One day next week the Conservative Party’s manifesto will be published. But it will have been written with no input from any member of the Conservative Parliamentary Party other than the Prime Minister. No cabinet minister, it seems has been consulted. All has been left to one of Mrs May’s unelected special advisers, a Mr Nicholas Timothy.
I can’t help thinking that this a very bad idea. I have nothing personally against Mr Timothy. I have never even met him. I know he is a great admirer of Joseph Chamberlain, and there is something to be said for old Joe (though I would be happier if Mr Timothy’s admiration were directed to Edmund Burke). My concern is that Mrs May is said to be intending to land her party with a manifesto which will be widely disliked by her colleagues in the House of Commons.
There has always been tension between authoritarians and libertarians in the Conservative Party. On the whole, though, the libertarians have been in the ascendancy since Mrs Thatcher became leader. The rhetoric, even if not the practice, of Tories has been in favour of the individual and against big government. I think it reasonable to assume that most Tory MPs (or at least those who are capable of thought) retain, to this day, an affection for liberty and a dislike of big government.
But all the signs are that Mr Timothy and Mrs May are determined to saddle their party with a manifesto which will attack liberty and promote big government.
Mrs May, unlike Mrs Thatcher, came to power without ever revealing any political opinion. Nothing wrong with that. Ideologies are not all they are cracked up to be. But all those MPs who voted for her must, I suspect, have assumed she was broadly “on side”. Perhaps that was foolish of them. After all, Mrs May had been Home Secretary for far longer than could possibly be healthy. There must have been at least a possibility that all those years in the Home Office would have led her to “go native”, to accept the traditional Home Office view that the man in Whitehall knows best how we should all live our lives.
Mr Timothy was Mrs May’s special adviser for most of her time as Home Secretary. His adoration of Joseph Chamberlain will have predisposed him to a dislike of liberty (ironic that a so-called Liberal became such an opponent of free trade). Mixing, every day, with all those Home Office civil servants (every one of them champions of authoritarianism over libertarianism) was bound to lead to his favouring big government.
The result of all this, so we are told, is that the Conservative manifesto is going to promise us higher taxes, much more red tape, endless government interference in commerce and industry and a general approval of authority over liberty (the European Union under a different name).
Many of my delightful readers will see nothing wrong with that. But my point is that most true Conservatives will disagree with them. What is more, it is obvious nonsense for the Tories to think they can attract traditional Labour voters by claiming to support traditional Labour policies. Yes, many Labour supporters will vote for Mrs May, but not because she says she wants higher taxes and more government interference in their lives. They are going to support her, this time round, because she says she will deliver Brexit and she is not Jeremy Corbyn.
I think Mrs May would have been wiser to give Mr Timothy a break and let her cabinet colleagues write her manifesto.