The modern Tories are often criticised by some in the right because they aren’t truly right-wing. In fact, it can be said that the modern Tory party has become more socialist than conservative. Nowhere is this criticism more pronounced than when applied to Theresa May, the sitting Tory Prime Minister who opened her premiership with an emphasis on social justice. On economic policy, she’s pretty much a left-leaning Tory cut from the same cloth as most of the party, and many have noted that she has pilfered her platform from what used to be Ed Miliband’s Labour manifesto.
Some have taken to calling this Blue Labour, and in this regard, I agree, though I think this is one of those times where it’s important to learn some history. While Theresa May’s leftward lurching manifesto is pretty much the right-wing version of a typical Labour manifesto, it’s important that the Blue Labour attitude that today’s Tory party embodies has been around for a very long time. In fact, the official name for this brand of right-wing socialism is “one-nation Toryism”. This has been the policy of every post-war Tory PM except Margaret Thatcher, and this is because it stems from the paternalistic worldview that many Tories hold in regards to society.
The Tories have always been the party of the owning class, but contrary to what most people may believe, the old Tories never believed in capitalism. This is evidenced by Harold Macmillian (who would later become PM in 1957), when he insisted that Toryism as an ideology “has always been a form of paternal socialism. Similarly, another future PM named Anthony Eden made the Tory’s opposition to capitalism clear at the 1947 Conservative Party Conference:
“We are not a party of unbridled, brutal capitalism and never have been. We are not the children of the laissez-faire school. We opposed them decade after decade.”
The reason they despised capitalism was because it went against their own view of how society should be ordered. In their worldview, your standing in life was something you were simply born into. You were rich because your parents were rich, you were poor because your parents were poor, and your children would more than likely go down the same route as you will. Capitalism challenged that idea. In capitalism it doesn’t matter how you were born, because you earn success through your own merits, and fall because of your own failings.
To the poor, capitalism presents a path out of poverty, and the old elites resented that. They resented the idea that anyone could become as rich as them, but they were most fearful of the idea that they could lose their wealth and status. Capitalism was a threat to the economic privilege of the wealthy Tories of the olden days, and thus they favoured socialism, a system that, in practice, protects that privilege under the guise of looking after the poor.
The old Tories thought that it was their job, nay, their duty to run the country, and because of their desire to limit the free markets, they ended up agreeing with Labour’s policy of nationalisation, high taxation, high regulation, and a generous welfare state. This was called the “post-war consensus”, which is basically a system of Keynesian socialism with no more than a glimmer of free markets. In the era of the consensus, everything was nationalised, and the welfare state grew until it eventually became unsustainable. Although this consensus began under a Labour government, it was the Tories that truly ushered in the era of consensus-style socialism then ran through to the 1970’s. That was one-nation Toryism in action.
Of course, while the post-war consensus was supposed to give us prosperity after the war, it ended up paralysing the economy by overburdening the state, which by the 1970’s was running out of money because it was paying to keep all the industries going, and the taxpayers were getting less and less able to foot the bill. The consensus was defeated when Margaret Thatcher took power and brought a swift end to nationalisation, putting her at odds with the traditional one-nation Tories. In the end, the EU-loving Tories ousted her from party leadership, and returned to their old ways, and now one-nation Toryism, perhaps the last remnant of consensus-era politics, is the policy of the modern Tory party, as exemplified in the current manifesto.
This Blue Labour philosophy is so entrenched in British conservatism that there really is no right wing in mainstream British politics, and no, UKIP is too weak to count. This part of how the left has come to dominate the narrative in British society, because there is no true right to oppose it, and there hasn’t been since Thatcher lost power. Now it seems like we’re headed for a long reign of protectionism, economic regulations, but at least nationalisation is not on their agenda anymore, all while our civil liberties continue the slow path of erosion. This is Blue Labour in action, but because the alternative is blatant Marxism, it seems this is the only way. Just when we thought they were gone, the days of “There is no alternative” are more alive than ever.