A parliamentary reporter, centre-right in his inclinations, commented to me recently that when the British Labour Party were finally re-elected in ten years or so time there would be nothing left of a socialist manifesto to implement, the Conservatives would have done it all for them.
If Margaret Thatcher regarded the policies of Tony Blair’s government as the ultimate triumph of Thatcherism, then the policies of Boris Johnson’s government represent their final demise.
In his statement today, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak declared that the government would be “unencumbered by dogma.” The neo-liberalism of Hayek and Friedman which provided the philosophical foundation of successive Thatcher governments was explicitly rejected in the measures the Chancellor announced
A Thatcherite response to the situation would be deregulation, a prompting of companies towards competitiveness, a cutting of costs. The Thatcherite argument would be that deficits, interventions and subsidies only delay an inevitable day of reckoning.
Rishi Sunak’s response to the situation is massive budget deficits, billions of pounds of state intervention, subsidisation of jobs. His measures are a rejection of the policies endorsed by those who favour free market economics. If Sunak is pursuing an economic philosophy, it is that of John Maynard Keynes rather than that of Milton Friedman. His intention is to revive the country through pumping huge liquidity into the economy.
Perhaps the abandonment of Thatcherism was inevitable from the moment the results of the general election were announced in December 2019. The Conservative gain of fifty-nine so called “red wall” Labour seats meant a significant section of the Tory parliamentary party would expect legislation that favoured their working class constituents. The Prime Minister himself knows how important are the votes of those former Labour voters, the loss of those fifty-nine seats at the next general election would bring an end to his tenure of Downing Street.
It seems unlikely that Boris Johnson would be worried at accusations that he has abandoned Conservative ideology. A man who likes to be liked, his populist approach has been to discern the direction of the political winds and to sail with them. Whether it is the Brexit process or the socialist response to the economic crisis, he will go with whatever seems to be the popular choice.
Perhaps the most lasting change in England of 2020 will not Covid-19, for which a vaccine will eventually be developed, but the shift to the Left by a Conservative government.