In 2019 I wrote a piece for the @NewStatesman on "The Closing of the Conservative Mind". I argued that Conservatism had become intellectually rudderless & incapable of serious thinking about policy. Johnson's rise was a symptom of that crisis, & it will survive his fall. [THREAD]
2. Johnson's lack of direction is not a glitch in his politics. It's intrinsic to them.

Policy decisions are about choice. But Johnson is a "cakeist": he's never believed choice is necessary. You can cut taxes AND boost spending. You can have a hard Brexit AND frictionless trade
3.This is where Johnson's "boosterism" differs from, say, "Thatcherism".

Thatcherism (love it or hate it) was a serious policy programme. "Boosterism" is a state of mind:a vague call to "believe in Britain".

It's politics as faith-healing, driven by the power of personal belief
4. As a politician who denied the necessity of choice, Johnson was in some respects well suited to a party that doesn't know what it believes in, & is holding together a wildly divergent electoral coalition. But "to govern is to choose"; & those choices are growing more pressing.
5. Covid disguised the tensions within Johnsonism, because it suspended the necessity for choice. Confronting an unprecedented health emergency, spending could surge, taxes fall & other questions be put on hold. But those questions will recur, & Johnson offers no star to steer by
6. Johnson does, of course, have a slogan: "levelling up". Yet the long-awaited policy document has been repeatedly delayed, while ministers try to decide what it means or how to achieve it. After two years of promises, "levelling up" remains an aspiration in search of a policy.
7. Where the government *has* been consistent is in the accruing of power, and the assailing of institutions that might obstruct it. Yet it seems much more comfortable in amassing power than in thinking about what to do with it.
8. Strikingly, when the govt *has* made choices it has either been forced to retreat (eg planning reform) or exposed deep fissures in its electoral coalition (the Health & Social Care Levy). As inflation rises, those choices - and the strains they impose - will become more stark.
9. The problem for the Conservative Party is that no alternative leader can do ambiguity better. Liz Truss seems to share Johnson's mindless boosterism, but she lacks his ability to use humour and pantomime to evade definition. And she'd be operating in a less forgiving climate.
10. Any other leader - Sunak, Hunt, Patel or Baker - marks a choice of direction, for a party that's become unaccustomed to making choices or to thinking seriously about policy. So the temptation may grow to ramp up the culture wars and let the legislative agenda shrivel further.
11. Twice before - in 1827 & 1866 - a party fractured after a long period in government, because it was forced to make a choice of direction after years of postponing choices. In each case, Peel and Gladstone ultimately built something new. Who today has the skill to do the same?
12.Six weeks before Johnson became PM, I wrote that the Tories risked becoming "a zombie party, whose destructive power is no longer guided by a living intelligence".

Johnson is only a symptom of that malaise. Fixing it will tax his successor to the limit…

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More from @redhistorian

2 Jan
I fear that 2022 may be the year when a section of the Tory party turns decisively against Net Zero. It's a rallying cry that can speak both to the tax-cutting, libertarian wing of the party and to culture warriors looking for a new front against "experts", "elites" and "wokery".
Tory hostility to Net Zero has been constrained thus far by loyalty to Johnson, but that's fading. As the cost of living rises, the temptation will grow to blame "elitist" and "left-wing" environmental policies (not Brexit or NI rises) for driving up costs for "ordinary people".
There is already a "Net Zero Scrutiny Group" in Parliament, staffed by ERG veterans, while campaign groups on social media consistently cast Net Zero as an elite project that should be halted by a referendum.
Read 6 tweets
29 Dec 21
Can the UK survive the rise of "muscular Unionism"?

Excellent piece by @ciaranmartinoxf on the danger to the Union from a tone-deaf, "know-your-place" British nationalism, keen to reorder the Union "on the terms of an English majority in a unitary state".…
"Muscular Unionism" is intolerant of anything that limits the power of the governing party in London. In that respect, it's part of the "executive power project": a way of thinking that rejects the democratic legitimacy of any counterweight to the majority party at Westminster.
This is especially problematic when the "Westminster Model" allows a single party to rack up huge majorities in Parliament, with only a handful of seats outside England. Westminster elections are increasingly contests between English parties for Eng votes
Read 6 tweets
13 Dec 21
Big constitutional news: the cross-party Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee has called for the controversial Elections Bill - which imposes Voter ID, allows ministers to direct the Electoral Commission & extends FPTP - to be suspended…
On Compulsory Voter ID: "there is currently no evidence of widespread personation at UK elections". Voter ID "risks upsetting the balance of our electoral system & making it more difficult to vote". "The Govt should not proceed" until it has shown evidence to justify the change.
Allowing ministers to set the direction of the Electoral Commission "risks undermining public confidence" in the electoral system; yet there was "no formal or public consultation". The whole section, it concludes, should be "removed" from the bill, pending further consultation.
Read 9 tweets
11 Dec 21
There's a good essay to be written on "The Thatcher Myth": the creation of a mythic version of Mrs T, devoid of nuance or historical context, that bears almost no relationship to reality. Myths have power, & this one has bent the Conservative Party in some very strange directions
Thatcher understood the power of mythmaking, & was skilled at the "theatre" of politics. (It's no coincidence that some of her most famous lines were written by a playwright, Ronnie Millar). But only towards the end did she inhale her own myth; and her fall followed swiftly after
As prime minister, Thatcher was always a more complex figure than either her critics or admirers liked to admit: a PM who raised taxes during a recession, embraced the European Single Market, built close relations with a Soviet leader & negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China
Read 4 tweets
7 Dec 21
"Few voters in the west have ever seen their domestic politics go catastrophically, life-endangeringly wrong. The appetite for political risk is therefore only natural".

Good piece by Janan Ganesh, on what happens when we forget that democracy is fragile.…
Angela Merkel issued a similar warning in October: "In history there is a recurring pattern where people begin to deal recklessly with [political] structures when the generations that created those structures are no longer alive".…
Ivan Rogers is another who has sounded the alarm: "we are dealing with a political generation which has no serious experience of bad times and is frankly cavalier about precipitating events they cannot then control, but feel they might exploit".…
Read 4 tweets
6 Nov 21
"The Conservative Party has been accused of ... systematically offering seats in the House of Lords to a select group of multimillionaire donors".

"An ex-party chairman said: “once you pay your £3 million, you get your peerage”".…
"22 of the Conservative party’s main financial backers have been given peerages since 2010. ... Together they have given £54 million to the party".

"Since Johnson became prime minister 96 peers have been created". That's nearly 1 in 8 of the entire House in just two years.
A peerage brings a vote for life on the laws by which we are governed. It should not be used as a political slush fund for the governing party.

For more on this story, see this @openDemocracy investigation by @SAThevoz.…
Read 4 tweets

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