May Premiership a New Opportunity

In the last month, Britain has witnessed the kind of once in a generation political instability that will end up being taught by politics lecturers in 30 or 40 years time. Out of the torrent of backstabbing and the accusations has emerged but one constant. Theresa Mary May. It is her ability to hold the Home Office for so long and with so few faults that really distinguished herself from the rest of the pack and has ensured that she shall be next Prime Minister of the country. She was never the most popular of the candidates that put themselves forward for election. Indeed, as recently as June she was polling in 3rd in Conservative Home polling data, a full 14% behind then leader of the pack Michael Gove. She made a fair amount of enemies in the way that she implemented the cuts to police budgets and has been viewed in many quarters as lacking the necessary personal characteristics in order to become Prime Minister. Indeed, her career has been plagued by gossip over what clothes or shoes she is wearing at any given engagement, as if that is the most important thing that she has to worry about. Those who have expended such energy on petty gossip made the grave mistake of underestimating her. Their complacency has helped her achieve the peak of British politics. Much energy was focused upon two Oxford Union presidents (Gove and Johnson) but it was the unassuming Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) office holder that managed to bring them all down.

Theresa May represents a lot of things for the Conservative Party. She first represents an opportunity to ensure that the party remains united in the aftermath of the referendum decision to leave the European Union (whether a second, legally binding referendum shall be required during the May premiership in order to trigger Article 50 remains to be seen). The other major opportunity is for her to shape a new policy landscape. The only area in which her views are known are on the issues that are pertinent to the Home Office, and these are likely to soften up once negotiation begins on a new post-EU settlement. There are three distinctive paths. She may pander to the right by either pursuing a more economically liberal or a more socially conservative agenda. Considering the disdain that she has recently expressed again unfettered capitalism, it is likely that she would prefer the latter. The second course of action is to continue on the blueprint of governance as it was set out by Cameron. The Notting Hill set way of doing politics has a lot of flaws though. It is a thoroughly uninspiring doctrine that has managed to degenerate the meaning of the phrase 'compassionate conservatism' into a mere soundbite and seems overly obsessed with office seeking.

However, there is a third option, and it has something of the Third Way about it. The concept of the One-Nation Conservatives is one which can trace its roots back to the celebrated 19h Century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, and has been implemented in the 20th Century by Stanley Baldwin, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath. The central tenant of the One-Nation Conservative is this. That with the ability to accumulate wealth and exert power, there is a level of responsibility towards the less fortunate to ensure that they are provided with the opportunities with a better life. Considering the amount that is said about inequality in modern day public discourse, this kind of conservatism is a refreshing alternative to the brand of right wing politics that is willing to tolerate vast chasms of inequality because it is the will of the market. One Nation Conservatism shares a lot with the social democracy that came to be in the 20th Century. They both accept capitalism as the best mode of production whilst acknowledging its limitations. They both realise that gradualism ought to be preferred to radical destabilisations of the political system and there is a sense that a sense of unity ought to be forged as opposed to emphasising the arbitrary divisions which are often laid down by the far left and right.

Given this is the case, why should one suggest that Theresa May follow this kind of politics and buck the trend of the Thatcherite consensus which has held a feverish (even if weakening) grip on the way in which politics has been conducted? The first reason is that May is evidently not a Thatcherite by any stretch of the imagination. When she told the Conservative Party conference in 2002 that they were viewed by many as the 'Nasty Party', it is perfectly reasonable to assume this is a reference to the indifference many in the party had developed towards individual suffering if it was not the result of government intervention. Even during her university days, she managed to remain remarkably centrist when the Conservative Association was fracturing into ideologically charged fragments. This means that she can be operating on ground that she is far more comfortable with and is likely to provide a more consistent policy set which she has a greater belief in. The other is that there is a lot to be gained electorally and ideologically by moving the Conservative Party in a slightly leftward direction.

Electorally, the Tories in a One-Nation set up would be able to claim many votes from traditional working class strongholds who have become tired of the ideological posturing which has come to be a defining feature of the Corbyn-led era. With the Liberal Democrats being unable to find the kind of traction that they needed for a swift recovery from the 2015 election and it suggests that playing the cards right could ensure a prolonged period through which May can pass her agenda. There is also a very strong moral case for doing such a thing. There are many in this country who are reliant upon a Labour-led representation of their interest in order to be able to get on in life. These people have now been systematically left down by the internal collapse that seems to be edging ever closer to them. It is now the duty of the Conservatives, as the only respectable major party in the House of Commons, to ensure that those interests are given a fair hearing. It is time that the Conservative Party claim back what moral authority is has when it is the party of governance. If this means better embracing the post-Thatcher age and abandoning the likes of Monetarism, then it is an endeavour well worth undertaking. May will be far more successful if she chooses to learn more from the centre left as opposed to the far right...