of conserving things that matter is important, it makes us far less likely to mistakenly elect a government that is either absurdly right-wing or absurdly left-wing, and it means that any change enacted by a government will almost certainly be small enough that, if it is unpopular or unsuccessful, it can be reversed. As pernicious as the current government’s policies have been, they are not radically right-wing. Think about what left-wingers consider to be the most overtly harmful pieces of legislation: they are usually either changes to spending/taxing, which can be immediately changed by a new budget, or they are often things like the gradual privatisation of the NHS. In fact, the health service has barely been privatised at all. Since the process started about ten years ago under New Labour, only 6.1% of the health service had been privatised by 2013/14. Because of English conservatism, there will never be a government that has a crack at privatising the whole thing, nor in all likelihood one that puts it back into public ownership. Another example is the top-rate of tax. If we had a truly radical right-wing government, one that believed it their moral duty to tax the bare minimum while maintaining law and order, we might have seen the top-rate fall to a piddling amount in the single-digits. Instead, it was lowered from 50% to 45%. Unjust, yes, but relatively modest.

Any party that wishes to govern must be modest in its proposals. There has been much made of the fact that this current Conservative government may have purposefully under-promised in their manifesto with regards to improving people’s lives, such as not including the higher National Minimum Wage. Why would they do this? It is a way of appealing to the natural conservatism of the English. If any party promises that they will wildly change the country in any way, even if seemingly for the better, it is both unbelievable and undesirable. Unbelievable because governments are notoriously dishonest and undesirable because, if a change turns out to be a bad one, it ought to be easily reversible. Labour should have learnt from this, they should have seen that any changes they implement must be incremental, but instead they have leapt upon the chance to be radical, to commit themselves to pure ideological, radical socialism over a gradual, reformist social democracy. Aside all his other faults, this is why Jeremy Corbyn will not win in 2020.