Thursday 18 May 2017

Same Old Tories?

The Old Lady of Threadneedle-Street in danger!
Does it really matter what's written in manifestos, and can we believe them? Has the Tory party changed at all since it's beginnings in the early nineteenh century?

The 2017 Tory Manifesto declares:

We do not believe in untrammeled free markets.  We reject the cult of selfish individualism.  We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.  We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous.

Theresa May's attempt to distance herself from 'Old Tories', and define a 'New Tory' party, free from the 'Old Tory' reputation of free market dogma, is actually nothing new.  It may even mark an attempt to return to the original defining Tory manifesto.  Robert Peel is acknowledged as the founder of the Conservative Party, which he created with the announcement of the Tamworth Manifesto in 1834:

Wellington's government had resisted reform of the rotten boroughs, was strongly 'anti-suffrage' and resisted the Whig's 'Reform Act'. The Conservative party was still split in opinion over 'Catholic Emancipation', and unclear on what action to take on the riots apparently overtaking the country, linked to food shortages (blamed on Tory Corn taxes) and a banking crisis when Robert Peel became leader of the party.

Peel's manifesto was a bid for the middle class voter, accepting the controversial Reform Act of the Whigs - ‘a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question’. The manifesto outlined a ‘careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical’. Where there was a case for change, he promised ‘the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances’.

Peel was portraying the conservatives as a party of 'fairness' and modest reform - strong and stable in troubled times, while he would oversee 'reform to survive', Robert Peel stood for:
“The Established Church, the British Empire, the House of Lords, High Tory and High Church Oxford, Crown prerogatives, the rights of property, the landed aristocracy, the Act of the Union…the very foundations of English governing society."
Sir John Benn Walsh, wrote in his Chapters of Contemporary History in 1836 that:
‘A Conservative is a man attached upon the principles of the English Constitution, to the Established Church, to our mixed institutions.... The Conservative party, therefore, includes all those shades of political opinion, from the disciple of moderate Whig principles to the most devoted champion of ancient usages who agree in these two points -- attachment to King, Lords, Commons, Church and State, and a belief that there is a pressing danger of these institutions being overborne by the weight of the Democracy.’
Robert Peel won a narrow election victory, but was plagued by bitter infighting between the 'New Tories' and the older ones leading to a series of defeats and an inability of ministers to conduct even routine business in parliament. After a vote of no confidence Peel's 100 days as Prime Minister were over.

While the Tamworth Manifesto did not apparently reflect the views of enough Tory MPs to make an impact in 1834, Robert Peel did become Prime Minister again in 1841, and the Tamworth manifesto has taken it's place as a defining moment in Tory history.

Perhaps Theresa May's manifesto of 2017 doesn't yet reflect what's actually happening in the Tory Party.   It's guiding principles appear to be a distancing from 'old tory', but how much of the detail reflects that, and how many within the Tory Party are attached to Theresa May's principles?

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