The Tories out-Toried

Submitted by on 20 November, 2002 - 9:41

By Frank Higgins
"Tory" is one of the few words derived from Gaelic ("touraig") which the English language, so rich in loan words, possesses.
"Touraig" means a robber (literally, a pursuer). Seventeenth century opponents mockingly compared the backwoods English country gentlemen who formed the "King's party" in Parliament to the bands of outlaws and robbers called "Tories", who were numerous in Ireland, and the name stuck.
The brouhaha in the press about who should be leader of this malignant ancient growth misses the point. The reason why today's Tory party is in such a state that its leaders publicly discuss its possible death and disappearance is quite simple: the robbers have been robbed.

Blair's New Labour has stolen their policies and their philosophy. In New Labour's brave new Britain, the Tories are redundant.
In 18 years in power, 1979 to 1997, the Tories rammed through a social counter-revolution, reversing much that the 1945-51 Labour government had achieved. They crushed the unions and brought in laws outlawing effective trade union action. Most importantly, they banned solidarity strikes.

They made tax cuts for the rich while cutting public services and benefits. They built support by selling off council houses below their market value. They prevented councils from building any new ones. They began the destruction of the National Health Service.

They were unashamedly a government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher openly denied that there is any such thing as "society". There are only individuals and families, eternally at war with each other. We live and must always live in a jungle. The strong are entitled to exploit, rob and devour the weak. The rich come first.

Over the years growing public disgust, which fed on the scandals of the early 1990s, undermined the Tories. They ditched Margaret Thatcher in 1990. John Major won the Tories' fourth successive general election victory in 1992, but thereafter their unpopularity accelerated.
Labour would most probably have won the 1997 general election whatever its policies. New Labour was fresh and clean, "modern", and humane where the Tories were seen to be squalid, brutal and corrupt. A great deal of hope and enthusiasm surrounded New Labour's victory over the Tories in 1997.

And then? "The Tory government is dead. Long live the Tory government!" New Labour continued Tory policies - and went further than the Tories would have dared go.

They replaced student grants with loans, putting poor students at a massive disadvantage. They introduced university fees. With "top-up" fees, they are now set to price the best universities once more into being the monopoly of the rich.
On the eve of the election, Blair had promised that in power he would retain the Tory-imposed "most restrictive labour legislation in Western Europe". He kept that promise.

New Labour continues and accelerates the Tory drive to exclude those who cannot pay from state-of-the-art health care. They are destroying comprehensive education. The two New Labour Home Secretaries, Straw and Blunkett, have been authoritarian reactionaries. When David Blunkett talks about refugee children "swamping" British schools, it is the true voice of populist-chauvinist Thatcherism. Who needs the Tory Party?

The spectacle of the right-wing Tory Ian Duncan Smith trying to develop a strain of "compassionate", caring, one-nation Toryism, the better to compete with Blair, is a joke. It is also the measure of what has happened to British politics. A Tory party is in power: that is the central problem for Ian Duncan Smith's Tory party in opposition.

The Tories supplanted the Liberal party - once the party of the industrial bourgeoisie - as the main party of the ruling class in the 1870s and 1880s. New Labour as the party of the ruling class has massive contradictions, not least its continued links with the trade unions. The Blairites love and serve the ruling class, but the ruling class will love the Blairites only so long as they can do the job of the Tories better than the Tories. Despite its imposing appearance of strength, New Labour has a very narrow base.

That is small comfort for the Tories. For now they continue to be victims of their own greatest success: the ideological conquest of the Labour Party by dog-eat-dog Thatcherism, and its transformation into the leading party of Thatcherism.

But don't order a wreath for the Tories yet. The revival of trade union militancy is about to test the stability of Tony Blair's New Labour party.

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