British conservatism, or modern Toryism, rests on two key principles as I see it. The first is the idea that people, once of an appropriate age, are completely responsible for themselves and the consequences of their behaviour. No outside factors should be weighed in for consideration; it’s rather unfortunate if you had an abusive parent, or a substandard education, but ultimately that doesn’t let you off the hook for anything. While the liberal grapples with the concept of the individual having free choice set against mitigating factors such as one’s early life and particularly one’s education, and that being the lens through which we judge an individual’s actions, the true conservative says simply this: you are an adult, therefore your sins are yours to bear completely and utterly. No bleeding heart excuses, thank you very much.
This isn’t to say that conservatism does not seek to ameliorate the effects of unfortunate things in society such as poverty; it is just clear that those symptoms are no excuse for any one individual’s behaviour, and so when someone errs they should be punished with this in mind.
The second pillar of modern conservatism as I see it is faith in institutions. The idea that institutions such as the Anglican Church, parliament and yes, even the BBC, have inherent value. This isn’t to say that conservatives are not free to criticise these institutions or the people who run them at any given time; it is simply that it is felt they add value to society in their own right, and that what people emotionally invest in them is part of the glue that holds society together.
I should state now that I am not a conservative myself, and that these are not my values. But I articulate them in order to compare them to what I see as being UKIP values, which despite years of talk of UKIP being the “Conservative Party in exile” are almost the exact opposite of the ideals I’ve just outlined above.
Let’s start with the idea that adult individuals are solely responsible for their own behaviour. This is anathema to UKIP. The essence of the appeal and thus the meteoric rise of the purple party is that it provides convenient and easy to understand excuses for exactly why people are not responsible for their own misfortunes. How everything in British citizens’ lives would be wonderful if only we could get out of that awful European Union. If only the immigrants didn’t ruin everything.
UKIP is in part a suggestion box of excuses for why people aren’t doing as well as they think they ought to – a wholly non-conservative idea. A conservative would look at somewhere like Clacton and say that its extreme economic woes are down to the fact that no one goes on holidays to places like that anymore, and yet the whole economy is still nominally built around tourism. It needs to move on – chin up, people, find new ways of making your way in the world. Let’s see some of that great British resolve and spirit in action. UKIP meanwhile tells Clacton, don’t worry, it’s not your fault; it’s simply all those immigrants hanging around, although given how few live in Clacton it is a wonder this manages to sell. Again, neither of these things is what I would say to the collective people of Clacton, but as I say I am neither conservative nor UKIP-inclined.
Next we come to UKIP and faith in institutions. And here the break with conservatism and UKIP becomes stark. Farage’s party is all about how institutions, such as the EU, have failed and are only being propped up by a shadowy Westminster elite. That one of the problems with modern society is indeed outdated institutions and the control they have over our lives. This is one of the reasons UKIP can appeal to old Labour voters; this is territory historically owned by the left and is about as un-Tory as it gets.
So if some Conservative backbenchers want to feel like UKIP is where true Toryism sits in exile, which should then involve pacts and the like with the smaller party, they are welcome to feel that way. But they are completely and utterly wrong, and in doing so are threatening to destroy the values they supposedly belief in.