Her philosophy of “Rectory Toryism” is strangely retro—and inadequate to the challenges aheadby Denis MacShane / May 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
A Conservative victory seems as certain as anything ever is in politics. So what can we expect from Theresa May in the next five years? Defining a May ideology or what “Mayism” is has proved difficult. But many commentators have missed the obvious. As the prime minister told the Times in November, “I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.”
As is well known, May grew up in provincial southern England, the only child of a vicar, and remains a strong practising Anglican. The Church of England’s teachings are those of moderate social conservatism. Left-wing clerics like Giles Fraser may have a high public profile, but the ranks of bishops in the House of Lords and the clergy in parishes across suburban and rural England are much more cautious and traditional.
At the same time, the Church is nothing if not adaptable. It has slowly come to terms with gay rights, for example. Similarly, May voted against extensions of gay rights at the start of her parliamentary career, but now there is not a whiff of homophobia in her administration. However, while the Anglican elites of bishops and professors may be strongly pro-European, the bulk of Daily Telegraph-reading CoE church-goers never liked European institutions, lightly entertaining the conspiracy theory that it was all a Catholic, continental plot. Though a tepid Remainer during the referendum campaign, May has fully embraced hard Brexit.
Let’s describe her philosophy as “Rectory Toryism.” Many of those looking to understand the prime minister have focused on the 1950s of her early childhood or the 1970s, in which she was a young adult and student. But the turbulent 1960s, her school years, may be the most useful decade of reference. That is because the emerging Rectory Toryism looks like a return to the 1960s, when state control of society and economy was at its apogee.
When the Tory manifesto announces “For too many people, where you end up in life is still determined by where you were born and to whom” and states that the party does “not believe in untrammelled free markets” nor “selfish individualism,” it is the voice of the Methodist Harold Wilson speaking and what might have been heard from a hundred church…