9 June 2024

Weekly Briefing: Coming in like a wrecking ball


Good things, warned Roger Scruton in ‘How to Be a Conservative’, ‘are easily destroyed, but not easily created’. The work of destruction ‘is quick, easy and exhilarating’, while building anything worthwhile is ‘slow, laborious and dull’. 

It was unsurprising, then, that Nigel Farage left Westminster buzzing this week by announcing his decision to swing a wrecking ball at the UK’s oldest and most successful political party. In taking over Reform and standing to be the MP for Clacton, Farage said he planned to lead ‘a political revolt’. Holding up the 1993 wipeout of Canada’s Progressive Conservatives as a model, his ultimate ambition, he said, was to make Reform into the main opposition party.

The Tories have been an electoral force since the 1830s. Yet with Labour still 20 points ahead in the polls, Rishi Sunak managed to cloud the 80th anniversary of D-Day with a self-inflicted PR catastrophe. In the face of such Conservative failures, reducing the status quo to a pile of smoking rubble evidently strikes some as more exhilarating than the slow, boring work of politics-as-usual.

Voters and pundits, however, should think long and hard before picking up the sledgehammer of Reform. Smashing everything to pieces in the name of making a difference rarely goes well. The reinvention of the Republican party that followed the rise of Donald Trump offers a cautionary tale to set alongside what happened in Canada.

As Henry Hill argued in CapX this week, Farage may have set himself an impossible task. Can a handful (at best) of Reform MPs really mount a reverse takeover of a post-election Tory remnant dominated by Sunak loyalists, and do so without destroying Farage’s populist credentials in the process? The 1993 Conservative wipeout in Canada was followed by a decade of division on the political right before a workable coalition could be formed.

No one knows if Farage can reinvent the right, but in the process of trying, it seems likely he can hand Keir Starmer an even bigger landslide next month – a dangerous prospect. Starmer claims to have transformed the Labour party, but they are already showing worrying cracks in their business-friendly facade. A new attack ad from the party takes aim at Sunak’s past work for a hedge fund. Andrew Lilico laid out for CapX readers why the ad promotes misconceptions about how our economy works.

Sunak’s Conservatives, meanwhile, for all their flaws, have not only been taking Labour to task over their plans to raise tax, but putting forward policies that would make a real difference in people’s lives. Those include an annual immigration cap and family-friendly tax reforms, both of which draw on proposals from my colleagues at the Centre for Policy Studies.

What neither side seems to be offering is a big, optimistic vision that, as Scruton put it, celebrates what we have retained and articulates how to hold onto it. Margaret Thatcher knew how to do this better than most, and Eliot Wilson wrote about the lessons today’s Tories should learn from Thatcher’s upbeat clarity

This week we also featured a republished lecture from Thatcher herself – part of a new collection of essays to celebrate 50 years of the CPS – which sets out in stirring terms her case for defending the principles of liberty and limited government.

Alongside an allied appreciation for the liberating power of free market capitalism, these are the principles that CapX was founded to celebrate. A decade on, that task remains as vital as ever.

With so much at stake, it is both an honour and a huge challenge to take over the editorship of CapX. As I do so, since triple locks seem to be in vogue on the campaign trail, I want to offer our readers my own rock-solid, three-part guarantee.

Whatever happens next in the Westminster soap opera, this site will continue to gather the best arguments for freedom, for prosperity, and for a life-affirming optimism that, rather than burning things to the ground, wants to see Britain building again.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Marc Sidwell is Editor of CapX.