I was excited at the prospect of joining the Conservative party, just over a year ago. I registered on-line, paid my £5 student fee, and waited for my blue and white membership card to arrive in the post.
Boris had recently become leader of the party and I had been considering joining for some time. This was a new Conservative party. The patronising liberalism of Cameron and Osborne was firmly behind us, and the incompetence of the May years were gone for good. I was excited about Boris. Here was a man who had fought for Brexit, who was, I wanted to believe, the answer to our years of fear-mongering and gloom. A man who would fill the role of prime minister like no one else in the last 50 years. Boris would be a Pitt, a Peel, a Churchill. He would be the statesman that we so desperately needed, and yet had so conspicuously lacked for so long.
I had reservations of course. I was aware that the party was essentially socially liberal, and such a direction would only by taken further under Johnson. He was then, and still is, regarded as one of the most socially liberal Conservatives ever to have taken office. Some have observed that the Conservative party is not where real conservatives belong.
But I cast aside these reservations, perhaps naïvely, in the name of ‘Getting Brexit Done’. I wanted to believe, and I told myself that I did, that Boris would be better than all that. That he’d suppress his desire for PC progressivism, champion the duties and responsibilities of civil society, and get the government out of the way of ordinary peoples’ lives.
However, nothing could have prepared me for what he has actually been like.
The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on where his true political instincts lie. Ever the opportunist, he is known for his flip-flopping. But the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to take a position. Was he going to go down the route of Sweden, being cautiously sceptical that this virus was as deadly as the Chinese state-sponsored WHO was suggesting? Would he allow the British public, who a few months earlier had given him a huge 80-seat majority, to use their common sense and wisdom to continue with their day-to-day lives, while taking logical and appropriate precautions to stop the spread?
Or would he use this as a power grab? A chance to circumvent parliament. To rule by decree. To impose from above the most extreme curtailments of our civil liberties since the Earl Strafford’s Policy of Thorough. Would he become besotted with sycophantic admiration for the ‘experts’, and use every dodgy graph and questionable statistic to force through arbitrary measures?
Regrettably, he chose the latter of these two options. It can hardly have been motivated by the maxim of Cicero, ‘the health of the people is the highest law’, because countries which followed the former path have seen no worse outcomes, in fact in many cases have faired better.
It, therefore, can only have come about through an instinctive lack of confidence in real conservative values. A lack of confidence in the British people, and their ability to use their reason and common sense. It can only have come about because the man at the top was willing to use fear-campaigns and propaganda to coerce the public into countless lockdowns. It can only have come about through rash, unthought-through decision making. Spur of the moment decisions, based far more on the whims of Vallance and Whitty, than on any real scientific analysis, as their autumnal press conference demonstrated.
Of course, the usual line of defence in Boris’ favour is that it is all very well making these judgements now, in hindsight. But at the time, when so little was known about the virus, how can Johnson be blamed for taking the advice of the scientists? Surely, one might say, it is better safe than sorry.
But the reality is, what has resulted is both very sorry, and not particularly safe. Unemployment is set to rise to levels not seen for a generation. Cancer patients have been forced to postpone life-saving operations, and family members have died alone with no one by their bedside or at their graveside. Rishi Sunak is piling on debt, crippling generation to come. These are not the actions of a conservative, whose instinct should drive him to protect, make safe, and minimise destruction.
As a Christian, I know that it is futile to put any hope in human leaders, because they will ultimately disappoint. As Kant said ‘out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.’ The Apostle Paul similarly argued that humans are by nature hopeless beings. ‘No one is good, no not one’ he wrote. They are doomed to failure, regardless of the sincerity or degree of their poltical beliefs. This isn’t pessimistic cynicism, but a call to recognise the man who never disappoints. Boris, who had so much going for him, has helped me to believe all the more that only Jesus Christ lives up to the claims he makes about himself.
But that doesn’t mean we should just live our lives without care for our fellow citizens. My Christian faith drives me to want to protect what is true, good, and just. It is truth, goodness, and justice which have borne the brunt of the attacks from these so-called conservatives over the years, to the extent that we now live a nation in which truth, goodness, and justice are not valued highly. They have been squandered by the most dangerous of all progressivists: those who come in the name of conservatism, and yet whose main goal is to overturn and revolutionise.
I also despair as this government ploughs ahead with destructive projects like HS2, which will bring such negligible gain for such terrible loss. This colossal waste of money pays no attention to the fact that there might be more to life than getting to London 20 minutes quicker. As soon as conservatives become ‘capitalists-at-all-costs’, they cease to be conservative.
There are so many other ways that this government and its predecessors have abandoned conservatism. It would not be unfair to ask me why, if this was true, I joined the party in the first place. Looking back, they gave so many signs. And part of me could see them, but didn’t want to accept them.
The future then is to be politically unaffiliated, to be an exile. I have as of last month ended my membership of the Conservative party, something I know won’t be that significant to anyone but myself. I hear the SDP is becoming popular with cynical former Conservatives. And then of course there’s the rebranded Nigel Farage outfit, Reform UK. But my reluctance to sign up to a new party stems from a lack of hope generally in our current body politic. The Conservatives are at sea, and true conservatives don’t know where to lay anchor.
The ideas represented in this article are not reflective of the values held by UCL Conservatives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely representative of the author.