For the first time in its history Britain is the most right-wing country in Europe. Ian Gilmour, defeated in an earlier contest with the right, explains the failure of the One Nation Toriesby Ian Gilmour / February 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Has the tory left at last come back to life? Or were the faint stirrings detected over the New Year merely its death throes? While the government has drifted unsteadily rightwards over the last few years, One Nation Tories have remained remarkably passive. Ted Heath has continually spoken his mind and-except over Nolan-to good effect. Otherwise, with a few exceptions such as Hugh Dykes on Europe, the Tory left has not even been a stage army: it has been neither heard nor seen.
The right maintains that the left has had every reason to be somnolent, as the Major government has been pursuing leftish policies. How can the government be right wing, scoff Messrs Portillo, Redwood and various rightist journalists, when there is a clutch of left wing Conservatives sitting at the Cabinet table? The conspicuous presence there of Sir George Young, Gillian Shephard, William Waldegrave and Kenneth Clarke is adduced as evidence that the government cannot be Thatcherite in intention or effect, let alone even more extreme.
Yet poor George Young is caught in the coils of the government’s crazy scheme to privatise the railways, a wheeze dreamed up by Michael Portillo when he was a junior transport minister; Gillian Shephard, against her better judgement, found herself making indefensible proposals (later abandoned) to dragoon church schools into opting out without a ballot; William Waldegrave had to make draconian cuts in public expenditure in sensitive areas; and Kenneth Clarke, who has been an excellent chancellor, could not in his budget avoid maltreating single mothers in order to take 1p off income tax-from which the rich benefit most. Clearly the presence of One Nation Tory ministers is no guarantee of left wing Tory policies. The most such ministers can do is prevent policies being quite as extreme as they otherwise would be.
On Europe the government has been ambivalent. Its rhetoric has been increasingly Euro-phobic. Its veto of Jean-Luc Dehaene as the president of the Commission was cheap; its opposition to any extension of majority voting when more countries join is childish. Its apparent desire to turn the EU into something resembling the old Polish Diet (where one dissenter could block everything) threatens to destroy whatever European credentials it still has. On the other hand it has not yet sold the pass on monetary union. The plan currently on offer is deeply flawed, as Charles Goodhart showed in Prospect (December…