Oh great. A new manifesto arguing for “compassionate conservatism.” Only this time, the authors have hit on the ingenious variant “The Good Right.”
I’d love to tell Tim Montgomerie and Stephan Shakespeare exactly what I think of their limp-wristed apologia for precisely the kind of watered-down, damp-dishcloth faux-conservatism that has driven so many natural conservatives into the bosom of UKIP. But I won’t, obviously, because it will give them far too much masochistic pleasure.
So let me just quibble, gently, with one of the numerous bits I particularly hate.
It’s where they claim that “Government is Not the Enemy.”
Now I agree that, theoretically speaking, this is a delightfully warm and cozy affirmatory statement of kitten-stroking caringness.
To help us into the right frame of mind, they treat us to some heart-warming examples of just the kind of thing “Government” does to make all the horrid things go away.
If you are someone who is desperate for a roof over your head after a flood, hurricane or forest fire has destroyed your home or neighbourhood you are very grateful for help from the government.
If you are out of work and your relatives are too stretched to sustain you and your family you depend upon that government welfare cheque.
If drug gangs are outside your kids’ schools every morning and afternoon you are very grateful for government help.
All of which, of course, people on what they implicitly suggest is the “Bad Right” would like to do away with. Yes that’s right, Timmy. People who, a la Ronald Reagan, argue that “Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem,” just want to crush the poor and oppressed under their jackboots and are so doctrinaire – no really, I’ve heard this argument being advanced, in a debate on libertarianism, by the Guardian’s Chief Political Columnist – that their idea of a perfect state is the bracingly government-free entity that is Somalia.
And there was I thinking that one of the key facets of conservatism is that it is a practical and honest creed. It’s not about airy-fairy theories about what might work if only we closed our eyes tight enough and said “I believe in Tinkerbell.” It’s about what actually does work in the real world, as demonstrated by hard evidence.
So let me give a few examples of government in action and invite Tim Montgomerie to explain exactly how they have made our world a better place.
1. Compulsory skimmed milk in schools.
In the last few months, successive reports have demonstrated that full fat milk is much better for you than skimmed.
So guess what the Department of Education’s latest “free school milk requirements” introduced last month tell us. Yes, that’s right: “You may only offer lower-fat milk (not more than 1.8 per cent fat content, such as semi-skimmed, skimmed, or 1 per cent fat milk).”
2. The ‘liberation’ of Libya.
No, of course, it wasn’t obvious to anyone with half a brain that overthrowing Gaddafi would create more problems than it solved. (cf also Saddam Hussein; the attempted defenestration of Bashar Al Assad)
Now we learn that Libya is being transformed into another ISIS stronghold which will be used as a launchpad for terrorist operations within Europe. But hey, again, who could possibly have predicted this?
3. The Climate Change Act
Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, voted for by all but five MPs, Britain is legally committed to a “decarbonisation” programme which will hamstring the UK economy with useless projects like the proposed mega windfarm 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast, blight our seas and landscape and cost the taxpayer £734 billion. To no practical purpose whatsoever.
4. Plain packaging for cigarettes
Plain packaging is not only illiberal (and ugly and anti-capitalist) but doesn’t even achieve the one thing it was designed to do: put people off smoking. (see also: the ban on smoking in public places, introduced to prevent the dangers of “second-hand smoking” which, all serious studies show are non-existent)
But hey, the government is going to go ahead with it any way.
5. Harriet Harman’s “if she’s drunk you raped her” laws on consent – now fully endorsed and aggressively pursued under this administration by the vengefully PC Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders.
Nice one, government. You have just needlessly criminalised about 95 per cent of Britain’s male youth population.
6. The Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders Programme.
One from the Blair era, I know, but no heads have ever rolled for it, least of all the chippy, porcine incompetent in charge of it, John Prescott, who was, of course, instead elevated to the Lords.
What it did, in essence, was destroy the heart and character of many of Britain’s towns, by doing much the same that Ceausescu did in Romania: clearing and bulldozing Victorian streets (dubbed “slums” for propaganda purposes) and replacing them with modern buildings more suited to New Labour’s Year Zero. Except, oops, Labour ran out of money so a lot of the new buildings were never built; but by then the communities inhabiting the old buildings had already been broken up and moved on.
7. Rotherham et al.
Well Local Government counts as government too, doesn’t it? And it was definitely Local Government in Rotherham that allowed those Muslim rape gangs to operate with near impunity
I could go on and on. My list was never meant to be comprehensive. I’ve simply picked a few random examples of areas both great and small where government has tried (or possibly not tried) to do the right thing and made life almost immeasurably worse for everyone.
What I hope the range and variety of the idiocies cited shows is that incompetence and disastrous unintended consequences are not some unfortunate, occasional accident of government activity: they are its very essence. This is what politicians do: not just ghastly lefty Labour ones but supposed sensible “small government” (yeah right: they all go native in the end) Conservative ones. They meddle because they want to show they are making a difference – that government, as per Tim Montgomerie – is not your enemy but your friend. But they’re always too busy or politically compromised or plain thick to think it through properly. And even when they do think up clever ideas they only end up being sabotaged by Jeremy Heywood and his gang of wreckers in the Civil Service.
It’s no concidence about the only two worthwhile achievements of the Cameron administration were essentially anti-government in nature: Gove’s liberation of schools from the shackles of local government; Ian Duncan Smith’s simplification of the welfare system (which of course will have the happy side-effect of putting a lot of public sector bloatocrats out of a job).
If Montgomerie and Shakespeare’s drivel had been published after ten years of red meat Thatcherism you could just about it excuse its intellectual poverty and its wheedling desperation for change on the grounds of “well of course, the wetter fringe of the Conservative movement are going to be a bit upset.”
But it’s pretty rich, I have to say, for Monty and Shaggers to bring out this centrist tosh and try to advance it as something new and radical and different when centrist tosh is pretty much all we’ve had since David Cameron and his pals came to power and which is why this country is still in such a mess.