We Should Have Seen May's Manifesto Coming | Toby Gould

Eight months ago, I wrote a piece called ‘Theresa May: the final nail in the coffin for British liberalism’.  I claimed that comparisons between May and Thatcher stop at personalist, for while the Iron Lady championed neo-liberalism, free markets and limited government, our new Prime Minister is quite the opposite.  Phrases such as ‘Red Tory’ have been thrown around, and although the Conservative’s manifesto isn’t particularly left wing, it moves away from a consensus that has dominated British politics and the Conservative Party’s ideology since Thatcher took office in 1979. 

In the manifesto, May claims that “We must reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and instead embrace the mainstream view that recognises the good that government can do.”  She would never admit it, but this is an outright attack on the Thatcherites and liberal-right of her party.  The manifesto is consistent with her economic interventionist approach: an unfavourable approach to business (except cutting corporation tax to 17%) and moving the commitment to reduce the deficit back even further (to 2025) both show this. 

Despite many being surprised at the tone of her manifesto, we shouldn’t be surprised.  It is entirely consistent with her conference speech last year.  Since she became Prime Minister, this is the rhetoric she has been pushing.  There’s a reason the Conservative party hasn’t been talking about free markets with a neo-liberal vision.  Even Liam Fox, who, after the Brexit vote, championed the idea of Britain becoming a global leader free-trade and liberal economics, appears to have been silenced so as not to undermine May’s (very different) vision. At the conference speech, May said “where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene” and “we must set the market right”.  She spoke of the power of government, repeating the phrase “because that is what the government can do”. 

May has cemented the break away from liberalism, towards a new era of statism and economic intervention.  While Cameron was proclaimed to be the ‘heir to Blair’, Theresa May is looking to take the country in an entirely new direction.  She has never been a liberal.  This is clear from her time as Home Secretary.  The, now-in-law, ‘snoopers charter’ demonstrates this well. Her renewal of the commitment to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ isn’t just poor politics, it’s a demonstration of her anti-globalist and authoritarian tendencies.

As I wrote in 2016, May has killed liberalism within the Conservative party.  But this is replicated across the political spectrum.  Farron, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, has moved them to the left – he represents the social democratic side of the party over the (more classical) liberal group.  Similarly, and more clearly, Corbyn has taken pride in moving Labour away from the liberalism it embraced under Blair.  His policies are socialist – there is no doubt about that.  Liberalism is, for the moment, down and out.  And it looks to stay this way.  When May wins a majority in June, she will govern according to her interventionist outlook and we’ll see a very different Conservative government to Thatcher’s or Cameron’s. 

Toby Gould is the editor of Student Voices.
We Should Have Seen May's Manifesto Coming | Toby Gould We Should Have Seen May's Manifesto Coming | Toby Gould Reviewed by Student Voices on 10:24 Rating: 5

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