The Bear’s Lair: Resuscitating Toryism

If polls are correct, the British “Conservative” party will suffer a huge defeat on July 4, with Labour winning a large majority and Nigel Farage’s Reform party eating a big share of the previous Tory vote, albeit winning few seats in Parliament. Given the “Conservative” party’s abominable performance in the previous 14 years of government – and to a large extent in the 180 years before that – it will be time for a root-and-branch rethink of right-of-center British politics. Here’s what it should contain.

The “Conservative” party has an exceptionally long history, but a thoroughly undistinguished one; it has been betraying its supposed principles and the wishes of its core supporters ever since Sir Robert Peel’s “Tamworth manifesto” of 1834. That document did two things: it re-christened the Tory party, already in 1834 with 150 years of very distinguished history, with the clunky neologism “Conservative” and it repudiated the core beliefs of Lord Liverpool’s 1812-27 government, then as now the most successful administration in the combined party’s history.

The core economic belief of that administration which Peel repudiated was expressed by Liverpool in the Corn Laws debate of 1815: that Britain should be a high-wage economy rather than aiming for the cheapest possible labor costs, since high labor costs forced the greatest use of labor-saving technology, thereby maximizing productivity growth and technological progress. Peel on the other hand, through his 1846 Repeal of the Corn Laws wanted to increase British workers’ purchasing power, thus allowing employers to maximize their profits by squeezing low-end British wage rates compared to those of foreign competitors.

It must surely by now be clear that Liverpool was correct in his belief, and that Peel, heir to the millions earned by a sweatshop that depended on the child labor of homeless orphans, was dead wrong. The effect of abandoning Liverpool’s central economic principle is clearly seen. In 1815, Britain had the highest wages and living standards in the world (though living standards were low in absolute terms, temporarily depressed by the effect of 22 years of war) while Singapore was an almost deserted island containing a subsistence fishing village or two. In 2022, the United Kingdom’s GDP per capita at purchasing power parity, on World Bank figures was $54,603, while Singapore’s was 134% higher, at $127,565. (The United States’ GDP per capita in the same year was 40% higher than the U.K.’s at $76,330.)

Britons have always comforted themselves that the United States is a country with far more resources and space per capita than Britain, and therefore it is reasonable that it should be richer. However, no such excuse applies to Singapore, a small island, even more crowded and diverse than Britain and with no significant resources. Singapore is simply hugely better run economically. By abandoning Liverpool’s central economic policy for Peel’s, as well as by other foolishnesses, Britain has impoverished its people over the centuries, both relatively and increasingly in recent years in absolute terms.

This column has discussed the “Conservative” party’s misdeeds over the centuries, from Corn Laws repeal through Disraeli’s nationalization of Britain’s nascent tech sector through Boris Johnson’s credulous arts-major buy-in to the climate change mania to “Squishy” Rishi Sunak’s sudden pre-election enthusiasm for enslaving British 18-year-olds – did he think those new voters would welcome being enslaved, or simply that their parents, tired of their teenage playing-up, would welcome the chance to get them out of the house for a year?

It has also discussed how the “Conservative” party’s leftist leadership has rigged the parliamentary candidate selection process, by putting potential candidates through a pink-tinged ideological filter run by Conservative Campaign Headquarters to weed out the true believers in the party’s principles who would often be preferred by the constituency parties who should select the candidates for their constituencies. This process has produced the interesting anomaly that a high proportion of ideologically sound senior ministers are from ethnic minority groups; presumably CCHQ’s DEI filters are so strong that minorities with sound views can slip through their pink leftist filters in a way impossible for ethnic-majority candidates.

The welcome appearance of Nigel Farage, who has exposed the “Conservative” government’s errors on a wide variety of subjects from climate change to immigration to Ukraine, opens a vista of new possibilities. The question after the election will be how best to exploit those possibilities so that Britain can have a right-of-center party whose policies might actually preserve the country’s freedoms and remove the false economic dogmas that have impoverished it for so long.

