Saturday, 15 January 2022

Many are called but few are chosen.


I think Britain was at its happiest in the first few years of Tony Blair. Thatcher had kept winning, because the alternative was Michael Foot and then Neil Kinnock, but most people did not much like her, let alone love her.  We were willing to tolerate the tough unpleasant medicine of the 1980s, because many of us could see that it was necessary, but we rather preferred the 1970s with one nation Tories like Heath managing our decline along with Wilson and Callaghan. British people are naturally social democrats or what amounts to the same thing Tory wets.

The problem with really changing our country for the better is that you have to do things that are unpopular. You have to close down the pits and the steel works. You have to close down inefficient nationalised industries. Later when standards of living have improved the electorate might look back and thank you, but initially it will side with the flying pickets.

So too now. If you can shrink the size of the state, lower taxes and lower public spending you will in time have an economy that performs more efficiently. If you realise that the EU is about protectionism, then you will realise that leaving gives you the opportunity of greater free trade with everyone else. Wages will likewise increase by limiting the supply of cheap labour from abroad, but this will only work if British workers have to take the jobs freed up and if you can control the incoming flood from elsewhere.

Conservative values of free trade, free markets and freedom from government interference in our ordinary lives work. They make us more responsible, more moral and above all richer.

Socialism doesn’t work, but nevertheless remains stubbornly popular. Social democracy works better than socialism, but is oddly unpopular right now in Britain under our social democrat Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Much of politics is about name calling. Tories in Scotland are unpopular just because they are Tories, not because of anything that they believe or do. Boris Johnson’s government has in the past two years spent more than Corbyn intended to do. It has paid people a large proportion of their salary to sit at home and do nothing. It has increased the deficit more than any government in peace time and it has increased the size of the state too. It has interfered more in our ordinary lives than any government since the war. If this is not social democracy, then what is?

Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Keir Starmer want to spend even more, borrow even more and lockdown even more. Boris Johnson is already the most authoritarian Prime Minister in peace time. At no point in our history have we been obliged to stay indoors for so long, nor to wear masks while out of them. At no point except during wartime have there been such restrictions on leaving Britain or arriving, that is unless you arrive in a rubber dinghy. But this level of authoritarianism was not enough for Sturgeon and friends.

But it is crucial to remember that lockdown and all of the authoritarianism that went with it was wildly popular at the beginning. Most people wanted to stay at home, being paid not to go to work. The popularity of authoritarian social democracy in the past two years is higher than it has ever been.

Were these measures necessary? It is difficult to answer. We lived through previous pandemics accepting that we might get sick and some of us would die. The virus went through the population unrestricted and eventually got milder. How many would have died if we had done the same this time versus how many actually died? We don’t know, because if everyone in the world had done nothing it is possible that the virus would have become milder more quickly. People who died this time because of lack GP or hospital care, depression or joblessness might have survived. Did lockdown make Covid more virulent for longer, just as evacuating flu victims from the trenches in 1918 made Spanish flu more deadly. It is always hard to know what would have happened if we had chosen not to intervene. But I wonder if lockdown broke the first rule of medicine first do no harm. We must leave it to future historians to determine.

But Boris Johnson had absolutely no choice whatsoever in introducing the authoritarian measures that he did. The scientists demanded it. If he had done nothing the media would have asked him such idiotic questions as “Do you feel responsible for Mrs Jones aged 88 who died because you didn’t lockdown the country?” A subsequent public inquiry would have blamed him for doing nothing and so too would the people who blame him now because they could not visit their dying relatives.

The task for Conservatives is to look at where we are now, authoritarian social democracy, and try to find a way back to Conservatism. We are not of course going to get there by following the route set out by Douglas Ross who is himself a social democrat indistinguishable from Nicola Sturgeon apart from not wishing Scottish independence.

The first thing to do is to get rid of all of the authoritarian laws as soon as it is possible to do so. When Covid is killing no more than influenza, then there is no reason to wear masks. I have always thought that masks were like the iron railings taken away during World War Two. Even if they were subsequently chucked into the sea by the Navy, giving them up made people feel like they were doing their bit and that we were all in it together. There is no evidence at all that masks have had more than a marginal effect on deaths from Covid. Social democrats will glare at you because they think you are not doing your bit and because we all enjoy tutting at a rule breaker, but we will not get rid of social democratic authoritarianism until we make mask wearing a matter of choice rather than a matter of law.

We next need to begin spending less, taxing less and trading more. We need to embrace the working from home revolution and the decline of retail. There are huge cost savings to be made from not using offices and not driving cars or sitting on trains and busses in order to get to work. Companies that grasp this will profit at the expense of those that don’t.

Who is best to lead Britain back to free market, free trade Conservatism? I fear there is nobody. Both Sunak and Truss are complicit in the last two years of social democracy and authoritarianism. Most Conservatives realise that social democracy is the religion of the British people and so triangulate towards it. After all no one dares tell us that the NHS is in fact not the best in the world, but a rather mediocre socialist vision of healthcare that has performed rather poorly in the past two year. Instead, we require fantasy.

If you tell the truth about anything the media describes it as a gaffe.

So, I am pessimistic about the necessary steps being taken. This is what matters rather than the hysteria of the past week. We demand equality even from our leaders as if Napoleon should have died on the retreat from Moscow rather than escape because he was Napoleon and because we didn’t go to Sunday school and didn’t read the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Not everyone gets the same pay for the same effort.

It may well be sensible for the Conservative Party to ditch Boris if it decides he is a liability. Elections are popularity contests after all. It may also be sensible to ditch a social democrat authoritarian for a genuine Conservative, but where are we going to find one of those in a Britain in love with social democracy which is never happier than when it is told to stay indoors? Many are called but few indeed are chosen.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (the disgruntled workers), by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1750s)