If the Tory party were your fridge, your food would be rottenby Peter Hitchens / September 21, 2011 / Leave a comment
It is late afternoon in an English provincial city and you have got lost looking for the bus station. It is that sort of day, downmarket and dispiriting. Along one of those streets of uninviting, grey terraced houses, you find a dusty old-fashioned corner shop, the sort that sells quiet biscuits and soft, bendy vegetables. It displays an enamelled tin advertisement for the Empire News (“Sunday isn’t Sunday without the Empire News,” it lies). Behind the counter, you see they also sell Capstan Full Strength cigarettes. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a grey-faced customer walk in, very slowly, and ask for a packet, between wheezes.
You are not dreaming. You have not slipped into a parallel time. Capstan Full Strength are still manufactured and distributed. Enough people have survived smoking them that they persist as what marketing men call a ghost brand: a product that could never again be as successful as it once was, but is still consumed enough to make it worth turning out a few more once in a while. You can say this for them: they are exactly as described on the packet.
I expect there are also chemists where you can get the old-fashioned razor blades all men once used. Perhaps somewhere you may still be able to buy a bottle of Mackeson or even a pint of mild. I can’t imagine who would still want Bronco lavatory paper. But in a world where the Conservative party survives, it is unwise to assume that just because something is unalluring or doesn’t do the thing it claims to do very well, it has vanished from our midst. Ghost brands persist because they were once much-loved, and those who loved them cannot let go.
This sort of irrational feeling plays a huge part in our politics. When Murdo Fraser, a would-be leader of the Scottish Conservatives, proposed dissolving the whole thing on the grounds that it was a “toxic brand,” he voiced a feeling many others in the Tory hierarchy must have had and then suppressed. There are millions of Britons who hate the Tory party because it is the Tory party. Sometimes reasonably, sometimes not, they blame the Thatcher government for the disappearance of established industries and secure jobs, and for a general coarsening of life which became apparent in the 1980s. In truth, this coarsening has its roots in our long and bipartisan moral and cultural revolution, but many have chosen to blame it entirely on the Tories and cannot be shaken from that view. Trying to get them to vote Tory is much like selling a brand of canned meat recently withdrawn after a health scare. No use to say that the factory has been scoured with powerful acids and that the employees are daily hosed down with disinfectant; no use getting new labels. They don’t want to know. So why not abandon it?
Alas, ranged on the other side are all the ancient, loyal customers who will eat nothing else, even if it chokes them, because they always have done, or their late husbands did.
Actually, if the Tory party were a consumer good or a commercial service, it would long ago have ceased production. Nobody, however dedicated, would be fool enough to carry on buying it. If it were your fridge, all your food would go bad. If it were your accountant, you would be bankrupt. If any proper business had so consistently let down its customers, and misled them about its products for so long, its factories would be like the ruins of Detroit, empty and blasted with trees growing out of them.
The Tory party claims to be patriotic. But all the major steps into deeper EU integration have been taken by Tory governments. It claims to stand for a strong defence. Yet it has repeatedly run down the armed forces. It claims to be tough on crime, yet it shackled the police with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984, closed dozens of police stations between 1979-97, and now proposes to cut police numbers by 20 per cent. The Tory party claims to stand for rigorous education, yet it introduced the devalued GCSE, and closed more grammar schools than Labour did. It claims to be pro-family, yet it has never reformed the ultra-liberal divorce laws of the 1960s, and it passed the 1989 Children Act, hugely increasing the power of the state over family life.
All political parties have a mysterious dispensation. Not only are they allowed to be less than wholly truthful in their advertisements. They are also allowed to stay on the shelves long after they have obviously gone rotten. Why are we so attached to them? I haven’t a clue. But if we were reasonable creatures, we wouldn’t buy Capstan Full Strength either.