On balance, I would favor a Farage/Reform takeover of the “Conservative” party, because of that party’s deep network of constituency parties whose members collectively represent the party’s soul. If Farage is made leader, CCHQ’s role in candidate selection abolished and candidates forced to be reselected by an open constituency process before the next election, the optimum structure could probably be achieved. In that case, all that would be needed is a new compromise name; can I suggest “Tory” which has a much happier history than its stained, bedraggled successor and represents the ideology that served Britain best.

There are a number of policy changes that a new Tory party must make. On foreign policy, as a moral imperative it must follow Farage’s lead, pushing hard for a compromise peace in Ukraine, which will be possible provided U.S. leadership changes in November. This peace will undoubtedly involve the removal of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who in policy and image is a close replica of the 1959-60 Fidel Castro, darling of the left as he plunges his country into Communist tyranny. Leaving the various international bodies that pollute the planet with their ideological filth, and reorienting NATO towards a genuinely defensive alliance, without neocon bullying of third parties, are other important foreign policy goals (Lord Palmerston, a Whig as Foreign Secretary, is NOT an example that British foreign policy should follow.)

On economic policy, the nonsensical climate change regulations must be swept away, which combined with other deregulation will produce a sharp and immediate improvement in Britain’s growth prospects. State revenues and spending must both be cut back, with spending cutbacks focused on such moral outrages as farm subsidies. British agriculture will always be high cost in global terms because of the island’s high wages and expensive real estate through its overcrowding. However, the cost of protecting that agriculture is doubled if farm subsidies are used rather than tariffs, because tariffs produce revenue, displacing other taxes, whereas farm subsidies are gifts from impoverished taxpayers to wealthy farmers.

There are luxury planet headquarters of galactic civilizations whose real estate is cheaper than that in Oxfordshire; therefore Oxfordshire farming is strictly a tax-loss activity for the ultra-wealthy, as in Connecticut or the Hudson Valley. If Jeremy Clarkson is not rich enough to make the numbers add up in Oxfordshire, he must sell up and farm elsewhere – perhaps the East Coast of Greenland would offer a good long-term, low-cost prospect since he is so convinced climate change is real. British taxpayers should not subsidize him, beyond some modest Corn Law tariffs.

Ludicrously expensive real estate in Britain is the result of the island’s overcrowding, as well as the socialist planning bureaucracy’s obstacles to new developments. The “Conservative” governments of the last 14 years have attempted to alleviate planning restrictions, ineffectually as usual, without answering the criticism that more unattractive modern housing, as approved by local planning bureaucrats, despoils Britain’s exceptionally attractive countryside and gorgeous medieval villages. The solution is thus clear: rather than increasing development, we must reduce overcrowding, by placing high barriers to new immigration, rigorously enforcing controls on illegal invaders, and ensuring that the population declines by a moderate 200,000-300,000 annually, through having more emigrants than immigrants.

This will produce huge squawking from two sources: the leftist “human rights” lobby and the Peelite cheap-labor lobby. The human rights lobby can best be attacked by reversing Tony Blair’s legal reforms, returning to a Law Lords appeal court system and through defunding the leftist parasites by abolishing charitable tax deductions, which are always abused. The cheap labor lobby should be waved goodbye as it takes its inferior jobs to less fortunate countries. Just as Liverpool in his Corn Laws speech deprecated the violent opposition from “sweated labor” textile manufacturers who had not yet mechanized, so we must resist the business lobby’s eternal whining about labor costs, telling them to automate or leave.

Britain can become as rich as Singapore; it need only adopt a genuinely Tory policy mix, in the Liverpool sense. That may require a change in the franchise. Just as the Labour party is attempting to fiddle the system by enfranchising 16-year-olds, so the new Tory party can improve the electoral system by restricting the franchise to property owners, like the most liberal “40-shilling-freehold” franchise that operated in many seats before 1832, but alas without the rotten boroughs, which are gone forever unless we wait for 500 years for new ones to appear. Disfranchising the young and unsettled, including all the 38-year-old renters with sociology degrees, and biasing the franchise towards homeowning families, even from the poorest classes, will reorient the political system towards those with a genuine stake in its long-term success.

The election on July 4 will doubtless look like a defeat. However, with determination and a firm sense of direction, it can be turned into long-term victory for Britain and the British.


(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.)