Boris Johnson Tories plan to create a bigger, more active state

TIT CONSERVATIVES have undergone many transformations in their time: from the party of the land lordship to that of the industrial bourgeoisie; from post-war consensus to liberal radicalism. Now they are having another one. For 40 years, from the selection of Margaret Thatcher as leader in 1975 to the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister in 2016, the Conservatives have defended a small government. Today, they are the party of conservatism in the big government.

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The budget provided a striking illustration of this. In the mid-2020s, public spending will be the highest, GDPsince the mid-1970s. By the same token, taxation will be at its highest since the early 1950s. But the conservatism of a large government is not limited to the size of the state. There is also the philosophy of the state. And under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives set goals that they say can only be achieved through big state activism.

The most obvious is the “leveling up”. The division between the prosperous south and the underprivileged north dates back centuries: read Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The North and the South”, published in 1854. And London’s economic preeminence is the result of a natural agglomeration. Successful banks attract others, attract accountants and lawyers, attract restaurants and art galleries, etc. Increasingly, the government seems to think that this cannot be countered without strong intervention, for example by spending on infrastructure and supporting economic clusters.

The rise in level also implies to control the overpowered “liberal elite”, on behalf of the BBC and academia to the legal system and the civil service. The Tories like to call this elite the “blob” because its members all live in the same types of places (Islingtonia) and believe in the same kinds of things (“diversity” meaning various ethnicities rather than points of view). The government believes Brexit has exposed a dangerous rift between the liberal elites and the masses who pay their wages. And he fears that a “wake-up call” will widen that chasm, as members of the elite attempt to impress each other by embracing trans rights, critical race theory and the cancellation of race. culture.

The result is a wave of state activism, including an academic freedom bill designed to prevent the lack of a platform for speakers; a draft law on housing which gives residents the right to control the appearance of new buildings; a bill on judicial review and the courts which he says will increase democratic control; a more confrontational position towards the BBC and the legal profession, and a policy of moving civil servants from London to the provinces.

Part of it is political hardball. The Conservative Party captured huge swathes of northern England in 2019 and is investing resources in these new territories. It is increasingly the party of the working class and the elderly, so it makes sense to fight with young and middle-aged tendencies. But adherence to state activism also signifies an evolution in conservative thinking – or perhaps, more precisely, a growing recognition of the difference between conservatism and classical liberalism.

Legend has it that Mrs Thatcher used to take Friedrich Hayek’s “The Constitution of Freedom” out of her purse and say: “This is what we believe”. Yet the book’s postscript is titled “Why I’m Not a Conservative.” Conservatives are reverting to explicitly conservative thinkers such as Edmund Burke, who said government was “an apparatus of human wisdom to meet human needs.” Men have the right to have these needs met by this wisdom. They not only conclude that market-oriented policies do not always produce conservative solutions, but that the onset of market forces in universities and the legal profession has coincided with a movement to the left in both cases, with universities having adopted critical theory in various forms and lawyers who found the gold in the human realm. -the law on rights. Indeed, market forces can undermine the foundations of a conservative society. A great government is therefore not an aberration, as the Thatcherians claim, but a tool to achieve conservative goals.

In a democracy, conservatism is based on equal opportunities. The race of life, in which only a few get prizes, is considered illegitimate unless everyone gets a fair start. But over the past four decades, the starting line has become more uneven, as successful people have accumulated resources for their children and wealth has become more concentrated regionally. Seen in this light, the Conservatives have a duty to adopt vigorous government action to restore confidence in the system.

Conservatism also depends on healthy communities, including the nation state. In his heyday, Thatcher saw no tension between the market and the nation. The orgy of patriotism that followed the Falklands War coincided with a money-making orgy in the city. But tensions grew as Chinese competition destroyed manufacturing jobs and Amazon devastated traditional retailers. In 2019, the Conservatives’ election manifesto promised government action to beautify city centers and improve bus services. Johnson has presented the labor shortages caused by tighter immigration rules since Britain left the European Union as a chance to raise wages and productivity.

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The conservatism of big governments is riddled with problems and potential problems. The government may seek a narrow partisan advantage rather than attacking it: the choice of Nadine Dorries, a combative philistine deputy, as secretary for culture is hardly encouraging. It can also bypass the few controls that restrict the overpowering British executive. The idea that “disconnected” lawyers should be brought under democratic scrutiny would be more compelling if the government did not treat Parliament with such contempt. And Thatcher’s warning that socialist governments “always run out of other people’s money” also applies to the conservatism of big governments. But whatever squalls or shipwrecks come, Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party is the party of government activism, rather than government restraint.

This article appeared in the Great Britain section of the print edition under the title “Blue Leviathan”

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