“We are all Thatcherites now,” David Cameron said as he paid tribute to Margaret Thatcher following her death last year. Around that time Nigel Farage was describing UKIP as “the true inheritors of Thatcher”, arguing a young Maggie “would get involved” with his party and not the Conservatives had she entered politics today. He even famously posed with a mug of Britain’s only female Prime Minister.
Fast forward a year and you would be forgiven for thinking both parties of the Right had abandoned any lasting commitment they had to the values of Thatcher. 2014 has been a bad year for voters who want a smaller state and lower taxes. No party is realistically offering that choice going into next year’s General Election.
Labour rhetoric has the Tories as state-slashing, austerity-loving, tax-cutters for the rich. Back on Planet Reality the truth could hardly be further from that. George Osborne is borrowing £8 billion a month, public sector net debt is £1.45 trillion and forecast to rise to £1.6 trillion by 2018. Despite the Chancellor’s grandiose claims of economic wizardry, he has fallen well short of the deficit reduction programme he pledged in his 2010 Budget.
This government has been so bent on cuts that public sector expenditure on the NHS, pensions, social security, education and defence are all projected to be higher in 2015 than they were in 2010. It has been so concerned with cutting taxes for the rich that it has slapped a massive 12 percent stamp duty on homes over £1.5 million. Are the Tories the party of the small state? Hardly. Their plans going into 2015 would see spending return only to the level of Tony Blair’s Labour government. Cameron and Osborne offer less of a Hayekian revolution and more a Keynesian status quo.
And what of UKIP? In 2013, Farage was probably correct to say his party most represented the ideology of Thatcher. The UKIP of a year and a half ago was a party which described itself on its website as “libertarian”, at least from an economic perspective. It was a party whose deputy leader talked openly about the privatisation of the NHS, a party which even proposed replacing progressive taxation with a flat rate income tax.
As we approach 2015, UKIP has abandoned all of that. No longer does it describe itself as libertarian. No longer does it advocate serious NHS reform, instead chasing Labour votes in the North by vowing to “standing up for the NHS”. Its deputy leader’s previous comments on privatisation have been erased from history, Stalin style. UKIP now believes in “protecting your benefits” and attacks “Right-wing ultra-libertarian think tanks” as A Bad Thing. As the party makes inroads in the North you can understand their political reasons for moving away from its Thatcherite principles and cynically shifting Left. But it means UKIP no longer offers a small state, low tax alternative.
There is much talk at the moment of British politics starting to resemble a multi-party system. On the Left, the Greens and the SNP north of the border are relatively new parties offering a genuine alternative for those disillusioned by Labour. Yet on the Right, there is little choice for voters who believe in the old-fashioned conservative principles of sound money, making the state a little less of a leviathan and letting people keep a little more of what they earn. 2013 was the year Thatcher passed away. 2014 was the year her ideology was forgotten by the parties of the Right.