All of the major political parties have their faults. The Labour Party have been dogged for years by their highly controversial decision to invade Iraq and their support for debt-laden Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) during Tony Blair’s tumultuous tenure as PM. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have also suffered from deeply unpopular decisions, such as totally reneging on their key 2010 election pledge to scrap tuition fees and supporting swingeing cuts to public services, including the NHS, during the 2010-15 coalition government.
However, whilst both Labour and the Lib Dems have a relatively short catalogue of shame, virtually all of the Conservative Party’s policy decisions – from Thatcher’s Poll Tax, mass privatisation, mass deregulation, attacking workers’ rights, fox hunting, supporting apartheid and slashing taxes for the rich – to the modern-day Tory policies of austerity, zero hours contracts, supporting Fossil Fuel corporations, ignoring Climate Change, hiking Tuition Fees, scrapping EMA, slashing Disability Benefits, implementing the Bedroom Tax, culling badgers, supporting the Ivory Trade, and ignoring poverty, homelessness and the housing crisis whilst – surprise surprise – wasting yet more taxpayer money brazenly cutting taxes for the rich even further – have ended up being both deeply unpopular with a large proportion of the general public, and highly destructive for the rights and wellbeing of ordinary people.
But, in a democratic system, how do the Tories keep getting away with such consistent and obvious failure, and how do they keep managing to persuade enough ordinary people to support them – seemingly against their own interests – in order to stay in power?
To understand this inexplicable political reality, you first need to understand the full history of the party, who they previously represented, and exactly why the Conservative Party came to exist in the first place.
Democracy for the rich
Ordinary British citizens have only really been allowed to vote for less than 100 years. Between 1832 and 1928 – following decades of protest demanding democratic reform – numerous bills were begrudgingly passed in Parliament which gradually extended the right to vote to ordinary people. In 1928, all British citizens over the age of 21 finally won full voting rights, and since then the age limit has been lowered to 18. However, prior to this period of great democratic change, things were very different.
Before ordinary people won the right to vote, only wealthy people and the establishment elite were allowed to choose Britain’s lawmakers. Before the Great Reform Act was passed in 1832, just 200,000 people out of Britain’s then 25 million population were eligible. In order to qualify to vote, you first needed to be a man, and you also needed to own land or property which was worth a large amount of money – meaning that just 1% of the very wealthiest men in the land essentially held every last ounce of democratic power.
Because of this deeply unfair concentration of power exclusively amongst the rich, it was only necessary for political parties to represent the interests of a majority of this small and hugely privileged group of men in order to obtain power.
Tories and Whigs
At the time, just two political parties existed to represent the interests of this wealthy electorate: the Tory Party and the Whigs. Whilst the Whigs primarily gained their support from the aristocratic land-owning elite, the Tory Party mainly backed the interests of wealthy business owners and the Capitalist class.
Unsurprisingly, with politicians who only represented the rich making all the decisions, the interests of ordinary people were completely ignored. In fact, during this period, numerous policies were implemented which were specifically designed to allow the rich to make even more money off the backs of an already over-exploited working class. The outcome of this was that ordinary people were forced to work themselves to death just to survive, extreme poverty and disease ran rife, and dying young was the norm.
Both parties’ records during this time were horrendous – including supporting slavery and rejecting its abolition an astonishing 11 times, supporting widespread child labour, supporting the death penalty for minor offences, supporting the transportation of citizens to British colonies for forced labour, actively supporting violence and intolerance against minorities, repressing and violently quashing any form of protest against them, and unashamedly supporting the interests of the rich and powerful above those of ordinary people.
The conditions that ordinary people were forced to live under during this time were truly intolerable – and were only getting worse. Moreover, the fact that ordinary people had absolutely no democratic voice to change things only served to anger the masses further. Ultimately, despite the threat of violence against them by government forces, widespread protests broke out across the country in demand of democratic reform.
The Peterloo massacre is probably the most famous example of this, and was undoubtedly a defining moment in the quest for true democratic change. In 1819, at St Peter’s Field in Manchester, 18 people were killed and around 400 were injured after government-backed cavalry were ordered to charge into a huge crowd of between 60-80,000 protestors.
Despite widespread civil unrest in the country, both the Tory Party and the Whigs were deeply opposed to widespread democratic reform. Both felt that allowing ordinary people a say would diminish their power, threaten the status and wealth of them and their supporters, and ultimately result in ordinary people overthrowing the existing social order and seizing full control over the levers of power.
