[A conservative is someone who] “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it”.
So said William F. Buckley Jr.
I say he is wrong. Conservatives don’t yell ‘stop!’, they yell ‘reverse!’
It’s the beginning of a new year, when traditionally we look forward to the future, and hope for better times. But there is not a lot of optimism going around in the UK these days, with the country having gone downhill in the last 12 years under conservative rule, and the conservatives seem in no hurry to call a general election. Their policies are designed to make life more austere and take us back to a time when we had fewer rights, undoing so much progress that people have struggled so hard for over the years.
A quick lesson from America
Recently in the United States, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 1973 court case which made abortion legal, taking America back almost 50 years. One of the right-wing justices, Clarence Thomas, said the court should also reconsider Griswold v Connecticut (contraception for married couples, 1965), Lawrence v Texas (made same-sex sexual activity legal, 2003), and Obergefell v Hodges (same sex marriage, 2015). He did not mention a similarly-decided case, Loving v Virginia (interracial marriage, 1967) — perhaps because overturning that would make his own marriage illegal. Wisconsin decided to go further and resuscitate an 1849 abortion law.
Back in 1973, males exerted a great of control over women; not only abortion, birth control and who they could marry, but also whether or not they could own a credit card. Help wanted ads were segregated by gender, discrimination by race was rampant.
The Supreme Court also gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with their Shelby County v. Holder decision of 2013 and Republican legislatures and officials are making it as hard as possible for people to vote — particularly those who might vote for Democrats. They are also disregarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which tackled discrimination.
In 2010 the Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. FEC ruled that money is free speech, which is guaranteed in the First Amendment. This opened the floodgates of the rich being able to buy politicians and sway the public with ads, overruling laws from 1990 and 2003.
The Republican party worked very hard to stay in power long enough to pack the Supreme Court and lower courts with their own judges so they could turn back the clock in America. They are following the playbook laid out in a memo” by Lewis F. Powell Jr. in 1971, who joined the Supreme Court the following year.
So, American politicians want to take America back at least 60 years to the 1960s, when birth control first became available, and in some cases much further.
American and British conservatives belong to same club
Britain, America and Australia have been shifted to the right by the newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has the ear of many senior conservatives and of Donald Trump. Former prime minister of Australia Kevin Rudd called this a “Cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy”. Murdoch bought The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the now-defunct News of the World and The Wall Street Journal among many other papers. He also owns Fox News in the US and used to own Sky.
“Tufton Street” is shorthand for the right wing think tanks which are headquartered in 55 Tufton Street in London or nearby. In 2018, Chloe Farand and Mat Hope documented many links between American and British Libertarian groups. They used their money and influence to promote Brexit so that they could undo many of the regulations we had, with our European allies, enacted to protect us from pollution, etc. Liz Truss surrounded herself with advisors from Tufton street. The result was a disaster according to Martin Brooks.
American Steve Bannon, who wants to rewrite the American constitution, was heavily involved in Brexit and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. American billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer influenced Liz Truss’ Conservative Cabinet.
Conservatives are sending Britain tumbling backwards today, as you read this
We are heading back to 1928 when with the Representation of the People Act 1928 it became legal for men or women to vote whether or not they had property or were heads of households. The age limit was lowered to 18 with the Representation of the People Act 1969. With the Elections Act 2022 the Tory government has given itself new powers over the formerly independent Electoral Commission and requires voters to show photographic ID. According to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report, this will lead to around 1.1 million people not voting. This will include 18–20 year olds as their ID may not be on the list of valid kinds of ID, even when it is the same as that of older people.
The National Health Service was launched in 1948. According to its constitution, its aim is for excellent treatment to be available to all based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay. Danny Boyle, the director of the 2012 London Summer Olympics opening ceremony which included an NHS segment called it “the institution which more than any other unites our nation”. It used to be the envy of the world, but under Tories it has slipped down the rankings, and now is in a dire state. This is due to underfunding — Britain’s spending was 15th per capita in 2020 and lower in previous years. Much of that spending went to private contracts, and a lot was wasted because they were given to cronies rather than those with experience of delivering the goods and services. Now people who are too poor to order private ambulances or taxies struggle to get to A&E and those who cannot afford to go private have long waits for treatment, which leads to some dying and others deteriorating or unable to go back to work.
