Just as the right is poised to take over the Conservative party, it has stopped thinking. Worse still it has introduced an alien element into British politics-centralist, interfering, paranoid. The right should show more sensitivity to the national traditions it thinks it is savingby Ferdinand Mount / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Is the right drying up? It is evidently not shutting up-the voice of the right remains fearsomely audible all over the place. But while the right’s lungpower is undiminished, how about its brainpower? Has the right begun to lose its intellectual fertility? As always, the first to express their uncertainty were those such as John Gray and John Casey, whose minds are unconstrained by party loyalty. But the unease is now spreading to the plodders.
This unease is caricatured by the left as a recantation, a revulsion against Thatcherism. But the principal insights of the Thatcher years are embedded as conventional wisdom (in economics anyway): the free market, the open economy, lower income tax rates, privatisation, bringing the trade unions back under the law. The serious left has acknowledged the debt to Margaret Thatcher with remarkable grace; so has Tony Blair; the soft left finds it harder to get the words out, being afflicted with an incurable distaste for her. But almost everyone is huddled together on the new common ground. I don’t think Thatcher need worry about a lurch to the left. Rather, the danger is of getting blocked on the right. Just as the soft left remains in denial about the achievements of the Thatcher years, so the right now seems to be in denial about a host of other problems. There is a narrowness, partly wilful, partly unconscious, about its approach to life and politics-a narrowness alien to traditional conservatism.
I first had such inklings while reading Norman Tebbit’s Unfinished Business (1991). Although the old devil’s bite was still there, there just didn’t seem to be that much business to finish. The feeling re-surfaced when John Redwood unveiled his alternative manifesto for the party leadership last summer. True, he had to cobble it together in a couple of days. But most of what he had to offer was our shared mother’s milk: low taxes, reductions in public expenditure, more privatisation. What he has had to say since has been in the same vein. There does not seem to be much gold left in those particular hills. Having been a bubbling fount of invention and enthusiasm for two decades, the right now seems to have little to offer us, except imitation of the East Asian Tigers. Fine, so far as it goes, but is that all we want out of life? “Save the Royal yacht and get on…