A Few Words on the General Election
by Sean Gabb
(29th April 2017)
Unless I fall under a bus before polling day, this will be the tenth General Election in which I have voted. It may be long-term electoral fatigue that leaves me so unexcited by and uninterested in the process. Or it may be that the process in itself is dreary beyond belief. Whatever the case, I do not feel inclined to discuss it. But I do feel obliged to say something.
I will vote Conservative. This is not because I approve of what the Conservatives have done since they won an overall majority in 2015. They have continued making the country less free and less British. It is not because I like Theresa May. As Home Secretary, her agenda was to give us even more of a police state than Michael Howard had in mind. She was on the Remain side in the Referendum. She found herself Leader of the Conservative Party because she had better friends than the other candidates, and because she was probably the least awful of the candidates. But I will vote Conservative, even so. I will do this for two reasons.
First, this election is effectively a rerun of the Referendum. If the Cameron Government had shown the slightest decency or forethought, it would have included in the Referendum Act a clause to the effect that a No vote would oblige and empower the Ministers to take all necessary action to leave the European Union. Instead, the Prime Minister resigned in a fit of pique, and the courts insisted on a separate Enabling Act. This gave us a new Prime Minister with a dubious mandate. So we are voting to give her that mandate. Let us suppose she fails to get a working majority – there would most likely be a coalition of Labour and the Scottish Nationalists. Labour is weakly-committed to leave the European Union, The Scottish Nationalists do not wish to leave. One way or the other, the Referendum would be overturned by any but a Conservative victory – perhaps by any but a big Conservative victory. Therefore, anyone who wants to leave should vote Conservative. I will pinch my nose and do so. I commend this decision to my friends.
Second, we are entering an age of rapid ideological change. Questions of whether we should have identity cards, or if the authorities should be able to censor the media, are becoming less important than the questions of who makes these decisions, and how they are made. There is not – and probably, in my lifetime, never has been – a libertarian option in British politics. The choice has always been so far which elements of a broadly leftist-authoritarian agenda should be pushed hardest. The choice now is between a Conservative Government that has no electoral interest in leftism, and limited inclination to uphold its hegemony, and various parties that will try to keep that hegemony going till it fully shrivels away. The Conservative Party is an organisation of frauds and liars. Its directors are in the pocket of any interest group with money to spend. Though split on exactly what it believes, however, Labour is a party of true believers. The Conservatives will do evil by inertia, Labour by choice. Without hope of immediate improvement, I will vote Conservative.
Give her a decent majority, and Theresa May will take us out of the European Union on acceptable terms. These terms will be available almost for the asking. The European Union is little more than the agent of twenty seven governments, all with conflicting interests. The British Government will have a fresh mandate to act on behalf of a unitary state. Mrs May is no fool, and she must understand that her hold on power and her place in the history books are both contingent on how she manages our disengagement. Her lack of principle is beside the point – or may be an advantage.
We can leave aside the idea of a libertarian revival. No one in or near government wants less control by the State. Hardly any of the electors want it. This is probably for the best. I have been an insider on the British free market movement for about forty years. Those who run it are willing to nod approvingly whenever freedom of speech is mentioned, or due process of law. The mainstream utopia, though, involves full speed ahead for the City banking casinos, and an immigration policy that will stuff the rest of us into sixty-storey tower blocks of bedsitting rooms. What we can more likely expect – and hope for – is what I will delicately call a revival of national identity. This will eventually involve some regard for historic liberties. It will also involve a degree of directed reindustrialisation, and even a pretty generous welfare system.
On this latter point, I will observe that there is nothing specifically leftist or socialist about welfare. From the Greeks onward, every European state has taken some responsibility for the welfare of the poor and of the not-so-poor. Until the Reformation, the English State contracted out these duties to the Roman Church. In the last years of Elizabeth, the authorities took direct responsibility. The 1834 Act did not seek to abolish welfare, but standardised it, and made sure it included basic medical services. The 1911 Act and the Attlee Government’s welfare laws were less than ideal for their stated purpose. But they are part of a system we have inherited; and more welfare of whatever kind was the inevitable product of greater wealth to pay for it. Unless certain present trends continue to the point where the social contract breaks down in chaos or tyranny, we can expect a long-term settlement on welfare that will reconcile economy and self-help with humanity and security. If Theresa May can start work on this – and perhaps some start has already been made since 2010 – we shall be in her debt.
I turn to one other matter. I did hope that the election of Donald Trump would make it less essential to resent American control over our affairs. I never believed that he would keep all his promises. But I failed to expect that he would turn out so quickly to be a weak-minded charlatan. I may be wrong here. He may be playing a clever game with all the unfinished business of the Cold War. Let China be bullied into switching off North Korea, and perhaps the Americans can revise their military commitments in East Asia. Give him a big triumph in foreign policy, and he may be able to make other changes. But the simplest explanation for the past month or so is that Mr Trump is a big-business neoconservative who lied his way into office, and should now be shunned by every other civilised government.
This being so, the first victims of her Cabinet reshuffle should be Boris Johnson and Liam Fox. The first is an intellectual and moral disgrace who should never be let into Parliament even to clean the toilets there. The second is an American agent. Their continuation in government is inconsistent with our national self-determination. We shall leave the European Union. The fewer the dealings we have with the Americans after that, the better it will be for all of us.
This is a dreary election. I can barely make myself look at the newspaper headlines. For the reasons I have given, even so, it may be the most important in which I shall have voted. Assuming a large Conservative majority, it may set an agenda for the next fifty years – a better agenda than we have had in the past fifty. I just wish it were over, and, unless something unexpectedly interesting happens, I have no wish to write any more about it.