‘Tories and Labour are becoming more and more similar – but not quite the same,’ writes Professor James Woudhuysen

Rishi Sunak/Keir Starmer

‘Tories and Labour are becoming more and more similar – but not quite the same,’ writes Professor James Woudhuysen

James Woudhuysen

By James Woudhuysen

Published: 15/05/2024

- 19:32

Professor Woudhuysen questions whether the British public has lost faith in politics

Are the Tories and Labour just similar versions of each other? Has the British public lost faith in politics?

Cards on the table: the Tories and Labour are more and more similar – but not quite the same. And the British public has certainly lost faith in parliamentary politics – yet it’s more politically minded than at any time since the Thatcher era.

The circus around Natalie ‘selfish’ Elphicke and Sir Keir Starmer shows that Labour will do anything – really, anything – to get elected.

Yes, Starmer lacks principle, likes to flip-flop, and craves media adulation. But when Labour’s Wes Streeting claimed that a victory for Susan Hall, the Tories’ unsuccessful candidate for London mayor, would be a win for white supremacists, he confirmed that Labour has only smears to offer against the Tories, not real political differences.

StarmerSir Keir Starmer PA

Or take the Tories. Like Labour, Foreign Secretary David Cameron wants a ceasefire in Gaza – allowing Hamas to live to fight another day. The Tories give tickings-off, no more, to the fellow travellers of Hamas, to Just Stop Oil and to Stonewall. They agree with Labour on the rectitude of the United Nations and Joe Biden, on the need to cosy up to Brussels and to French president Emmanuel Macron, and on the unimpeachable professionalism of our own civil service. Like Labour, too, they are at best ambivalent on free speech. About controlling immigration and boosting economic growth, they prefer rhetoric to real action.

Contrary to some on the Right, though, the Conservatives do not now embody Socialism. They may favour nationalising the railways or Thames Water; but ownership of industrial sectors by a plainly incompetent, top-down state bureaucracy isn’t socialism – any more than high taxes and high public expenditure are.

Originally, socialism was about people power, free speech, democracy and liberation. But like Labour, the Tories’ instincts are for outsourcing political decisions to EU-friendly ‘experts’, and for silencing dissent. Churchill’s famous motto – ‘Trust the people’ – is well behind them.

So what are the differences? The categories Left and Right emerged after the French Revolution of 1789. In the 21st century, they’re outdated. The key distinction today is between democrats and authoritarians – with both Tories and Labour in the latter camp.

SunakRishi SunakGetty

Yet while the Tories are a spent force, Labour is seen as the lesser evil. I thought I’d never agree with Neil Kinnock, but he is right on one thing: Starmer is unloved by the masses. Of course, many of Britain’s youthful voters have never suffered under a Labour government, and wish for a release. But they will find out the hard way that Labour shares with the Tories a great distance from and contempt for the masses – especially the working class.

Taking a leaf from the SNP, Labour will want to dictate how we eat, what we say in our own homes, how children must be worshipped – and how it’s parents who really deserve lessons. Labour will intensify the Tories’ war on the car, and will penalise airline travel. Should she become chancellor, Labour’s Rachel Reeves will say that UK debt demands that strikes are repressed more firmly than the Tories. Starmer and Streeting will flirt with the youth and uphold every passing fad. Meanwhile, a Labourite, Rejoiner media will portray every critic as ‘Far Right’.

In fact, the great philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) said it all about the dilemma before us. ‘Those who choose the lesser evil’, she wrote, ‘forget very quickly that they chose evil’.

After a time, the great, much-reviled British public will see the good sense in her words. It will have its own reckoning with the evil that is Labour.

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