In the wake of the Conservatives’ landslide victory on December 12th, many in Britain are apprehensive about what will come next. There’s been much talk of the state of the NHS and the future of Brexit, not to mention all of the other issues that did not get as much coverage during the campaign.
Many Labour seats went to the Conservatives this time around, prompting political thinkers to conjure up reasons as to how this happened. So far, the two reasons pinpointed have been Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the Labour Party’s position on Brexit.
It would, therefore, stand to reason that many who voted Conservative were doing so to refute the Labour Party, rather than to lend their support to a Conservative agenda. Therefore showing a notable increase in tactical voting.
But what will a Conservative agenda look like during these next five years with Boris Johnson?
In his speech outside 10 Downing Street, Johnson made one thing perfectly clear – this government was to a ‘One Nation Conservative Government’.
“This one nation Conservative Government will massively increase our investment in the NHS, the health service that represents the very best of our country, with a single, beautiful idea that whoever we are – rich, poor, young, old – the NHS is there for us when we are sick, and every day that service performs miracles. And that is why the NHS is this one nation Conservative Government’s top priority,” he said.
To most devout anti-Tories, there is perhaps little distinction between the different shades of Conservatism. In the minds of many, the Conservatives are rolling back the state, cutting government spending and helping out the rich.
One Nation Conservatism has its roots with Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative Prime Minister who was in office between 1874 and 1880. During his time in office, he worked actively towards social reform – allowing for local councils to buy up areas of slum dwellings in order to clear and then rebuild them (Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwelling Improvement Act 1875), whilst also pushing councils to take responsibility for the public health of their residents (Public Health Act 1875).
Disraeli had long thought that the rich should use their positions to help the poor. Looking upon the great poverty in Britain in the nineteenth century, Disraeli wrote that the country was “two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets.”
Disraeli himself did not coin the term ‘One Nation Conservative’, but it has been one which many modern politicians have been eager to attach to themselves. Our current Prime Minister is one of them.
When he was the Mayor of London, Johnson asserted, “I’m a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country.”
Johnson’s repeated insistence of his One Nation credentials is an acknowledgement that out-and-out, Thatcherism is political poison in many of the Labour strongholds that he’d won over. Thatcherism has seemingly gone out of fashion in recent years – Theresa May and David Cameron also claimed to be One Nation Conservatives.
To be a One Nation Conservative, one would place the plight of the poorest in the society at the centre of government agenda. Many in the press are certainly stressing this is what Johnson should do.
The Financial Times noted that ‘the Conservatives’ spending plans will barely mark an end to austerity. They will be constrained by a pledge not to raise tax rates,’ whilst asserting that the government ‘must be ready to boost spending to rebuild not just the National Health Service and law and order, but public services across the board.’ Low interests could be taken advantage of to ‘borrow prudently to create infrastructure fit for the 21st century.’
The historian Robert Tombs was encouraging similar policies in a recent piece for the Telegraph: ‘He can launch a big infrastructure strategy. He can push forward improvements in schools and in training: the tools – which Labour wanted to abolish – are already there. Outside the EU, he can help deprived regions more effectively and he can bring down the cost of living by cutting unnecessary tariffs.’
If I was to offer one takeaway from the election to Boris Johnson, it would be this – don’t get too comfortable. Those votes from former-Labour voters were given to the Conservatives because the party wanted to put Brexit to bed, so to speak. I highly doubt any of the Northern voters who have stuck with Labour for decades are big fans of Thatcherism.
They expect the Conservative Party to deliver on Brexit and to invest in public services. Some may snort at such a notion, but I personally hope the votes of many have not been in vain.
I’m cautiously optimistic that a One Nation Conservative agenda could bring together the ‘two nations’ that Benjamin Disraeli spoke of centuries ago. But it’s a tall order, and if Boris Johnson is to be the Prime Minister for all Britons, he must measure up to expectations.