From the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, it took over 100 years of further protests to force Parliamentarians to finally give ordinary people a true democratic voice – with MPs reluctantly voting through gradual changes during this period in an ultimately futile attempt to appease the masses.
Due to the ever-changing nature of the electorate during this period, political parties were gradually forced to try and popularise their ideologies to gain votes from both ordinary people as well as the rich. Both the Whigs and the Tories needed to adapt to survive – ultimately culminating in both parties shedding their hugely tainted identities and slowly morphing into supposedly modernised versions of their former selves.
In 1859, the Whigs – accompanied by a small faction of MPs from the Tory Party – first morphed into the Liberal Party, and, after their merge with the SDP in 1988, eventually became the modern-day Liberal Democrats. During this period, the Liberals and their successor parties gradually evolved their ideology, and – primarily owing to the threat of the newly emerging Labour Party in the early 20th century – attempted to widen their appeal by introducing progressive policies that matierially benefited ordinary people, such as the 1906 Liberal welfare reforms which essentially created a basic welfare state in Britain.
However, whilst the Liberals began actively supporting progressive policies and socially liberal reforms, the Tory Party took a very different direction in their quest to adapt and appeal to the changing electorate.
In 1834, the Tory Party was officially dissolved and replaced by the Conservative Party. However, despite the change of identity, the ideology of today’s Conservative Party has remained almost entirely unchanged from their Tory Party past, with only the arguments used to try and promote their ideology to the electorate having changed.
The primary function of the Conservative Party’s ideology – Toryism – is to ‘uphold the social order as it exists‘. Or, in other words, to promote policies, ideas and arguments which are specificially designed to conserve – or increase – the wealth and power of those who already hold it.
The pro-elite ideology of Toryism can still be seen in the results of almost every policy decision made by the modern-day Conservative Party – and are most obvious in three of their major recent policies:
The Tories said that austerity was necessary to get Britain’s public finances in order following the 2008 global financial crash. However, after cutting vast amounts of money from essential public services, a huge proportion of the savings were simply used to hand tax cuts to the rich in a brazen transfer of wealth away from ordinary people.
Indeed, despite their promise to get the country back on track, since the Tories returned to power in 2010, the UK’s National Debt has almost doubled to £1.8 Trillion, ordinary people have seen their wages fall in real terms, and poverty, homelessness and foodbank usage have skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, in the same period, the 100 richest families in the country have conveniently managed to increase their wealth by an average of £653,000,000 in the same period.
This transfer of wealth from poor to rich is not a coincidence – it is a direct result of Tory ideology and Tory policy.
Despite a majority of the British public now being firmly against the privatisation of public services and utilities, the Tories have managed to sell off virtually all of Britain’s public assets into private hands during the past 40 years, including:
- British Aerospace – privatised
- British Airways – privatised
- British Coal – privatised
- British Energy – privatised
- British Gas – privatised
- British Leyland – privatised
- British Petroleum – privatised
- British Rail – privatised
- British Shipbuilders – privatised
- British Steel – privatised
- British Sugar – privatised
- British Telecom – privatised
- Britoil – privatised
- Jaguar – privatised
- Rolls Royce – privatised
- Royal Mail – privatised
- Water – privatised
[The above is by no means a full list either. For a complete list of UK privatisation, see here.]
In addition to the above, the Tories have also introduced partial privatisation into both the NHS and Education.
Privatisation benefits the rich and harms ordinary people in many ways:
If a service is publicly owned, the profits are directly invested back into improving the service and making them cheaper and more efficient for the ordinary people who use them. Conversely, the profits of privatised services simply go into the pockets of their shareholders. It is little wonder that the cost of train tickets, water bills, energy bills – and even stamps – has skyrocketed since privatisation.
Despite the fact that privatisation categorically harms the interests of ordinary people, the Conservative Party support it because it transfers wealth into the pockets of their super-rich mates. However, thankfully, the clearly dire results of the past 40 years of Tory privatisation seem to have firmly turned the public against the policy.
Tax cuts for the rich
Whilst Austerity and Privatisation are relatively underhanded ways of transferring wealth from ordinary people into the pockets of the rich, the Tories’ consistent policy of simply cutting taxes for the rich really is as blatant as you can get.
