Progressive Porkie Pies – fisking the new Tory video


The Tories have just released the video below, to launch “Conservative History Week”.

There’s been some comment on this elsewhere, particularly from Luke, Iain Dale and Guido – and as Luke points out, it’s often wrong (or, at least, deliberately disingenuous) in its attempt to put the Tories on the “progressive” side of history at every stage.

So I thought I’d give it a fisk.

  • 00:16: “For more than two hundred years, Conservative leaders have succeeded by being on the side of progressive change”. Hmm. Interesting take on the leadership of a “conservative” party. Let’s see what they have for us.
  • 0:39: 1783: Pitt “fought vested commercial interests and opened up Britain to free trade”. But wasn’t the Tory Party of the time the main representative of these vested (usually landed and aristocratic) interests? And wasn’t part of the Tory Party’s raison d’etre for the next 150 years to resist free trade?
  • 0:46: “1828, the Duke of Wellington…Catholic emancipation, removing the worst political discrimination of the day”. Catholic Emancipation was granted reluctantly – as were most of Britain’s political reforms in the 19th Century – to prevent an uprising, after the Catholic campaigner Daniel O’Connell won a Commons seat in County Clare twice and was barred from taking his seat. Wellington and Peel were both against Catholic Emancipation in principle; granting it was an act of retreat for the Tories.
  • 0:54: “1834 Sir Robert Peel: His Tamworth Manifesto marked the birth of the modern Conservative Party”. Bully for him. In it, he reluctantly accepted the 1832 Reform Act (which eliminated corrupt rotten boroughs, and began the gradual extension of the franchise) which he had originally opposed. He also referred to much of the proposed change of his day as “a perpetual vortex of agitation”.
  • 1:07: “Peel outlawed the employment of women and children in the mines…introduced regulation of factory hours and public health” – much of Peel’s record was piecemeal and modest, showing reluctant steps towards a reform agenda agitated for by real progressives for many years.
  • 1:21 “…and repealed the Corn Laws, facing down the landed interests to cut food prices”. Well done Peel. But this was the cause of his leaving the Conservative Party he founded: the Peelites found themselves with the Whigs and Radicals in the new Liberal Party, and the Tories opposed free trade until the Second World War.
  • 1:29: “1868 Benjamin Disraeli: ‘One Nation’ Conservatism: social reform to ‘elevate the condition of the people’”. First, the video conveniently omits thirty years in which Tory administrations resisted further electoral reform, rebuffed the Chartists, and repressed the Indian Mutiny. Secondly, Disraeli’s record was one of Imperialist adventuring and protectionism – a “bread and circuses” approach to keep the Working Classes appeased. Hardly progressive.
  • 1:55: “1881 Lord Salisbury: championed local democracy and community action…created and empowered County Councils”. Salisbury – the epitome of aristocratic paleoconservativsm – came to regret this, declaring in 1894 that the local government he created was “the place where collectivist and socialistic experiments are tried. It is the place where a new revolutionary spirit finds its instruments and collects its arms”. Of course, it was left to Thatcher to actually abolish councils when they dared disagree with Tory policy.
  • 2:09: “introduced free primary schooling”: the movement for free schooling had been crying out for universal free education for decades. Salisbury conceded only primary schooling – it was still out to work at 11, and it was left to the new councils to foot the bill. The truly progressive work, of a single system of universal secondary education, was left for later “progressives”.
  • 2:16: “creation of the Primrose League, bringing large numbers of women into politics for the first time”. Did Salisbury, or the Tory Party, support women’s suffrage? No. They voted against it at every opportunity.
  • 2:29: “Stanley Baldwin: comprehensive old age pensions system”. Wasn’t this actually done in 1909 by the Liberals?

I could go on, but I’m bored stiff already.

What all of this amounts to is that, far from being on “the progressive side of history”, the Conservative Party has been quite the opposite: usually dragged kicking and screaming into each new age of political reform, and forced to make what minor changes it thought necessary to appease the masses and prevent its disintegration (or, worse still, a revolution).

The clear purpose of the Conservative Party is to resist change. That’s why it’s called the Conservative Party. Their obvious preference, throughout all of the history covered in this video, would have been for a continuation of the world which gave their wealthy and aristocratic leaders such pleasure to preside over.

In this sense, Conservatism has been quite a radical failure – and this video charts its lack of success in holding back the tide of history.

The relevance for today’s Tories is plain, too. Cameron paints himself as a progressive reformer, but his Party is as resistant to changes to a world that suits them as Tories ever were. In fact, for all of Cameron’s “One Nation” pretensions, it’s getting harder and harder to find any remnants of that tradition in the Tory ranks.

In factional terms, Thatcherism won at least ten years ago – what the Tory Party has now are two different types of post-Thatcherite: old-school regressive right-wingers, exemplified by the Cornerstone Group’s parliamentary wing, and a new brand of libertarian flat-earthers (Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell being examples par excellence).

Neither of these factions could be said to favour “progressive reform”; so how much can we expect? If Cameron is so set on taking his Party in that direction, he may find himself – like Peel – out of step with his own supporters; however, unlike Peel, I suspect he lacks the certainty of his principles and direction of travel to make as much impact.


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2 Responses to “Progressive Porkie Pies – fisking the new Tory video”

  1. captainjako Says:

    Indeed, indeed. If we had the technical skills I would suggest the Paintbrush collective rise to the challenge of making the video ‘Three Centuries of Tory Reaction’. It would be a surefire YouTube sensation.

  2. Conservative la-la land: the top seven fictions swollowed by the right « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] By voteredgogreen It has struck me recently that Conservatives – including even the huggable progressive types we’re apparently blessed with in the UK – have moved on from simply disagreeing on the […]

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