Conservatism cannot win in economics while it remains totally beaten in the cultural sphere

“Today we bury a great leader”, I told my four-year-old this morning (is it too early to indoctrinate my children? She’ll soon be at an age where, if my schooling was anything to go, she’ll learn all about the peaceful Native Americans, and I’ll have to show her a chart explaining that hunter-gatherer societies all have absurdly high homicide rates, but that’s for another time). It’s worth telling the children, because very soon they’ll all be instructed into the narrative that Margaret Thatcher was a very bad woman.

What’s striking about all this is that the hatred does not come from the northern towns ruined in the late 20th century, but the London public sector classes, who did well under Mrs T.

Great leaders ensure that they control the propaganda. The reason history remembers Alfred the Great and has entirely forgotten his grandson Athelstan, who actually unified England, is that Alfred employed a chronicler called Asser. Therefore Alfred wrote his own history. Today there are plenty of kids called Alfie, but there aren’t any Athies. Mrs Thatcher’s enemies wrote the history of her times, in television, theatre and fiction.

In a wider sense her profound failure was to lose the culture war, or not even fight it. As Tim Montgomerie reminded us on Monday, conservatism cannot triumph in economics while it remains totally beaten in the cultural sphere.

While she destroyed an opposition base when the manufacturing industry shed its jobs – with terrible human cost – she actually helped to build up a far bigger and more powerful enemy class, led by local government and the administrators of the welfare state that flowered during her reign. She destroyed lots of unproductive working-class jobs and created lots of unproductive middle-class ones. She was responsible for New Labour and Tony Blair in more than one way, and this makes it harder for Conservatives to ever win again.

As Quentin Letts wrote in Saturday’s Daily Mail:

From the outer spheres of Whitehall to the BBC, from quangoland to the charities (the ‘third sector’ as they now call themselves with that echo of ‘fifth column’), Left-wing intellectuals are on the march.

That’s so true. Among my contemporaries, huge numbers of talented people work in areas where there is an institutional hostility to conservatism, for the simple reason that conservatives do not believe their work should be professionalised and run by the state. Younger conservative politico types tend to move in these circles and know these people from school and university, so any Tory leader who takes them on will have to accept huge personal unpopularity and social death.

But it cannot be challenged while Conservatives think like George Osborne. When I criticised Thatcherism the other day what I specifically meant was Thatcherism as it has now become: libertarian and self-centred.

Libertarians think they can get a Victorian-sized state without Victorian attitudes, but they’re deluded. If you really want a small state that doesn’t tell you what to do and gobble up half your income then start going to church, get involved in voluntary activities, tell the vicar or priest to stop droning on about the cuts and climate change and tell him to start shouting about sin and fornication. Repress yourself, you’ll find it’s good for your wallet.

Were that to happen, then the need for an enormous state apparatus managing vast areas of our life would be reduced. As it is the blob gets bigger and bigger every year and will help to bring down Cameron, not the least because the powerful state broadcaster is very much part of it.

But then Cameron and Osborne, like Thatcher’s predecessors with the consensus establishment of their day, wish to be liked by these people. They want to be part of a cultural consensus, but as with any consensus the inevitable tendency is for it to drift towards the line of least resistance, the political stance that is least socially controversial: the centre-Left. If Conservatives wish to win the economic arguments – and so defeat the blob – they will have to win the social arguments too. That will require someone who doesn’t mind being hated: in short, a statesman. Or woman.

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs

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