This might seem a curious statement to make, in 2021. After all, we now enter our eleventh year under a Conservative Prime Minister. Scarcely weeks ago, we saw the final chapter of our withdrawal from the European Union play out, against all of the odds. The Conservative Party has more local councillors than any other, a clear majority in the House of Commons (the biggest for any party since 1997), and by some accounts is the most electorally successful political party in global history. So, what could possibly have possessed me to have made such a statement? The crux of the matter, quite simply, is this; British conservatives confuse election victories for ideological victories. The Conservative Party has held the keys to No. 10 for thirty-two of the last fifty years, but to argue that the country has become more conservative in that time would be to indulge in the absurd. While the Conservative Party has continued to win elections, it has fundamentally failed to cement its underpinning ideology in any meaningful way and has, instead, leapt to the defence of the very institutions that prevent it from doing so. At its core, this phenomenon can be explained by examining the conservative relationship to institutions and their power. While executive and legislative power is, without doubt, the first step towards the practical implementation of ideas, one needs much, much more to make a success of it. A civil service to give concrete form to ideas, a media to explain your policies to the public, a judiciary to give fair interpretation to the text of your laws, an educational and academic system that teaches and studies your actions fairly, and a corporate sphere that cooperates on areas requiring harmony between the public and private sectors. Without this institutional framework, fledgling conservative ideas scarcely have time to find their footing, smothered beneath bad press and bad-faith implementation, before being repealed by the next left-of-centre government. Conservatives in this country seem to believe that they stand for our ancient and noble institutions, fighting tirelessly against ‘change for change’s sake’ – and yet, the reality is that few such ancient and noble institutions really exist, anymore, with most either gone entirely, or replaced bit-by-bit until they are beyond recognition. The lasting image that conservatives have of these institutional Ships of Theseus is, in turn, weaponised against them, their “respect for our wise and ancient judiciary” used to silence their criticism of an increasingly activist and increasingly political judiciary, headed by a Supreme Court that has existed since just 2009. Meanwhile, many praise our apparently well-regarded BBC, mistaking its militant Blairite orthodoxy for genuine impartiality, so ingrained are those ideas. Simultaneously, much of the left continues to castigate these institutions, accusing them of (inevitably cultural, immaterial) sexism, racism, or homophobia, or handwaves responses to their critiques of such institutions with such catchy, meaningless phrases as “entrenching privilege”. All the while, even as supposedly “problematic” institutions such as the Church of England and the Monarchy parrot leftist orthodoxy on all significant social issues, these leftist figures call for reform or abolition, understanding that holding the levers of power requires more than just winning General Elections, once every few years. It is not simply the (so-called) “radical left” that sees the need for such institutional reform as a necessary component of meaningful policymaking. That favourite son of self-professed moderates, Tony Blair, undertook one of the most widespread reformist projects in British history when he took power in 1997, realising that, if he could not hold power forever, he would be wise to entrench his ideas so deeply that it would be like he never left. To that end, his introduction of devolution in areas then considered to be Labour strongholds, his “modernising” reforms of the judiciary and the House of Lords (read: the removal of inconvenient barriers), his incorporation of nebulous internationalist concepts into domestic law, his decision to fill the leadership of every educational, bureaucratic, and administrative body with likeminded individuals – the list goes on. This, in conjunction with the remnants of clumsier attempts by the Labour governments of the 1970s, is the institutional framework in which policy is now made. Conservative politicians have three options, in the face of such a framework; to continue to fight without any real prospect of changing things meaningfully, to adopt the framework’s own ideas (most often under the guise of “electability”), or to seek to replace the institutional framework, top to bottom, to make the implementation of our ideas possible. Suggest this to most British conservatives, though, and a chorus of indignation is likely to result. Sneering at such blunt-instrument tactics as the reserve of the left, or couching criticisms of them in some vague notion of “fair play”. Like it or not, those who oppose our ideas will continue to push for deeper and deeper entrenchment of their own ideas in the institutions of state, even continue to use the police and courts to criminalis
e deviations from their orthodoxy. “Fair play” is all well and good, when both sides are taking part, but when your opponent is fighting dirty and has appointed their own referee, it’s time to change tactics. The solution is obvious. Conservatives must reject the existing institutional framework outright, forego the false moral high ground of seeing themselves as ‘above that sort of thing’, and get serious about reforming our institutions. Fighting with one-hand tied behind your back isn’t noble, it’s foolish, and when the country’s future is on the line, there can be no quarter given to fools. Get creative about institutional reforms to corrupted bodies like the judiciary, law enforcement, and academia, and be honest about the need to appoint likeminded people to positions that are necessary for the proper implementation of policies; the alternative is an extinction-level event for meaningful conservatism in Britain.