The Strange Death of Tory England

The Strange Death of Tory England

The self-destruction of British conservatism by New Right ideology and policies illustrates a central neoliberal (that is, Thatcherite) theme—the importance of unintended consequences in social, economic, and political life. In sweeping away the postwar settlement that all major parties endorsed for a generation, Thatcherism demolished the social and economic base on which conservatism in Britain stood and created the conditions for a prolonged period of Labor hegemony. Neoliberal Conservative policy in Britain has damaged the ethos of institutions such as the Civil Service and the National Health Service by remodeling them on contractualist and managerialist lines. In addition to squandering a large part of Britain’s heritage of civilized institutions, this project of refashioning social life on a primitive model of market exchange has speeded the delegitimation of the monarchy and the Church of England. Further, by stripping democratic local government in Britain of most of its powers and building up the unaccountable institutions of the Quango state—the apparatus of “quasi-governmental” committees appointed by central government to oversee the operation of the newly marketized public services—the Conservatives have marginalized their own local party organizations and thereby contributed to the steep and swift decline of the Conservative party itself. Indeed, the catastrophic performance of the Conservatives in the local council elections of May 1995, in which they suffered their worst electoral rout since the start of the century, suggests that the neoliberal project of permanent institutional revolution may well count its political vehicle, the Conservative party, among its casualties. Even if, in the normal fortunes of political life in Britain, the Conservative party is somehow able to renew itself, it will be in a form that cannot currently be foreseen. As for Tory England—that rich network of interlocking interests, social deferences, and inherited institutions that Tory state-craft has successfully protected for over a century and a half by its skillful adaptation to dem- ocratic institutions in Britain—it is now as good as dead.


Lima