An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Wednesday, January 22, 2003  

The strange death of Tory England
The self-destruction of British conservatism by New Right ideology and policies is best interpreted as an exemplification of a central neo-liberal theme - the importance of unintended consequences in social, economic and political life.

The radical free market policies implemented in Britain since 1979 have had as one of their principal effects an unravelling of the coalitions of economic interests and the social hierarchies on which pre-Thatcher conservatism depended. In sweeping away the postwar settlement which all major parties endorsed for a generation, Thatcherism demolished the social and economic base on which conservatism in Britain stood, and created several of the necessary conditions for a prolonged period of Labour hegemony.

The medium-term effect of neo-liberal Conservative policy in has been to destroy ethos in institutions such as the Civil Service and the National Health Service by remodelling them on contractualist and managerialist lines. In addition to squandering a large part of Britain's patrimony of civilized institutions, this neo-liberal project of refashioning social life on a primitive model of market exchange has speeded the delegitimation of established institutions of such as the monarchy and the Church.

Further, by stripping democratic local government in Britain of most of its powers and building up the unaccountable institutions of the Quango Sate - the apparatus of committees appointed by central government to oversee the operation of the newly marketized public services, which is now larger in manpower and in the resources it allocates than democratic local government in Britain - the Conservatives have marginalized their own local party organizations and thereby contributed to the steep and swift decline of the Conservative Party itself ...

As for Tory England - that rich network of interlocking interests, social deferences and inherited institutions that Tory statecraft has successfully protected and reproduced for over a century by its skilful adaptation to democratic institutions in Britain - it is now as good as dead.

John Gray Endgames: Questions in Late Modern Political Thought (1997)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 8:49 pm