The Tories have slashed taxes for the wealthy for the past 40 years, with Margaret Thatcher cutting tax on the very highest earners from 83% all the way down to 40% during her time as PM. Successive Tory administrations have continued Thatcher’s work by further cutting taxes for the rich and raising thresholds at which the wealthy have to pay tax.
Corporation Tax has also been drastically reduced during the last 40 years, all the way from 52% in 1979, to just 19% this year. These Corporation Tax cuts mean that the very wealthiest corporations are now only obliged to pay one fifth of their profits into the public purse, as opposed to just over half of them 40 years ago. The extra profits that corporations are allowed to keep are then simply pocketed by wealthy shareholders.
How do the Tories keep getting away with it?
Given that ordinary people have been free to vote in whichever way they see fit for almost 100 years, the Tories are constantly faced with the seemingly insurmountable struggle of convincing a large proporton of ordinary people to vote against their own interests and in favour of what actually benefits the rich.
The Tories’ modern-day dilemma was summed up perfectly by the former Labour Health Secretary and the founder of the NHS, Nye Bevan, when he stated:
“How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political power [the vote] to keep wealth in power? Here lies the whole art of Conservative politics in the twentieth century.“
The Conservative Party use numerous conniving methods to convince ordinary people to vote for them and against their own interests:
Think-Tanks and Fallacious Arguments
In the last 50 years, the number of Think-Tanks in the United Kingdom – and across the Western world – has skyrocketed. The stated purpose of these Think-Tanks is to analyse current policies and their effects, and to divise new policies and put forward convincing arguments as to why the public should support them.
Spokespeople from many right-wing ThinkTanks – such as The Adam Smith Institute (ASI), The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Policy Exchange, and the Taxpayers’ Alliance – are regularly promoted as supposedly “independent” commentators on mainstream media news and current affairs programmes.
Despite these four prominent Think-Tanks being routinely promoted as apparently independent voices, all refuse to divulge almost any information about who funds them, and all of them just happen to support pro-greed, anti-worker policies such as privatisation, deregulation and slashing workers’ rights.
In fact, research into their funding has uncovered that vast amounts of money has come from super-rich businessmen and highly immoral industries, including:
- The Adam Smith Institute has received funding from the Tobacco Industry.
- The IEA has received funding from the Tobacco, Alcohol and Sugar Industry, as well as from oil giant BP and gambling interests.
- The Taxpayers’ Alliance has previously received funding from a billionaire-founded trust in the notorious tax haven the Bahamas – and The Guardian has found that a large proportion of the TPA’s funding comes from wealthy individuals including numerous Conservative Party donors.
In addition to this, the Policy Exchange Think-Tank was literally set up by the Tory politicians Nick Boles, Michael Gove and Francis Maude.
The supposedly independent arguments put forward by Think-Tanks such as these have been crucial in garnering public support and paving the way for Tory governments to implement their hugely damaging policies, such as mass privatisaion, mass deregulation, and austerity:
- Privatisation was sold to the public by Think-Tanks as a way of making public services and utilities more efficient and cheaper to run. The reality is that prices – especially train tickets, water and energy prices – have skyrocketed and services have substantially deteriorated. All the while, the private companies now running these services, and their shareholders, have been laughing all the way to the bank whilst ordinary people suffer.
- Deregulation was sold to the public by Think-Tanks as a way of ‘cutting red tape’ so that businesses would have more freedom to create jobs and boost the economy. The reality is that deregulation in the banking sector led the the catastrophic 2008 Financial Crash, and has allowed businesses to exploit ordinary workers and pay poverty wages whilst significantly boosting profits for both them and their wealthy shareholders.
- Austerity was sold to the public by Think-Tanks as the ‘common sense’ way to get the UK’s finances back in order following the 2008 Financial Crash. However, the result of austerity is that the UK’s National Debt has almost doubled, and public services, such as schools and hospitals, are on their knees – all whilst the rich have substantially increased their own wealth.
It is no coincidence that billionaire-funded Think-Tanks propose policies that benefit their super-rich funders, and it is also no coincidence that the Tories willingly implement the policies to benefit their wealthy donors. What is odd, however, is that ordinary people appear to be so easily persuaded to support clearly terrible policies that hurt them and only benefit the rich.
