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Opinion

The last days of Frome

28 Apr 2024 5 minute read
‘Hints for warm climates’ by Wellcome Trust (CC BY 4.0) adapted by Sarah Morgan Jones

Ben Wildsmith

Dan Poulter’s defection from the Conservatives to Labour marks a new stage in the party’s descent towards oblivion. He won’t be the last rat to flee the ship, leaving Rishi Sunak perched on the stern like Leonardo Dicaprio in sliders.

In retrospect, it was always on the cards that Boris Johnson would bring about the death of the Conservative Party.

He has lived his life as a human wrecking ball, destroying all around him as bystanders felt compelled to watch in rapt horror.

He’s cheap entertainment, though, a YouTube compilation of car crashes with a comedy voiceover.

The party’s decision to let him bluster through the endless difficulties of Brexit, brushing them off with flippant jingoism was short-sighted in itself but when the pandemic blew in on his watch, the party’s innate superficiality was laid bare for all to see.

‘Aspiration’

Serious conservatism was always paternalistic. The Harold Macmillan style of patrician governance recognised the responsibility implied by privilege.

Whilst the lower orders were to be kept well away from the family silver, they should be allowed their comforts and recognised for the work they had done.

That all ended with Margaret Thatcher’s middle-class insistence on ‘aspiration’ as the prime national virtue.

After 1979, the poor man at his gate was assumed willing to put in 20-hour days to dislodge the rich man in his castle and encouraged so to do. Aristocratic disdain for effort and professionalism seemed to have disappeared forever beneath a tidal wave of mercantile vulgarity.

Grouse moors acquired gift shops and Alan Sugar raced up the ranks of nobility like a bulldog with a dab of Colman’s mustard on its arse.

Governance by toff

The return of governance by toff, in 2010, came as a profound shock to me. Whilst Blair’s government contained plenty of privilege, with John Prescott retained as a sort of mascot for the proletariat, it was desperate to play down embarrassingly comfortable origins.

Yes, Blair had been to Fettes but his schtick was determinedly of the people. John Major, meanwhile, actually was of the people. He liked frozen peas, apparently. Imagine!

So, how was it that David Cameron and George Osborne managed, at a stroke, to turn us back into a feudal society?

Not only did they sweep into power with unashamed received pronunciation and famously grand family histories, their policies overtly penalised anybody unfortunate enough to be asset-poor. It wasn’t even sugar-coated. Austerity was imposed on the nation from a great social height and, in England, they put up with it and voted for more.

Watching in the wings, meanwhile, Boris Johnson could see his path clearing.

If the English electorate would put up with the faux-paternalist, take-your-medicine arrogance of Cameron and Osborne then surely the full end-of-the-pier poshboy act he’d spent his life perfecting, complete with scattergun Latin and comedy hairdo, was bound to succeed.

English psyche

The road from John Major to Johnson travels through the English psyche and reveals a nation that never grew up. Major is a recognisable character from any walk of life.

Essentially decent, he tried hard, didn’t sell himself very effectively, and left high office quietly. There are people like him in every workplace.

He represents an authentic version of southern English masculinity. What he didn’t represent was the wild fantasies of imaginary England.

Whilst a walk through Reading or Basingstoke might see you encounter a hundred John Majors bimbling round Marks & Sparks in their Saturday slacks, you would need a psychotherapist to show you the forces that unleashed Boris Johnson on to the world stage.

Much has been made of his supposed imitation of Churchill. That, however, is to underestimate the depth of the delusion to which he was playing.

The cultural touchstone he was really invoking was, I can reveal, Henry VIII.

Dishonest exceptionalism

All English insanity springs from the idea of this gluttonous, vicious despot around whom an industry of dishonest exceptionalism has revolved for centuries.

A class system which devolves all drudgery downwards produces a peculiar sort of longing.

Your personal potential might be limited to becoming Assistant Manager in charge of haberdashery in the Bournemouth branch of Dunelm, but the wildness in you, the bit that might look smokily at Edwina Currie, dreams of medieval rampage.

Johnson – amoral, sexually incontinent, rich, lucky, and ultimately accountable to nobody – can live that for you.

Now that the rampage is over and Rishi Sunak is picking through the wreckage looking for anything still intact that he can offer to the electorate, I wonder where that impulse will find its next conduit.

Collateral victim

There will be a few years of Starmerite dreariness during which some repairs will be undertaken, but soon enough the fantasists will be bored and looking for a new psychopathic overlord to brighten up their serfdom.

There’s some debate over whether Cymru was or is a colony. My belief is that it certainly was.

Nowadays, it is more accurately the collateral victim of a nation destroying itself.

The death throes of the Conservative Party will reveal a wider malaise in England. Its sense of self is as fragile as it is preposterous.


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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
26 days ago

What a great picture show rats fleeing a sinking ship. There’s a connection between Rishy Sunak & Emperor Nero, I feel. Both fiddled as the Britain/Rome burned. Part of being a Tory I suppose. Scorched earth policy. Roll on the general election. It can’t come soon enough.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
26 days ago

When Jenrick, Dowden or both were verbally enforcing the flying of the Union Flag over public buildings, something that was generally happening anyway, you just knew that the Empire was dying. The desperate orders they screamed trumpeted it. These people have hastened it thankfully due to their diplomatic ineptitude. The image of the British bulldog they love to keep selling us has given way to the bared snarling teeth of a rabid beast beyond indentification. The notice must read ‘Do not resuscitate’. Peace will follow.

Annibendod
Annibendod
26 days ago

You have a way with words Ben I’ll give you that! Raised many a laugh there. On a serious note, we’re all suffering for that hurt English/anglo-British psyche that “won two world wars and had an empire” but now finds itself, confusingly, a bit part player with precious little influence on world events. Great England *cough* (Did I say England? I meant …) Britain, embarrasingly a misnomer not able to live up to the boastful semantic shift of a bygone era. Imperial Britain, built by a working class powered industry, now a manifest failure, the working classes shafted by capitalists… Read more »

John Davies.
John Davies.
25 days ago

Excellent article. Thank you. The analysis is clear and, I think, mostly correct.

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
25 days ago

I worry about Jenrick in particular. There is something particularly creepy about him. Browsing his Wikipedia, it sounds like he’s one step below the true toffs in the class hierarchy, still private school (Wolverhampton Grammar) but not with blue link parents on Wiki (although one of his houses is!). If he survives the wipeout in the election he has a chance.

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