On with the culture wars.

What exactly makes up the Conservative party’s governing strategy these days it something entirely amiss from anyone’s knowledge base. We see an embracing of vast state spending, generally only to serve the interests of the 1%, but with some trickle down benefits for voters from the sheer scale of splurge spending occurring, while simultaneously waging an aggressive rightwing culture war, talking about freedom, and imposing draconian asylum policies while attempting efforts at voter suppression and speech policing in schools.

The economic policies these days are something to behold; and contrary to popular belief within the “centre-left” establishment in Britain, there isn’t a budget around the corner, if not this one, the next, where Rishi Sunak will bring equilibrium back, Tories will be the party of slash and cut, and Labour can be about tax and spend. This would be nice, it would be simple, and it’d make Keir Starmer’s attack lines yesterday look election winning; but this is 2021, not 2011, and unfortunately for the left, the wheels are moving and politics is realigning.

The Tories will keep up this high state spending, and henceforth the argument becomes about who the money is being spent in the interests of, not the simplistic debate we’re used to about the simple amount spent. The Tories have stolen Labour’s economic clothes, but they’ll wield this new role for an active state in order to buy voters in key areas, serve big business, and enrich further the 1%, reshaping Britain’s economy in their image (further to the right) in ways small state politics could never achieve.

An active Tory state can not only lock them in the 45% they need to win in perpetuity for the next decade, but it can also entrench their ideological commitments to the wealthy and powerful, in ways that Thatcherism could only dream of. Thatcherism-On-Steroids is coming, and it’s a big state ideology. Attacking the Tories as mean austerity peddlers will make you look ridiculous, and them look even more generous, this is the dilemma we all now face. Get out of the bubble, and look at the plans being briefed for the next 10 years under a Johnson government; this is a total rethink of the way the Conservative party sells itself, and how it governs.

We heard briefing of a liberalising of the Johnson government, this has clearly been stepped back from. We’re seeing an embrace of bold climate action (at least on the surface) and really interesting state lead innovation initiatives (exactly the sort of things we need to do in some form in order to compete going forward), but socially, this govt has recommitted itself to the culture war. Sure, minister are now allowed on Radio 4 and GMB (quite scary that the boycott was something a British govt did and bragged about, I can’t think of a less liberal concept), but ministers are bullying journalists on Twitter, and bleating about “woke worthies”.

Since the Johnson govt came to power in the summer of 2019, a quintessentially American brand of politics, and one only embraced on the periphery by the likes of Nigel Farage, was co opted and mainstreamed by Johnson and Cummings, in a stroke of electoral genius that ripped Labour’s coalition apart over non-material issues, and won the contest of values on an 80 seat majority. Cummings is clearly an incredibly smart guy, and a conversation with him would be fascinating (if potentially infuriating). We naturally seem to tag along to America, so give it a half decade and I’m sure there’ll be an armed insurrection outside parliament, except knowing us it’ll be angry bald men from Wigan with switch knifes rather than radicalised bank managers in their mid 30s with assault rifles.

It makes sense that the govt has honed their strategy, trimming the more unseemly elements of the culture war off around the edges, and leaving the main glut of the thing. Why would they stop? Culture wars continue to rip Labour’s pretty much dead coalition apart, all while whipping up division and keeping the Tories no lower than 40% in the polls, no matter what depraved they choose to do next. The Trump “Fifth Avenue” jibe applies to the Tories and killing everyone’s nan through negligence. “Sure, Nan’s dead, but Boris’ll make sure they don’t cancel Rule Britannia at the Proms which I’ve never watched before but am now very authentically angry about”.

The Tories have no principles on all the things they profess to deeply care about. They talk about so called conservatism, and they preside over one of the most disastrously centralised govt’s in Europe. The Tory track record, then and now, is one of waging war upon local officials, and trampling regional or devolved democracy. Most of their MPs think devolution was a fatal error, the “Scots should be put in their place”, and they have a documented record of literally closing down councils they don’t agree with, or punishing cities for failing to do what they say. This record would make the Republican party blush when it comes to checks and balances; they uphold one of the least “conservative” systems of government you can imagine, and it’s entirely of their design, since they’ve been the natural party of power since eternity.

We hear about liberty and freedoms, and yet this govt is presiding over one of the most draconian immigration and asylum agendas we’ve seen in living memory; New Labour and its hideous asylum regime would blush, and Theresa May of all people (star of the GO HOME vans and hostile environment architect) would suggest it’s gone too far. How is this principled or conservative, or decent? It’s certainly not One Nation.

And we absolutely must talk about the hypocrisy on freedom of speech above all else; this lot are chasing after bogeymen like “cancel culture”, in a thinly veiled attempt to let the CENTRAL GOVT DIRECTLY INTERVENE in how universities and other public bodies present their views and arguments. Orwellian stuff, “it’s free speech when we restrict how you should do things as a university for no evidenced reason”. It’s just another tool to amplify so called suppressed voices (that are on 5 different outlets on a bad week thanks to our rightwing media) and suppress the voices of the vulnerable and the marginalised, preventing the hierarchy of privileges being disrupted in any way.

As for history, the govt is the only one staging a rewriting of history. It attacks people who want to create living history, and re-examine our deeply sinister past in a logical and evidenced way, and debate big ideas in academic spaces, whereas the govt wants to uphold and impose a whitewashed and censorious account of our past built more on myth than anything else, all while banning any debate around capitalism in schools, an academic intention of ideology that would make any authoritarian regime proud.

None of this is normal, and it’s all deeply sinister. Read this again, think about it, share it around. On roll the culture wars.

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Toby Lipatti-Mesme

Toby Lipatti-Mesme

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Insightful and innovative UK journalism and commentary, from Toby Lipatti-Mesme.