Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 6 January 2012

Peter Oborne's "Tory moment" argument is full of holes

I greatly admire Peter Oborne as I have said on here before. He has done some sterling work over the years, especially in exposing political hypocrisy but a piece he wrote for the Telegraph yesterday in which he claims that the right is winning the argument in every major area of policy is wrong-headed in my view.

Mehdi has already had a crack at fisking the article here so I won't go through all of it but I wanted to highlight a couple of things from the last 10 or 15 years that prove Oborne is wrong.

His central thesis is that it is "widely accepted" that the Labour government was an utter failure and therefore the political momentum is now with the right, that their ideas are in the ascendency and even many on the left are coming to accept this.

I don't buy it. Here are just two examples of things that the "liberal left" brought in that the Tories have accepted through gritted teeth:


  1. Equal rights for homosexuals. Labour did some good work in this area when they were in power. The equalised rights for age of consent were introduced on a free vote in Labour's early years despite bitter opposition led by Conservative Peer Baroness Young. And a few years back they introduced civil partnerships.
  2. The minimum wage. One of the first acts of Labour in 1997 was to introduce this. The Tories were deeply opposed to any such move and I vividly remember how convinced Conservative spokespeople were that it would damage the economy and raise unemployment. Of course in the event the economy was fine and a decent floor was put in to stop people, especially the young being exploited for derisory wages.

Some may argue that on point 1, some Conservatives voted for the measure and whilst that may well be true many of them were deeply opposed. Does anyone seriously think that if the Conservatives had been in power from 1997 - 2010 that a vote would have been passed in the Commons to allow this?

Point 2 is unequivocal. The Tories would never have brought this in.

And yet in both cases, a few years later they accepted they had been wrong and now support all of these measures. Indeed David Cameron made a big thing in his early years as leader of saying that marriage can be between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. But it took three big election defeats to force them to accept they were wrong on this. I strongly suspect that they would not have done that on their own.

So there are two big examples of where the left (and the Lib Dems who also played an important part in seeing these measures adopted) made the running in recent years and the Conservatives have been playing catch-up.

One other point I wanted to make is that Oborne really goes off beam when he claims that:

"[throughout the] post-war period...the liberal Left, as general election results show, has tended to be unpopular with voters. But its progressive ideas have enjoyed a disproportionate amount of traction among British governing elites."

Balderdash. At no general election in this period have the Conservative party ever achieved 50% of the vote. In fact with the exception of 1959, the Labour and Liberal (or Lib Dem) plus SDP vote when they were around always totalled more than the Conservative vote. Oborne's point can only be made to work if you ignore that fact. Just because first-past-the-post delivered majority Tory governments does not mean the "liberal left" as he puts it has been unpopular with voters. More that the votes for that bloc have been split allowing the Conservatives to form governments on far less than 50% and in some cases less than 40% of the vote.

The idea that the Conservatives are having some sort of "Tory moment" where they are now in the ascendancy on all major issues is ahistorical and not supported by the facts.

3 comments:

Joseph Takagi said...

Some may argue that on point 1, some Conservatives voted for the measure and whilst that may well be true many of them were deeply opposed. Does anyone seriously think that if the Conservatives had been in power from 1997 - 2010 that a vote would have been passed in the Commons to allow this?

Edwina Currie inserted a clause in the 1994 bill to lower the age to 16 which was defeated by 308 to 280. So, it was already quite close in 1994.

The main thing with legislation with regard to homosexuality is that it is mostly about public attitudes at the time, rather than "Labour" or "Conservative".

I doubt the Conservatives would have changed the law much after 2000.

Guido Fawkes said...

I think you are entirely wrong on point 1. The Tories are the gayest party as anyone who knows the party well will tell you. The generation that was anti-gay has gone, it is just not an issue any more. Maybe some backwoods people in the provinces but the parliamentary party is completely relaxed on gay issues.

Victoria T.Heiden said...

I've recently started a website, the info you offer on this site has helped me greatly. Thank you for all of your time & work.
AT3 Generation 2 All Terrain Pet Stroller Red