‘Not conservative enough?’ Never mind Burke, Rishi Sunak’s illiberalism is to blame for the Tory loss

In the aftermath of the UK election, there has been much discussion, and there will be more ad nauseam, on what modern British ‘conservationism’ is or should be. The Tories had, ‘…lost the trust of the British people by not delivering. That’s where it went wrong,’ Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told the BBC. ‘We have to regroup and reconnect,’ he added, ‘and actually just be a unified Conservative Party.’

Just be a united Conservative Party – the bare minimum – indeed. How the Tories do this is anyone’s guess, but not completely alienating, if not outright enraging, both of your major electoral blocks is a start, or as David Frost put it, ‘The strategy chosen by the outgoing Tory leadership – to ignore the 2019 electoral coalition and political realignment, to pretend Brexit never happened, and to tilt leftwards away from actual conservatism – was a comfort zone plan, not one that engaged with the reality of the political situation … and the polls fell consistently as all this became more and more obvious to Conservative voters.’

That the Tories have lost any coherent conservative vision. That they are simply no longer conservative has been clear for some time, however, amongst all the talk about what conservatism is or isn’t and how the party may win back those on the right there remains an overlooked fact. Conservative or not, the leader of the party, Rishi Sunak, presided over a thoroughly illiberal government and the outcome of the election was, in large part, a rejection of this.

It was certainly more a rejection of Sunak’s illiberalism than an embrace of Starmer’s civil-service- sycophantic wokeness-meets-technocratic-managerialism, and as Tom Slater pointed out Labour’s ‘historic’ parliamentary majority goes hand in hand with a historically low turnout and vote share: ‘This Labour victory seems to have everything – except voters,’ he surmised.

So, we have a left that has effectively won by default, and although depressing for the Tories, the fact remains that like the political momentum seen against leftist elites across the rest of the Western world: the EU Parliamentary election results, rising discontent with ‘wokeness’ across the Anglosphere, and backlash against ‘green’ policies that contribute enormously to cost-of-living increases. UK voters, like the rest in the West, are not at present enthused about alienating left-wing policies. But the point to take away from all of this is a more general one. Party allegiances are a relic of a bygone era, and voters are simply, and thoroughly, fed up with elites telling them what to do, and what to think.

That they apathetically elected a government that will do that exactly that is perverse, and Starmer will very quickly prove unpopular. However, what is even more perverse – and certainly less understandable – is a centre right nanny, which is what Rishi Sunak became.

Sunak’sTobacco and Vapes bill touted by him as. ‘…evidence of the bold action that I’m prepared to take. That’s the type of Prime Minister I am. That’s the type of leadership that I bring…’ was not only a second order issue, almost identical legislation was enacted in New Zealand by Jacinta Arden only to be swiftly stubbed out, and she was voted out of office after championing it. Of all the Tory party leadership woes to behold, the idea of Sunak and Arden toasting to making smoking illegal over sav blancs and candy sticks makes one almost want to forgive Boris for his garden party. For what it’s worth we hope he lit up.

And we can’t forget Sunak’s embrace of national service, described by ex-military chief Admiral Alan West as ‘bonkers’. Not only is a levée en masse about as illiberal as you can get, as West pointed out, it would suck money out of much needed spending on defence. If Sunak did not have revolutionary France in mind when he pledged to bring back military service for 18-year-olds, he is getting a taste of it now. Trialled and executed by a landslide, it is perhaps understandable that our parliamentary equivalent of the nobles of the old regime, the Tory elite, now have Burke at the forefront of their minds.

Less understandable, in fact, monumentally stupid, was Sunak’s absence from a second world war commemorative event on the beaches of Normandy. That said, Sunak is not the first recent Tory Prime Minister to make such a monumentally stupid mistake. Theresa May decided to indulge her inner governess by extending the UK government’s restrictions on internet pornography. It seems like that, when in power, the Conservative Party gets intermittently possessed by the spectre of Mary Whitehouse.

Meanwhile, the other party of the British Right, Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, won at least 14 per cent of the vote. Assuming that Reform UK won votes that would have otherwise gone to the Conservatives, it is certain that Reform UK cost the Conservatives a great number of seats. Could this have something to do with the fact that they ran on a platform with many relatively classical liberal policies? After nanny Sunak, we wouldn’t be surprised.

Reform UK promised voters; tax cuts (including cutting the corporation tax from 25 per cent to 15 per cent), healthcare reform (including voucherisation and a funding-follows-patient model similar to France), abandoning Net Zero, cutting bureaucracy, cracking down on politicised curricula in education and encouraging private schooling, abolishing the TV license fee, and leaving the lockdown-advocating World Health Organisation. We are not suggesting Reform UK is any example of doctrinaire libertarianism, but at this election they were notably libertarian in comparison to the pro-national-service pro-nanny-statist Sunak-led Tories.

The lesson here is quite clear. Substantive authoritarianism, that is, advocating or passing policies that actively abridge the civil liberties of voters, is an electoral loser for the political right. While the conservative party should and will stay conservative, when they are searching for whatever that now means they would be wise to reflect on the reality that, despite electing a Labour government, voters do not want a team of elitist nannies, lest of all right-wing ones. As such, we offer this piece advice for Sunak’s successor. When one is running to be the Prime Minister of the land which gave us John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Adam Smith, it is wise to not take their ideological progeny’s votes for granted.

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