The Bear’s Lair: Tory “Modernization” project was a total disaster

At a lunch in 2002, British political commentator Iain Dale horrified me by proposing a “modernization” of the Conservative party. My view was that it had gone badly left under John Major and needed a “re-Thatcherization” or even better a “re-Liverpoolization” rather than a further trek in the wrong direction. However, under David Cameron and his successors “modernization” won, although Dale himself never entered Parliament. As we look back on nearly 14 years of Conservative government, we can assess the true value of the “modernization” project – and conclude that in terms of Britain’s real needs or the electorate’s long-term support, it was an utter failure.

The “modernization” of the Conservative party took firm hold after the unprecedented 2003 defenestration of its leader Iain Duncan-Smith and his replacement first by Michael Howard and then after the 2005 election by Howard’s protégés David Cameron and George Osborne. In terms of image, it was harmless enough. It manifested itself in Cameron’s meaningless blather about the “Big Society” and a visit to the Arctic to demonstrate solidarity with the polar bears, then thought to be facing extinction but since showing a healthy rebound in numbers while the North Pole remained satisfactorily cold.

Regrettably, modernization had policy and personnel implications. Probably the most devastating aspect of it was Cameron’s decision to form an “A” list of suitably diverse candidates to be given preferential access to good Parliamentary seats, almost all of whom turned out to be Blairite social democrats rather than conservatives. The damage this caused was not immediately apparent, since freshman MPs have only limited power, but over time the destruction has increased, as Cabinets increasingly came to consist of management-consultant-speak lefties with no capacity to run either a business or a government – the ultimate result of this being the current Prime Minister “Squishy Rishi” Sunak.

A sensible reform of this would eliminate Conservative Campaign Headquarters’ influence over the selection of candidates, thus allowing constituency parties to select whomever they wished for the local seat. In this way, MPs would become representative of Conservatives in the country, and the appalling dominance of central London “wokies” would be ended.

On policy, the Tories did not come to power with a healthy determination to reverse all the most damaging changes of the preceding 13-year period of Labour government. Those damages had been enormous and long-lasting, partly because Blair was congenitally unable to avoid dismantling any sensible constitutional arrangement that had been in place for 1,000 years or so, and with which the public outside the wokie districts of London were entirely comfortable. Joining the European Court of Human Rights was an entirely avoidable mistake and has since proved to be a grotesque surrender of Parliamentary rights, as wokie nonsense after wokie nonsense has been imposed on the British people by the Court, whose members are entirely insulated from public opinion, conventional morality and their own national feelings.

An even worse, indeed irreparable mistake in the long run (Britain can leave the ECHR when it comes to its senses) was Blair’s 1998 decision to remove the voting rights of hereditary peers, thus allowing “Tony’s Cronies” life peers to flood the House of Lords with their nonsense. There is an excellent case for an hereditary Second Chamber; for one thing, being composed of members whose grandchildren will be members a century hence, it will be best able to consider issues that are truly long-term, such as climate change, whose damage is confined to the period after 2100. There is no case whatever for a Second Chamber made up of chums of the last prime minister but five, who will be infected as he was by all the latest short-term intellectual nostrums, albeit now 20 years out of date. Such a chamber amplifies the faults of democracy. The feeble Conservative leader of the period, William Hague did not resist this disaster with any real vigor; reversing it should have been top of the manifesto of the incoming Conservative government in 2010. It is probably now too late to do so.

Finally, Blair’s abolition in 2005 of the Lord Chancellor’s position as head of the legal system should have been reversed (the title, supposedly in existence since AD604 was restored but the substance wasn’t). Blair’s Supreme Court, being selected by the lawyers themselves, has no check against the relentless leftwards movement that is exhibited by all self-appointed bodies with no input from directly elected officials; it is thus an instrument of tyranny, pure and simple.

Blair’s constitutional reforms were uniquely destructive of a British constitutional set-up that had stood the test of a millennium. Reversing them should have been an immediate priority. Other detrimental and damaging bodies, such as OFCOM and the Office of Budget Responsibility, both of which impose incompetent bureaucracy on their areas of control, should also have been swept away by a properly reforming government, like the destructive exchange control apparatus abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. However, a “modernizing” Conservative government felt compelled to accept these “modernizations” however absurd they were.

The “modernizing” Conservative government’s sins of commission were even more damaging at least in the short term than its omissions. By far the most important failure was on immigration, a disaster shared by all four Conservative prime ministers who served more than a few weeks. David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Sunak all promised to bring down immigration levels, especially illegal immigration, but all of them failed, to the extent that one doubts whether they were really trying. Johnson and Sunak at least appointed competent Home Secretaries, in the shape of Priti Patel and Suella Braverman, but both women were defeated by the problem, thwarted by a recalcitrant Home Office aided by the Blairite courts – it became clear that neither of them really had the backing of their bosses, who thereafter fired them. The result has been an increase of crime, gross overcrowding due to the absurdly rapid population increase, and a relentless upward pressure on state bloat and downward pressure on British living standards.

Immigration, a ridiculous monetary policy of zero interest rates (caused by Keynesian leftist Governors of the Bank of England, Mark Carney and Andrew Bailey appointed by “Conservative” Chancellors of the Exchequer), ever-rising taxes caused by utter failure to control public spending and endless spurious environmental regulation have caused British productivity to stagnate, flat since 2007, a performance worse than even the EU’s pathetic failure. Now British living standards are in absolute decline, lower than in 2019, while the public sector, under Jeremy Hunt’s feeble recent Budget, will continue to grow in real terms, absorbing ever more of an economy in decay.

The only hope for freedom, the Brexit referendum, was an action of the brave British people, opposed by the prime minister who ordered the referendum, David Cameron and largely sabotaged by Theresa May, who had previously been a wreckage of a Home Secretary. The promised freedom from EU meddling and bonfire of regulations never happened.

The biggest disappointment was the premiership of Boris Johnson, who by sheer dumb luck had supported Brexit, and then by application of considerable low cunning had become prime minister with a thumping majority on an almost Thatcherite program of economic regeneration. Alas, his judgement as prime minister proved to be appalling.

When COVID hit, he locked the country down, rather than following the more sensible Swedish approach. He failed to cancel the grotesquely bloated HS2 high speed train project yet accepted the civil service’s obviously dishonest rubbishing of his own Galloway-Ulster bridge, which being new infrastructure rather than just an overpriced upgrade, might actually have made a difference, economically and politically. He fell hook, line and sinker for the “climate change” charade, enforcing a “net zero” policy based on a doubtless well written Civil Service flim-flam paper that appealed to his Classicist pedigree while gliding over his total lack of mathematical knowledge that would have enabled him him to see the flaws and omissions in climate change models. Finally, he appears (though more information may yet emerge) to have prevented the conclusion of a Ukraine peace deal in March 2022 that would have avoided 500,000 Ukrainian and Russian deaths.

In Jonhson and Sunak’s five years in power, “modernization” and abandonment of long-standing principles have reached an all-time low, destroying British prosperity thereby and leading to what will doubtless be yet another grim decade of accelerating socialist decline under Even Newer Labour.

Doubtless Sir Robert Peel also thought he was modernizing the Tory party, when he Repealed the Corn Laws, abandoning the sound policies of his predecessors, leading the Tories to a quarter-century of opposition and Britain to begin two centuries of first relative and now absolute decline. The modernization impulse is always an excuse to abandon what remains of Conservative principles and strike killer blows against the property rights of the British people. It should be fought bitterly wherever it appears.


(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)