Poised, to name another leader. The British Conservative Party isn’t so defined by incapacity but its strange invincibility.
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss take part in the BBC Leadership debate at Victoria Hall on July 25, 2022 in Hanley, England. (Jacob King/WPA Pool/Getty Images
PHOENIX–The British Conservative Party is said to have this much in common with the immortal bird that is this American city’s namesake: it lives; it apparently dies; it rises swiftly again.
Though far away from Greenwich Mean Time here in Arizona, I read the Isles suffered a Tucson-tier summer season this year, at least by British standards. This inferno reached the U.K. Conservative Party’s upper caste which ousted Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year. In power, at least in part, since 2010, by American Labor Day the “Tories” will have to select their fourth leader in six summers.
The stylish David Cameron was closely followed by Theresa May who, like the eccentric Boris Johnson, governed for three consecutive years. Now Liz Truss, the unco foreign secretary, is odds-on for a turn at the wheel.
In 2005, the venerable British journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft penned “The Strange Death of Tory England.” Therein, he documented the center-right party’s perplexing fall from eighteen years in power under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, to becoming utterly outclassed and certainly outfoxed by Tony Blair’s rival “New Labour.” Wheatcroft aptly diagnosed the Iraq War-championing Blair’s power as being rooted in his “brilliant cynical sincerity.”
But there has been something else since Wheatcroft’s masterpiece was published. It has been Labour that has died at the hands a right-wing party.
Only Blair has bested a Conservative challenger in a general election, since 1974. In other words, the only center-left winner in British national politics since the year President Richard Nixon resigned, or the time Joe Biden was a first-term senator, has been “the Blair creature” as cantankerous British columnist Peter Hitchens calls the man.
The Conservatives are now something like a permanent governing party. Not quite as powerful as the Japanese Liberal Democrat Party, but similar enough to be considered a center-right party. It can change its leaders at will, much like the LDP. And it pays little.
Ross Douthat in the Times last year posited a phoenix-style resurgence of Reaganism, in an era where crime, communism, and inflation returned from history; a continent from here and an ocean away, neo-Thatcherism is vogueish.
When I think of Margaret Thatcher, a series of ghastly associations flits through my mind: her passionate hostility toward unions, the time she spanked Christopher Hitchens with a rolled-up batch of papers (punctuating the blow with ‘naughty boy!’), and her infamous claim that ‘there is no such thing as society.’ To put it in the grating parlance of the Trump era, the last of these has always struck me as saying the quiet part out loud.
Truss will likely triumph as the British right-wing’s naked dominance.
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Whatever Truss actually believes–she had a libertarian phase; or, in British English, she was a Liberal Democrat–her ascent represents the victory of China hawkishness, Russia hawkishness, and low tax over the program of her jejune rival, Rishi Sunak, more dovish and less cynical about the state.
This is not the Grenache/Syrah mix I would reach for. If I’m asked, Truss would be the most perspicacious. Johnson is comically betrayed by Truss (to what?). ), Sunak is distinguished by his utter guilelessness–he plays the part of a man who married into millions pitch-perfect.
Truss’s undead Thatcherism, or any society whatsoever, is what left-leaning abominators call a low-trust community. This philosophy is responsive to the changing world, where not even the Dollar and Pound Sterling are as reliable. This philosophy recognizes the necessity of permanent survival and the fact that there are always knives around. A British politician would certainly know.