Hopefully we are not headed back to the days of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, but the Tories’ reactions to various current strikes is reminiscent of the UK miners’ strike (1984–85) when, far from representing the people, the then conservative government set out to break the unions, thereby reserving more power for itself.
While the conservatives cannot be blamed for the COVID pandemic (though their handling of it leaves a lot to be desired), but there has been a doubling of scurvy, the preventative for which earned British sailors the nickname ‘limey’ in the 19th century. Polio has also returned for the first time since the 1970s
Abortion has been legal in the UK, with restrictions, since the Abortion Act of 1967. Since October, the minister for women is a Tory MP who backed cutting the abortion time limit.
In the US Republicans focused on appointing as many right wing judges in the courts and justices in the Supreme Court so that they would win their way (see above for examples). The UK Supreme Court has not been politically appointed since its inception in 2009. Outgoing Supreme Court President Lady Hale has warned against the UK copying the US when the Tories review the “relationship between the government, Parliament and the courts”. The Supreme Court has less power than in the US.
The Supreme Court can declare legislation incompatible with one of the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) though this does not overturn the legislation. The ECHR, of which the UK was a founder member, entered into force on 3 September 1953. Some Tories want the UK to leave the ECHR, which would take away a lot of rights, in particular so they can go ahead with their plan to deport people they consider illegal immigrants to Rwanda, though the prime minister refuses to confirm he intends to do so.
I am writing this article on 1 January 2023, which is the 50th anniversary of Britain joining the European Union. The Tories dragged us out of it. With the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022, they intend to sunset all EU laws still on the books in the UK on 31st December 2023 unless they specifically incorporate them into law. There are at least 3,800 laws, so they cannot possibly review more than a fraction of them so we will lose many of the rights and protections gained in the last 50 years, including the right to live and work in EU countries. Businesses face much more paperwork, more delays when importing or exporting, and uncertainty over laws — which may be made worse if the Tories introduce new laws that are not compatible with EU laws.
Charles Dickens’ novella, “A Christmas Carol”, was published on 19 December 1843. As Britain suffers more austerity under Tories, people are finding it hard to feed their families or heat their homes, while misers like Scrooge are flourishing, just like his childhood experiences and the people he wrote about in the book.
90 years ago in 1932 there was a mass trespass on Kinder Scout demanding the right of the people to roam. It was not until 2000 that the right was put into law in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Now, not only is a landowner challenging the legal basis of bylaws that allow for wild camping on Dartmoor, but also Tories have put plans for investment zones whose boundaries include large chunks of national parks, potentially stripping away many regulations aimed at protecting them.
1858 was very hot, and the Thames was biologically dead and stank due to sewage. So London built a sewage system which we still use today, and in time the Thames was thriving, eventually being recognised as one of the cleanest rivers in Europe. The London blitz was a setback, but from 1976 all sewage entering the Thames was treated, and laws were passed between 1961 and 1995 to raise water quality standards. But privatised water companies have been pumping sewage into rivers and the ocean, and last year Tories voted against an amendment to stop them, and the government has pushed back the date for cleaning up the waterways to 2063.
So, how far back do you think Britain is headed?
- 2009 when the Supreme Court was established, with politicians having no say in the choice of judges?
- 2000 when we gained the right to roam?
- 1984 and the Miner’s Strike?
- 1976 when all sewage going into the Thames was treated?
- 1973 when we joined the EU?
- 1967 when current abortion rules were established?
- 1953 when we joined the ECHR?
- 1948 when the NHS was founded?
- 1928 when everyone could vote?
- The 1800s, when scurvy was rife in sailors and Charles Dickens was writing “A Christmas Carol”?
Or even back to 1707, when Scotland joined the Union?
Or do you have another date in mind?