February 16th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The drift of the Republican party from being liberal to illiberal, from being secular to Christian, from being environmentally aware to climate change deniers, from supporting minorities to attacking ‘welfare queens’, did not happen all at once but has been a steady process. Of course there were key moments in that process, such as Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’, Reagan’s adoption of tax cuts for the rich that would ‘pay for themselves’ and neoliberalism more generally, to the Tea Party most recently. But the process has been all one way with few attempts to stop it.
The same is true for the UK, except perhaps less obviously so because the UK media too often hype the rhetoric and not the consequences of actions. We typically think of Margaret Thatcher as representing a clear break from more traditional conservatism. But this is not the whole story. For a start, although Thatcher changed the way Prime Ministers started talking about the EU, Thatcher in office was no Eurosceptic, and helped create the single market and the expansion to the east. Second, Thatcher did not lead a party of Thatcherites. Her successor, John Major, was a compromise candidate between the Thatcherite and more traditionally conservative factions. Major was a committed European, who would never have offered the Eurosceptics a referendum even though they plagued his time as PM. I doubt very much that he would have been prepared to lead his party out of the EU, yet nowadays it goes almost unremarked that Theresa May would take the country on a course that she earlier said would do it harm, just for the sake of power and the party. May whose flagship policy is to undo the work of Thatcher and replace comprehensive schools with the 11+, and who admirers compare to Enoch Powell. Not to mention Boris Johnson, who so obviously led the Brexit campaign he didn’t believe in only so he could become PM. From a Prime Minister whose father owned a couple of grocery shops and became first a chemist and then a conviction politician, to another Bullingdon boy born to wealth who will say whatever gets him power. We have moved well beyond Thatcher.
We can say, in both the US and UK, that this is about neoliberalism, implying this has replaced the principles of traditional conservatism. However I suspect in many cases that creed is simply a cover to disguise a far simpler motive of protecting and increasing the wealth of the rich. What we have seen is the steady replacement of principles with policies solely designed to gain votes and power to achieve that end. The decline of principled politics and the rise of politics for the rich is not unique to the right, but it is much more obvious there. It was not the Democrats who gave Trump a path to power, and it was not Labour who offered a referendum, or are leading the UK out of the EU.