Russell Taylor – In praise of defying the status quo

This column hasn’t become a tribune for UKIP, honest. In fact, I was determined to write about something – anything – other than party politics, but then I read this article by Toby Young and my good intentions went out the window. It didn’t anger or frustrate me so much as remind me how much ground conservatives have conceded to the Left, and how their faith in the government is unlikely to be rewarded.

Young has chosen to eschew the excitable amateurs of UKIP and embrace the government’s spirit of compromise, in the hope of seeing the bulk of the conservative agenda realised. I understand this view, because it was my own until relatively recently; but I’m growing tired of waiting for the right policies to show up. The government is sounding like a taxi firm that keeps insisting the cab is just around the corner. Toby Young might be content to stand in the rain, but I’ve had enough.

At best, the Tories are being over-cautious; at worst, they’re acting as seat-warmers for the Labour Party. There has been little significant reform (Michael Gove’s efforts aside) and there are few signs of anything radical in the pipeline. Young might believe that UKIP and the Tories have a common interest in a small state, low tax and controlled immigration, but where are the government policies to back up this assertion? For all the hand-wringing over ‘Tory cuts’, spending and borrowing remain unsustainable. There are too many sops to liberal sensibilities and too much NuLab coddling. At this glacial rate of progress, perhaps we can look forward to meaningful tax cuts around the turn of the century – assuming Labour aren’t back in office and having another crack at their Thousand Year Reich.

I don’t think David Cameron is taking a clever, Fabian approach to conservatism, because I’m not sure how much of a conservative he is. He’s too loyal to the political class to undermine its influence by shrinking the state – at least not to the extent that I’d like to see it shrunk. If I sit tight in the hope of witnessing a new dawn of true blue conservatism under Cameron, I suspect I’ll still be waiting when Ed Miliband is crowned PM, or when the country falls off the cliff – whichever comes first (although the former will undoubtedly precipitate the latter). It’s this loss of faith in the likelihood of reform, not just impatience at its pace, that has pushed people towards UKIP.

Toby Young reckons that UKIP is “a romantic conservative movement, more concerned with registering its unhappiness with the modern world than doing anything to improve it” – the inference being that its policies are so pie-in-the-sky wacky that even Nigel Farage can’t really believe they’re fit for purpose. Personally, I don’t see what’s so outlandish about UKIP’s ideas, particularly when set alongside the extended suicide note most European governments have been using as a manifesto. If surrender to the EU and a bank-busting entitlement culture represents the pragmatic approach then I’m proud to be a romantic.

It isn’t written anywhere that we should live in a society where politicians, technocrats and media pontificators have undue influence; and Westminster isn’t preordained to be run like a royal court, detached from the concerns and control of the electorate. This state of affairs didn’t come in response to some great existential crisis; it happened because that’s how the people who prefer this model of government wanted it, and no one stood in their way. We’re hemmed in by rules, taxes and progressive pieties because that’s the net result of these people’s ‘work’. As long as they remain unchallenged, nothing is going to change.

Yet to question the consensus of complacency is to risk being branded as a starry-eyed naïf by the cognoscenti. Apparently, only savvy operators in tune with the status quo can be taken seriously. Well Ronald Reagan used to say that status quo was Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’, and mainstream politicians are certainly in tune with that, because they’ve done more than anyone to bring it about. If they persist with the same old ‘solutions’, then the status quo is here to stay.

Actually, it’s not so much status quo as statist quo. Listen to any politician, open any newspaper and the opinions you come across are likely to be depressingly conformist. On everything from the NHS to global warming, there is an underlying belief that freedom is a disease and big government the cure. As long as this assumption dominates public life, there remains a desperate need for conflicting visions.

Toby Young thinks there is clear blue water between the policies of Labour and the Tories, but from where I’m standing it looks like they’re on different sides of the same paddling pool. This becomes evident when you contemplate the gulf between the policies of David Cameron and those of Margaret Thatcher. If Cameron is a real conservative, why has his government adopted an approach that owes more to the Labour Party than his great predecessor? If her strategy was right thirty years ago, why is it less relevant today, when times are equally hard?

Something else is required, but Young doesn’t think UKIP is it, because they “have the high-principled purity of a party with no experience of government – like the Lib Dems before their reality bath”. But the Lib Dems haven’t disappointed because they lack the Tories’ long tradition of government; they’ve failed because their policies are stupid and their leaders are idiots. Besides, what experience of government did David Cameron have before he took office? What experience did Tony Blair have, for that matter? The man might be a national disgrace, but no one can doubt his brilliance as a politician; yet he grew up in a party whose memory of government was receding faster than Neil Kinnock’s hairline.

All this is beside the point, however. As I’ve said before, UKIP’s value is as an agent of change. It doesn’t matter if they lack what it takes to form a government. What matters is that they give a platform to ideas that challenge the sclerotic liberal orthodoxy around which the major parties and their media cheerleaders are huddled. To my mind, anything that breaks this ideological death-grip is worth supporting. Whatever Toby Young says.

13 comments on “Russell Taylor – In praise of defying the status quo

  1. jazz606
    May 15, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    Final paragraph spot on.

  2. David
    May 15, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Absolutely agree with everything you’ve written here. UKIP is about much more than withdrawing from the EU it’s about taking a stand against the status quo.

  3. Philip Foster
    May 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Excellent stuff! As Martin Durkin’s ‘Margaret: death of a revolutionary’ makes so clear is that smashing Con-Lab consensus of state run industries and statist policies was exactly what Maggie did until knifed in the back by that horrible little man Hestletine (on orders from Brussels).

    She too was accused of naivity and romanticism by the toffs in her own party. But she got on with it nonethless. Sure, she made mistakes, but she got her head down and did something.

    I think UKIP’s vote was increased by her funeral: we remembered where we once had been and saw how people in the streets came out in their hundreds of thousands to pay their respects.

    The sight of a simple black and white poster hung over the crowd barrier as her coffin passed (hastily zoomed in on by a BBC cameraman obviously hoping for an insulting comment);
    which said, “Thank you Margaret Thatcher”.

  4. grumpydenier
    May 15, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    But the Lib Dems haven’t disappointed because they lack the Tories’ long tradition of government; they’ve failed because their policies are stupid and their leaders are idiots.

    Such a simple use of words with such a profound outcome.

  5. zbcustom
    May 16, 2013 at 5:40 am #

    Although written in a UK context, this should be required reading for the soon-to-be government in Canberra as well. The Liberals in Australia are now more to the left than the Labor mob was twenty years ago. Our so called right wing politicians are now enamoured of the idea that every problem that besets a group or individual can best be alleviated by government action with the couple of jumbo jet loads of extra public servants that goes along with it. It is now virtually impossible for politician to stand up and say that he has no policy on any given issue. What’s wrong with being able to say, “I don’t believe government has a role” for a change?

  6. Simon Roberts
    May 16, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Telling voters that if you vote for UKIP then you get Labour is an appalling admission. It says “we are so bad that the only reason to vote for us is that the bogey man will get you if you don’t”.

    At least with the Labour party you know what you will get. With the Tories you know that there is no connection at all between their promises and their actions.

  7. Despairing Realist
    May 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Mr Taylor nails it again. I’d like to buy him a drink.
    ”The extended suicide note most European governments have been using as a manifesto.” Love it.

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