Theresa May’s manifesto has caused gasps of delight in the conservative press, such as it is these days. The air is thick with adjectives like ‘honest’, ‘cautious yet bold’, ‘grown up’, ‘moral’ and even ‘Christian’.
Yet if our pundits took the trouble to get to the bottom of their enthusiasm, they’d realise that it’s mostly caused by the ABC of politics: Anything But Corbyn.
To some extent I share this apophatic approach to politics. I too have my eyes clouded with red mist whenever I picture Comrade Corbyn at 10 Downing Street.
However, I retain enough eyesight to see that Mrs May’s manifesto is pure Labour, albeit not of the strident variety favoured by Comrade Corbyn. Mayism isn’t Maoism – but neither is it conservatism.
Stripped of its sloganeering designed to purloin and pervert Christian morality, socialism is all about increasing state control over the individual. All types of socialism share this desideratum, and they only differ in the methods they choose to achieve it.
Mrs May is in the mainstream of non-violent European socialism, charting a course separate from sanguinary totalitarianism. But her course is parallel rather than perpendicular to Comrade Corbyn’s.
This starts with her style, which, as Georges-Louis Buffon said, is the man himself (or the woman herself, as it happens). She grossly overuses the phrase ‘ordinary working people’, which is the mainstream socialist for ‘the proletariat’.
The underlying assumption is that, say, a factory foreman working seven-hour shifts and then trotting ‘down the pub’ belongs to that saintly group, as distinct from a lawyer, a doctor or a businessman routinely putting in 90-hour weeks.
A businessman may actually build the factory in which the aforementioned foreman works, and yet to Mrs May it’s the latter and not the former who deserves special consideration. This is good demagoguery but bad economics. And it has nothing to do with conservatism.
Her proposed tax-and-spend policies are a case in point.
When the state begins to impose wage and price controls, tyranny wafts through the air. One doesn’t have to possess the olfactory sense of a wine taster to smell socialism in Mrs May’s planned cap on energy bills, especially when a rise in the national living wage is part of the bouquet.
Her decision to put off the elimination of the deficit until 2025 means she doesn’t even consider the remote possibility that this may ever be accomplished. In political terms, eight years from now means never.
Moreover, a balanced budget has to be achieved incrementally. If Mrs May were serious about this, she’d announce a massive reduction in public spending – now. Yet she’s announcing something quite different: a massive increase in spending, specifically in the number of billions thrown into the bottomless pit of the NHS.
At the same time she scraps her predecessor’s pledge not to increase income tax, VAT and national insurance ‘contributions’. Scrapping the pledge to reduce taxes means a guarantee to increase them, which is a Labour-punitive, not Conservative-sensible, measure: as Arthur Laffer explained, higher tax rates spell lower, not higher, public revenues.
All this comes under the umbrella of her economic philosophy: “We do not believe in untrammelled free markets.” Like most general statements, this may mean any number of things, from reasonable to appalling. It depends on how much ‘trammelling’ Mrs May envisages, and what kind.
A free market is an arena for a game with winners and losers. However, a civilised society shouldn’t allow people to lose too badly: even an out-and-out loser deserves a shelter and a bowl of soup simply because he’s created in the image and likeness of God (Mrs May is a vicar’s daughter after all).
Whether or not this goal is best achieved through the state’s good offices is debatable. I’d prefer to see private charities taking up the slack, although recent experience shows that the bigger such charities are, the more they operate like the state: serving not so much their supposed beneficiaries as themselves.
Still, people shouldn’t die of hunger, cold or neglect. If it takes some minimum ‘trammelling’ to achieve that, we ought to accept it stoically.
Also, the market game, like any other, should be played by the rules. This requires the presence of a referee, and only the state can play that role. Hence I wouldn’t object to ‘trammelling’ that precludes cartels, monopolies and price fixing. Because these take ‘free’ out of ‘market’ and thus hurt the consumer, such ‘trammelling’ would benefit markets the same way as pollarding benefits trees.
However, Mrs May’s proposed policies show that her take on trammelling involves the state acting in the capacity of active player, not merely referee. This goes against the amply proven conservative principle first enunciated by Edmund Burke: “the moment that government appears at market, the principles of the market will be subverted.”
This type of subversion is pure Labour, and it’s certain to have adverse consequences not only internally but also in our Brexit negotiations. For Mrs May seems likely to increase corporate tax as part of her trammelling exercise.
This is exactly the opposite of what she should be doing if she really means to leave the EU on beneficial terms, or indeed at all.
It’s not only the inner logic of that wicked contrivance but indeed its stated intent that Britain should be punished for her temerity pour encourager les autres, as Jean-Claude Junk would say, now he has no use for English.
Yet Britain isn’t a schoolboy meekly accepting six of the best. We can fight back by counteracting any trade restrictions to be imposed by Junk and his jolly friends.
The best weapon at our disposal is to make doing business with and in Britain cheaper and easier. That surely means reducing rather than increasing corporate taxes, along with the number and severity of regulations.
When one gets down to it, Mrs May’s manifesto appears to be a cynical attempt to appeal to traditional Labour voters, ensuring thereby a large and lasting Tory majority.
Alas, the only thing that really appeals to traditional Labour voters is traditional Labour policies – and, even more important, traditional Labour philosophies.
This is what Mrs May has served up, thereby guaranteeing a Labour victory on 8 June. That this particular branch of the Labour Party paints itself blue rather than red is a purely chromatic difference.