Central to David Cameron’s “de-toxifying” mission upon becoming leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 was the idea of “localism”. Decisions would be made at the lowest possible level; power would be taken from the beaurocrats of Whitehall and transferred to town halls up and down the country. This was a clever ploy because it appealed to some element in all the great political traditions: Conservatives (especially soft-Tories) liked localism because it stood both in contrast to the all-mighty, centralised state, whilst lacking the divisive radicalism of pure Thatcherism; in other words it rekindled the Burkean flame that had been absent from the Tory party. Socialists liked localism because it implied greater community involvement; Liberals liked it because it combined all the strands of social liberalism: devolving power to individuals through political involvement rather than the free market.
So it was a clever ploy, and together with the photogenic huskies and hug-a-hoodie photo-ops, it gave Cameron a wide appeal based on the rather flaky idea that Conservatism could be less harsh, less divisive and altogether less stupid. It was an illusion that millions would like to believe, and some still do. But the reality is that Cameron’s rhetoric has been proved to be exactly that: just rhetoric.
High ranking Conservatives who today hold ministerial office used to give speeches in which they set out their vision for the day when the running of various services would no longer be their responsibility. (It would be cynical, at this point, to suggest that this was due to their understandable desire to have a ministerial salary whilst simultaneously finding more time to spend at their gentlemen’s club.) The softer, more cuddly, burkean-ised version of Toryism resold to the public under Cameron’s leadership was based on an aversion to the activist state.
But the maxim that power corrupts has never been so thoroughly proven as during the last five years, not to mention the last few months. Given the opportunity, the Tories have not shrunk from imposing their world-view on others (restrained, in part, it should be said, by the Liberal Democrats), and amassing more and more power to themselves. Rather than letting others live their lives as they see fit, which is what Conservatism purports to be about, the Conservatives have indulged in ministerial activism just as their New Labour predecessors used to. The only recognisable difference is that they have wielded their power not in the name of increasing opportunity for all, and enacting legislation to protect the vulnerable from the ravages of a free-market economy, but instead to force pet-projects like HS2- and even worse, fracking- on local authorities whether they like it or not. Because the gentlemen in Whitehall always know best. Even when they are imbeciles with an infantile understanding of economics and a satanic understanding of human nature. Even more disturbing has been the idea that the lower classes should stop breeding quite so much, or else lose their tax credits. In the words of that veritable god, Josh Lyman: “They want a government small enough to fit into our bedrooms”. Rather than getting involved to pursue meaningful change to help people’s lives, this government has taken it upon itself to seek out the root of “pettiness” as a concept, and to absorb into their being whatever they find there, squandering public money throughout.
We have recently learned that the government will take decisions on fracking applications into their own hands if local authorities don’t make the ‘right’ choice. Councils now have 16 weeks to make a decision, or the minister Greg Clark will make the decision for them. In fact he can now do that in any situation he likes. This is in very stark contrast to wind power, which has seen its subsidies cut back viciously, and we were told new wind farms will only be built if the communities involved were very keen for them to go ahead. All this speaks of a government which is not only hypocritical, unprincipled and seemingly the victim of amnesia as to why they are in politics in the first place -apart from perhaps sadism- but also one which fails to understand the country it governs, or the world in which it sits. A government so hopelessly lost and clueless as to the nature of the affairs they meddle with that they might as well not bother.
Speaking of wind turbines, I will be writing a post shortly in response to James Delingpole’s “watermelons”. So that should good.