Diminishing Returns

It’s good to see the backs of the evilest member of the government, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and of the most ridiculous, Culture(!) Secretary Nadine Dorries. Also I suppose we should welcome the diverse gender and ethnic make-up of Truss’s new cabinet, with none of the top four members of it – as has been widely noted – being a ‘white male’. On the other hand one of those four, Kwasi Kwarteng, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, was educated at Eton and Cambridge, which will have washed some of the brownness out of him (incidentally, I reviewed a book of his, which wasn’t at all bad); and in any case Tories have never been universally racist, at least at the top of the party – they once had a Jewish prime minister, after all – and usually accepted ‘civilized’ natives, which is clearly how Kwasi, Braverman and Cleverly can be seen. ‘Class’ often trumped ‘race’ in the upper-class imperialists’ mindset. In other words, they were more often ‘classist’ than ‘racist’. (See David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire, 2001.) So we shouldn’t be too surprised by Truss’s choice of her senior lieutenants, or particularly reassured.

For what seems to characterise this government more than its racial or its class biases is its members’ common ideological identity, which is to the Right of the presently-understood political spectrum, which ranges from State-interventionist on the Left to ‘neo-liberalism’ (or anarcho-capitalism) at the other extreme. Truss’s replies to her first Prime Minister’s questions today made this crystal clear: that she was against taxing the rich in order to help the poor in the present economic crisis, for example, because that would hinder the investment and enterprise which alone would enable the economy to grow: with, she implied, its benefits ‘trickling down’ more beneficially than ‘State hand-outs’ could ever effect. That of course has been a main Tory mantra for decades now; temporarily abandoned when Keynesianism was all the rage, but then revived under Thatcher, and still going strong – or even stronger – on the Right.

But not, surely, among ‘ordinary’ (and poorer) people. It can’t be a democratic choice for them, but is being imposed from above by a small group of free market ideologues which has seized control of the Conservative party over the years – albeit more gradually and incrementally than the word ‘seize’ may imply. The first stage was Thatcher’s war against the ‘wets’ – the social-Conservatives – in her party; followed some years later by Brexit, which was essentially a victory for the ‘dries’, leading to an exodus of usually social-Conservative Remainers under Johnson; and now by Truss’s excluding from her new cabinet – we think: the process hasn’t been completed yet – of almost any MP who didn’t back her for the premiership, and so by implication any who didn’t share her (and the Tory membership’s) libertarian views. All of which might help explain the poor personal quality of the last couple of cabinets, with prime ministers having to recruit their members from an ever decreasing pool of talent.

Race and gender are important to Conservatives, and class even more so. But it’s economic ideology that trumps them all.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to Diminishing Returns

  1. Pingback: The Civilizing Mission | Porter’s Pensées

  2. Tony says:

    It’s interesting that all the new ethnic minority cabinet appointments are on the right of the Conservative Party, free market ideologies, Brexit enthusiasts, cultural warriers in the ‘war of woke’, and tax cutters. Cameron’s idea was to expand the ethnicity of Tory MP’s, help a selected few get safe seats, and make the party look more modern, and their right wing views would also have re-assured the elederly members in these affluent safe rural seats whatever other reservatiosn they may have had. It may also explain their rapid advancement in a party where anti-EU right wing views now dominate. The right wing commentator Charles Moore has written of the frisson of pleasure it gives him to hear ethnic minority Tories express the right wing views he has been plugging for decades.

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