Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories' Sub-Marxist Economic Determinism Won't Win Them Office

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories' Sub-Marxist Economic Determinism Won't Win Them Office

Article excerpt

Concerning the state of the Conservatives, a few remarks. First, their 'analysis' is probably wrong. 'Analysis' does not here mean the Conservatives' diverse and contradictory public pronouncements suggesting that, say, Mr Redwood had to be brought back in order to counter Ukip, that the party should move to the centre to trump the Liberal Democrats; that lower income tax should be promised; that the present government's spending on this or that allegedly popular cause should be adhered to. All those recommendations have their merits.

But there remains the more interesting, privately stated analysis: one which cannot be mentioned to a party conference, in the Commons or on television. It is that the Tories will lose the next general election, but will recover when 'the economy goes wrong'. Thus the Conservative party has embraced a kind of sub-Marxist, or materialist, economic determinism.

It is reasonable to assume that the economy will 'go wrong' eventually. Economies always have. But this economy is taking an unconscionably long time doing so. That is because of something about which Conservatives should be pleased. Mr Brown handed monetary policy - which with fiscal policy is one of a chancellor's two important functions - to the capitalist Bank of England, just as many an old Thatcherite had urged. Kenneth Clarke was against it; Lord Lament was for it.

Handing monetary policy to the Bank is one of the reasons - perhaps the most important - why we now enjoy both low unemployment and low inflation, two blessings which previous generations of politicians and Whitehall officials thought incompatible. If you are a good monetarist, you should not believe that the economy will easily 'go wrong'. In any case, there is something disagreeable about a political party whose entire 'strategy' consists of sitting there waiting for economic hardship to befall one's country, and hoping that it does. In exchange for high employment and low inflation, most of us - Tory or not - should be prepared to endure Mr Blair and Mr Brown lording it over us. The latest opinion polls suggest that most Britons are.

A broader purpose here, however, is to argue that the Conservatives might not be the beneficiaries even if the economy, before or more probably after the next election, 'goes wrong'. There is no evidence that voters live by economics alone. The Clinton campaign 'strategist' in the 1992 presidential election who said that it was 'the economy, stupid' has something to answer for. By election day, 1992, the American economy was doing well. Mr Clinton won for reasons other than the economy. He amused, reassured and interested voters as a campaigner, and was of humble origin. Above all, he came from the south, and so could win back to the Democrats those many southerners who had voted for the similarly amusing, reassuring, interesting and low-born Reagan. President Bush Sr, unlike his son today, had no appeal to the south.

If all this is correct, the Tories cannot expect to win again even if the economy 'goes wrong'. Rather, is it possible that they are the victims of broader forces? If so, the broadest of such forces is the middle class. Only the middle class now votes in large numbers. The old blue-collar class voted Labour in their millions, producing vast turnouts in 1950 and 1951, even though in the later election the Tories won. …

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