The Billionaire-Owned Tory Media
Think-Tanks are one of two major cogs in the UK’s establishment propaganda machine. The other is the right-wing, billionaire-owned UK media, who endorse and amplify the policies put forward by pro-Tory Think-Tanks, and who routinely cast Tory politicians in a positive light whilst openly denigrating and lambasting their opponents.
Five major UK newspapers are owned by pro-Tory billionaires:
- The Daily Mail is owned by billionaire Viscount Rothermere.
- The Sun and The Times are owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch.
- The Telegraph is owned by the billonaire Barclay brothers.
- The Evening Standard is owned by billionaire Alexander Lebedev.
Unsurprisingly, all of these newspapers openly endorsed the Conservative Party in the 2017 General election.
Whilst other newspapers, such as The Guardian and the Daily Mirror, are highly critical of the Conservative Party, they are far outnumbered by their right-wing, pro-Tory counterparts. This huge pro-Tory media bias creates an imbalance within public discourse – one which spills over into the priorities and reporting of the supposedly impartial BBC, and thus boosts the Tories’ talking points and arguments to an even wider audience.
You only need to look at the BBC’s near wall-to-wall coverage of Labour’s struggles with antisemitism, compared to their near non-existent coverage of the Tories’ almost identical problems with Islamophobia, to understand how this kind of disproportionate reporting routinely emerges from our supposedly impartial broadcaster.
Another thing that the Tories benefit from is the largely upper-class demographic of the vast majority of Britain’s mainstream journalists. A recent study found than more than half of Britain’s print journalists attended private schools, whilst a staggering 80% of newspaper editors – the people who control the narrative – also attended fee-paying schools. When, in comparison, just 8% of the entire British population attended private schools, it’s not hard to figure out why the UK media is churning out the most right-wing content in Europe.
Divide and Rule
If all else fails for the Tories, they have a trump card – one which has been played since the beginning of time by the rich and powerful: divide and rule.
The primary concept of divide and rule is to intentionally split ordinary people into tribes so that they blame each other for the problems they encounter, rather than the true cause; the rich and powerful who actually make the decisions.
Throughout history, the Tories have used numerous encarnations of the divide and rule tactic to both garner support and split their opposition. The most obvious, and almost certainly most grotesque, of these being racism.
Following widespread immigration from Commonwealth countries into the UK – which was actively encouraged by the Tories to fill labour shortages following WWII – many Tory politicians actively used blatant racism in an attempt to split their communities against people of colour to win votes.
In 1964, the Tory MP Peter Griffiths was elected into his Smethick constituency – which had one of the highest populations of Commonwealth immigrants in the country – after genuinely campaigning under the slogan (minus the asterisks):
“If you want a n***er for a neighbour, vote Labour.”
And, just 4 years later, the notorious Conservative Defence Minister, Enoch Powell, delivered his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood‘ speech where he intentionally stoked racist sentiment amongst the public by claiming that:
“In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”
Incredibly, Powell’s historic racism is almost indistinguisable from modern-day Islamophobia in the Tory party, with numerous Tory Party members having been exposed falsely claiming that Muslims are supposedly taking over the country.
The Tories, boosted by their wealthy cheerleaders in the media, have perpetually stoked fear and hatred of minorities at every opportunity – and consistently attempted to blame them for creating the problems that the Tories themselves have caused.
Whether it be single mums, benefit claimaints, immigrants, people of colour, LGBTQ people, or people of other religions, the Tories have at some point attempted to scapegoat every single minority for problems which have been directly caused by their own policies.
The Conservative Party may have changed their arguments over the course of history, but their anti-worker, pro-greed ideology remains precisely the same as it has always been.
Whilst the Labour Party was founded in 1900 by ordinary people to support the interests of ordinary people, the Tories have always been the party of the super-rich, and they’re not likely to change their ways any time soon.
You only need to look at the vast amount of multi-milionaires, multi-billionaires, bankers, oligarchs and tax-avoiders who fund the Tories to understand exactly where their priorities lie. Conversely, the Labour Party are now almost exclusively funded by micro donations from ordinary people – with the party raising over a million pounds in the first ten days of the General Election campaign with an average donation value of just £26.
Whilst almost every British citizen will have some disagreements with the policies of each major party, the fact remains that if you decide to hand your vote to the Tories – and you’re not one of the privileged super-rich few – you’ve been brainwashed into voting against your own interests.