Another Tory Leadership Race. Another Tory PM. It Seems Only The Whigs Can Stop Them Now!
Conservative party members gathered in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Westminster for the announcement of the winner of the leadership race and few were surprised when at midday Foreign Secretary Liz Truss emerged victorious. No gasps of disbelief from the crowds spilling into the street. Few flummoxed by the narrower-than-expected 57% of the vote result. Indeed, no voices of dissent aside from the ever-present anti-Boris brigade with their ‘Boris Is A Twat’ teeshirts, loudspeakers and karaoke on full blast belting out their own lyrical offerings of the likes of the Bay City Rollers and Abba.
Westminster: A protestor makes his views on the Tory leadership result known
But beyond the inevitable in-party murmurings about which candidate vying for the top post was most similar to their icon Margaret Thatcher and whose economic policies were the least socialist (a sure-fire Tory vote winner), is a wider realisation that this is surely the most successful, enduring and unshiftable political party in European history. The last Labour politician to mount a meaningful challenge was Tony Blair who was PM 1997-2007.
Labour have held power for only 31 of the last 100 years, during which the Tories dominated. Let that sink in for a minute: a century. Now, that should surely have triggered the aforementioned ‘gasps of disbelief’’ – even as Truss in her victory speech made no mention of an early election to give the also-ran parties a chance. Foregone conclusion anyway?
It could be argued, that the UK is in danger of becoming a one-party-state; checks and balances of parliament, notwithstanding. But, it’s important to remember the UK is a democracy and the people have spoken. Well, Conservative party members, at least.
Conservative MP James Cleverly arriving at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre for the announcement of the Tory leadership winner
Once you start rummaging through history to find worthy political opposition then you know there’s a problem. One can hark back to the 1960s golden age of Labour leader Harold Wilson or Clement Attlee who in 1945 seized the premiership from wartime hero Winston Churchill and formed the NHS and widened social welfare provision. In many minds, Churchill and Attllee vy for the title of Britain’s greatest PM.
Labour leaders Harold Wilson (left) and Tony Blair (right) are among the few alternatives to the Tories since the Whigs!
Centuries before that, the Whigs, were a notable alternative and duelled with the Tories both metaphorically and literally! The Whigs were an aristocratic political force that emerged in the late seventeenth century. Their core tenets included civil liberties and curbing monarchial power. It was under their stewardship that the terms of the Glorious Revolution were set out, which established Parliament as the prime authority – not the Crown.
They were also bent on stymying Catholic influence in Parliament. King Charles II had called a Cavalier Parliament in 1661. But there were concerns his Catholic brother James II would succeed the throne so they backed the Protestant William III. Their nascent brand of liberalism appealed to the electorate and was later incorporated into Gladstone’s Liberal Party in 1859. The Tory party emerged in opposition to the Whig doctrine and supported the status quo – the power of the monarchy and the Church.
In retrospect, their wider maxims and finer demarcation points are more difficult to pin down. For example, was Britain’s youngest PM, William Pitt the Younger a Tory or a Whig? He saw himself as an independent Whig but the history books call him a Tory – and the first Tory party leader to take office, at that. His political philosophies certainly shifted right turing his terms of office. However, he introduced Britain’s first income tax in 1799 to fund the wars with revolutionary France, while today Truss and Sunak to-and-fro over whether to cut tax at all.
(left) William Pitt the Younger (right) William Pitt the Elder
So how would Pitt (or his father Pitt the Elder – also a Whig) have fared against the likes of Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss at the ballot box? Difficult to say. However, what we can say is any modern-day slither of Whiggish liberalism died with Nick Clegg’s u-turn on tuition fees when he was the Conservative-LibDem coalition’s deputy prime minister. So unless Keir Starmer can revitalise the Labour party challenge then, alas, we can only console ourselves with dreams of a Whig alternative that is as illusory as it is desperate.