Conservatives are at their best when they are terrified. The fear of losing everything persuades them to give ground on some things. Disraeli and Bismarck knew they could not stop socialism without offering the working class a better life. Post-war conservatives understood they had to prove that liberal democracy was better for their populations than communism, and must therefore foot the bill for the welfare state.
Yet in 2019, as Britain faces the prospect of its first truly radical left-wing government, Conservatives are nowhere near frightened enough. If they were, they would defend the checks the British constitution and European law place on power. They may need these protections soon. But all they want to do tear them down.
Boris Johnson has become Jeremy Corbyn’s role model. He is providing the example and justification the far Left will need if it comes to power. All objections can be met with the retort: “The Tories did that, why can’t we?” In a reversal of history’s usual order, the counter-revolution is preceding the revolution.
In the last century, leftists spat insults at the “capitalist courts” when they ruled against trade unions. “Rank and file miners learned a bitter lesson from the end of a truncheon, that the law, the courts and the police are arms of the state for the defence of private property, that is, for the defence of the capitalist system,” runs an account of the defeat of the miners’ strike of 1984-85 published on the marxist.com website.
Democracy, from this point of view, is a sham. Judges do not dutifully interpret the law as laid down by Parliament. They are Tory politicians in wigs and ermine, who hide their bigotry behind the mask of judicial impartiality. Driven by their wealth and spite, they punished the miners because they feared the victory of the proletariat. Come the revolution it will be different. The people’s representatives will appoint people’s judges to sit in people’s courts.
Boris Johnson is a Conservative prime minister. He’s not a trashy columnist manufacturing rage to suit the confirmation biases of his readers any more. Despite the dignity of his office, and the precedent he was
Nick Cohen ‘In 2019, as Britain faces the prospect of its first truly radical left-wing government, Conservatives are nowhere near frightened enough. If they were, they would defend the checks the British constitution and European law place on power ’
gifting the Left, he insisted the Supreme Court had no right to rule that his suspension of Parliament was an attack on the fundamentals of democracy. Where the Left once condemned “capitalist judges”, the Right now condemns “Remainer judges,” who in Johnson’s words intruded “onto an acutely sensitive political question” and raised “an argument that there should be some form of accountability”. Conservatives, who had fought for Brexit to uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the supremacy of British law, talked of abolishing the Supreme Court for insisting that in British law Parliament was sovereign.
They did not care that Labour will go into the next election with an astonishingly ambitious programme, which has the desire to confiscate property at its heart.
Conservatives should have noticed Labour’s instinctive reaction to 72 people dying and 300 being made homeless in the Grenfell tower block fire of 2017 was to requisition property in the rich streets of West London that surrounded it. Emotionally it made sense, and not only to the far Left. Here were poor people, burnt out of their homes. In nearby Notting Hill, the world’s wealthy had bought properties as investments rather than homes, and left many of them empty. Everyone with a sense of natural justice felt as Labour did. That emotion has hardened into policy, and this year’s Labour conference called for the requisition of “unoccupied tower blocks in London”.
It is not only the sight of burnt-out buildings and homeless people slumped in doorways that inspires thoughts of confiscation. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan changed the offer Conservatives made to the mass of the population. They did not strengthen the welfare state; indeed they limited its provisions. Instead, they promised their revitalised capitalism would allow the majority of the population to become richer. So successful were they that the liberal-left of the 1980s worried about “two thirds” societies. The top two-thirds enjoyed the benefits of affluence. Their wages rose every year. They were content with a new order that allowed them to own or aspire to own their own homes, and expect a better life for their children. The bottom third was an underclass, locked into poverty or near-poverty. Even if they voted, and many had given up on voting, there would never be an electoral majority in favour of improving their lives.
No one talks like that now or warns that a culture of contentment hides poverty. Wage growth between 2010 and 2020 will be the lowest it has been over any ten-year period in peacetime since the Napoleonic Wars. The Institute for Fiscal Studies believes that wages in 2022 won’t be any higher than they were before the financial crisis in 2007. Home ownership is either a deferred or an impossible dream for a cohort of young people that stretches far into the middle class. You cannot expect them to support a version of capitalism that won’t allow them to accumulate capital.
Looking at the flats bought as investment vehicles by Russian and Chinese speculators, and thinking the state should seize them, is the one form of anti-migrant loathing approved of on the liberal Left. Labour has yet to say whether it would issue mass compulsory purchase orders. But there is no doubt that its supporters would cheer their
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