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THE hunt is always on for the nice Tories. They are called different names. They have different badges of niceness: “progressive Tories and Remainers” “one-nation Tories” “liberal modernising Tories” — where are they? Can they help us?
The search almost always fails. The searchers don’t understand that the “nice Tories” lead the current Tory Party. And it turns out that being Tory counted more than being nice.
To be clear, I don’t mean that members of the Conservative Party, from the local association to ministers, can’t be clever, charming, humane individuals. They can.
Conversely, socialists are completely capable of being idiots or arseholes. I mean nice or nasty in a political sense.
The “liberal” media search for nice Tories to become “progressive” Conservative columnists. “Progressive coalition-builders” are always looking for nice Tories.
“Overturn Brexit” campaigners will always put nice Tories at the front of their rallies. “New party” formers want to recruit nice Tories to join them so they can break from those horrible “Corbyn cultists” and “populists.”
The “new centrist party” people are even keener on nice Tories than the 1980s Social Democratic Party breakaway. The SDP was launched as a “centre left” project.
The new “moderates” say “centrist” instead of “centre left” so they can more easily embrace nice Tories.
Nice Tories come in different, overlapping, flavours: “Believes in the free market, but thinks there should be some protection for the poorest” (one-nation Tories).
“Believes in the free market, but thinks we should have liberal attitudes to sexuality and race” (Tory modernisers, progressive Tories).
“Believes in the free market but thinks it should be expressed alongside our allies in a big trading bloc” (Remain Tories).
Except we know how the nice Tory flavour tastes. Bitter. Because the current Tory leadership — the most vicious Tory ministers — are the nice Tories.
Theresa May was part of David Cameron’s liberal, modernising, progressive values Tories. She was Remain in the referendum — perhaps not super-strong, but she was Remain.
May stood up and told the actual Tory Party, in the middle of their conference — and I can’t emphasise how Tory a Tory conference in a compound full of Tories really feels — that they had to stop being the “nasty party.”
It is May who keeps making the “one-nation” Tory speech about helping out the “burning injustices” of inequality and how for an “ordinary working-class family” life “is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.”
But May now runs the continuity austerity, Brexit-or-bust government. It was May who ran the nastiest of all the “nasty party” policies — the “hostile environment,” stealing British people’s citizenship and expelling them or denying them NHS healthcare, forcing them out of houses and jobs.
May is not alone. Sajid Javid, currently sending the gunboats out to face a few desperate refugees in rubber dinghies, was also a Remain Tory in 2016.
Jeremy Hunt, the NHS privatiser currently saying the post-Brexit Britain should be like low-tax, low-regulation Singapore, was a Remain Tory and, like May, part of Cameron’s “modernisation” of the Tories.
Before he turned Brexiteer, Michael Gove was for years “urbane liberal metropolitan modernising Tory.” Gove was lionised by “Bright Blue,” the Liberal-Tory group loved by the media.
Boris Johnson was seen as a liberal Tory mayor of London, once. Zac Goldsmith was a fresh breath of green air, a thoughtful man adding ecological concerns to Cameron’s new Conservatives.
These were the “nice Tories.” Until they weren’t. Why? Some say: “They are Tories, so even the nice ones are often horrible.”
But I think the bigger clue is in George Osborne. He was a “Cameroon” moderniser. Because he is still Remain, liberal commentators still put him in the “nice Tory” box.
Osborne is “globalist in outlook, metropolitan rather than provincial, socially liberal, unashamedly in favour of capitalism.”
But the last — the capitalism bit — trumps the others. The Tory Party is a machine that defends the billionaires who fund it, and corporations who employ them when they stop being ministers.
It is an organism that is run for the top taxpayers and by the middle managers and their hangers-on. “Detoxifying the brand” was a strategy to get the billionaires’ party back in office.
But it was just a strategy, and not a very reliable one. Spite, hatred and division are more durable tools. When the financial crisis made things a bit tougher, Cameron, Osborne and co junked all the “hug a hoodie” stuff — which was pretty thin in the first place — and got vicious again.
They used “austerity” to pass the cost of the crisis onto the poor and to shrink the state.
If you are grinding the poor so hard that tent cities are springing up on the streets, if you are letting wages stagnate, forcing people to the payday lenders, creating a system where the mould starts rising on the walls again, then spite, hatred and division become very useful again.
Liberals might hope Remain vs Leave is the mark of a nice Tory. But May’s hostile environment was Remain racism — it was a strategy to preserve and increase racism under EU rules — she was finding it hard to attack EU migrants, so she stole the citizenship, jobs and health of former commonwealth citizens instead.
The Conservatives are not a monolith. Under pressure, individual Tories might break away. But on the whole Tories are loyal to their party, which is a powerful machine that works for their MPs, their officials, their billionaire funders and the consultants, lawyers and middle managers who want to get rich out of the system.
If you want change, build the left, the institutions of the working people, the grassroots campaigns. Don’t expect someone from the other side to help you because they seem nice.
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