In some countries, a lack of conviction and an elastic dogma are useful assets, at least to the individual. In Russia’s forthcoming Presidential elections, the Communist Party candidate has very generously announced that he broadly backs Putin. This detail no doubt oiled the machinery of state last week approving his paperwork, and removed the need for any poisoned tea or quiet irradiation.
Such ready complacency is, however, a less excusable trait amongst Conservatives.
I once had the good fortune to meet Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, father of the current Liberal Prime Minister. “Meet” is not perhaps the right word. As a postgrad student at the time I was introduced and swiftly ignored. I found his former Secretary of State Gérard Pelletier a far more engaging and fascinating conversationalist, though this was perhaps helped by my own overfamiliarity, having spent the evening mistaking him for the owner of the restaurant the event was taking place in.
One thing you can say of both Trudeaux is that they have not been short of opinions, even if often highly controversial. But equally, Canadian Conservatives have not failed to boisterously stand up for their own beliefs either. The latest standard bearer on that score is Pierre Poilievre, whose parliamentary question style – like Zorro duelling a sluggish sentry – has for years made for entertaining internet viewing. His brevity disarms: an unanswerable two phrase question here, and whoosh, away with the musket; a follow-on there, kerplup and off with the shako. Some journalist lazily front-footing with a false premise? A casual slice to the moustache, and all quite literally while eating an apple. It’s like watching The Princess Bride recast with Vivek Ramaswamy after eight espressos.
More than this though, since becoming leader it has been Poilievre’s policy marksmanship that has been refreshing to observe. Here is the salient difference with the UK Conservatives. Poilievre has identified the core problems facing his country today, and he has done what a good politician has to do; generate deliverable solutions – and then to convincingly explain them, with the conviction of a Wesleyite preacher.
Contrast with the UK Conservatives, who are actually in power. Here it looks too often like intellectual capture by the Bubble, with Conservatives suffering from ministerial Stockholm Syndrome. Yet it’s entirely self-generated, and quite reversible.
Take one of the Party’s five pledges, a Whitehall priority: to stop the boats carrying illegal immigrants across the Channel. Ministers know – and know from long years of having been expressly told this – that the Strasbourg Courts are an insurmountable problem. Indeed, we now know thanks to documents latterly released under the Thirty Year Rule that Tony Blair knew this too. But like Blair, the Conservative Cabinet elects merely to play with the teaspoon on the saucer rather than stir the pot.
To give due credit, the legislation finally drafted under Dominic Raab’s team was an intelligent attempt at squaring the impossible circle, and in occasional cases may even for a while have worked. But even that compromise got vetoed by pseudo-liberal peers and MPs, including self-identifying Conservatives. So from fudge we progress to farce.
Meanwhile, the bigger problem of authorised immigration (one cannot use the term ‘organised’) continues at a vast and unprecedented pace, around 700,000 for the last counted year. In scale, that’s a Dunkirk evacuation every five months. Now there are many causes for this, Ukraine and Hong Kong exceptionally of late amongst them. But key too has been the inability to generate a coherent alternative strategy by getting UK nationals to work instead, and where necessary to train them up. So much for addressing the country’s productivity lag.
Occasional evidence of coherent thinking exists. Little noticed was a King’s Speech pledge to increase the number of healthcare trainees, overriding a dystopian quota system that stops Brits plugging known job gaps. But there was no messaging to highlight this. Nor has there even been an open attempt to explain what’s behind current migration policy; the fear of fuelling inflation through employing UK nationals (and risking having to pay them a bit more). We similarly await in vain any discussion of the unrecognised need to shake up the Benefits system. I suspect this is all because Whitehall managers know that the interlocking strategy, if exposed to daylight, would look as rational as a landscape by Hieronymous Bosch.
Amidst all this, one looks on too in frustration at the other failures. A lack of housebuilding. The reticence to deregulate. Institutional wokery. Procurement fiascos. Partisan policing. An addiction to deficit. High and complex taxes. Indifference to Unionism. Shallow Defence.
Forget all the nonsense about the public not wanting a shift to ‘the Right’. This is simply a Guardianised excuse to nationalise the language of the centre ground. The public wants two things: things to work, and their politicians to be honest.
Canada’s Conservatives are winning support because they are prepared to tackle state failure. The UK’s Conservatives meanwhile come across as shirking. Electorally, their saving grace so far has been that the other parties do too, and more so. But an emerging consequence now is the stay-at-home vote of the tired and despondent.
So where is our own Poilievre?