For the sake of my mental health, I refuse to talk about politics in public and maintain a Trappist monk like silence on any social media accounts that I have. I have heard of enough horror stories about people falling victim to the mob rule of Twitter or being unfriended and blocked on Facebook for having the temerity to voice their own personal views on social media. The irony is that these people who would join the mob or unfriend those who are in opposition to them are the first to preach about “kindness” and sprout meaningless platitudes about said virtue.
My silence is also part of my strong view of the sacredness of the secret ballot. I am of the view that others must never know if a) I have voted and b) who I voted for. Over a hundred years ago, several men fought for the right for the individual to be able to cast their votes in secret without any fear of intimidation and other threats to their person and property. The right to vote is important but so is to be able to exercise it without any fear and threats because of their choice.
But I digress. This recent General Elections have been quite interesting for me not only because of the historic nature of the result but also the lead up to the 12th of December and its aftermath has revealed a few parallels with the past. As they always say history repeats itself and it’s fascinating to see how they have repeated itself in astonishing patterns.
The first is the now former Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson assuming the Curzonian mantle of being tone deaf to the needs, wants and aspirations of voters. In 1885, George Nathaniel Curzon stood as the Conservative candidate for South Derbyshire but was soundly defeated by the Liberal candidate Henry Wardle who held the seat until his death in 1892. Many of his biographers and historians have observed that qualities that made Curzon a successful administrator were a liability when it came to politics. Harold Nicolson for example wrote that Curzon was uninterested in domestic issues and this certainly played a part in his defeat in 1885. Leonard Mosley summed it up well below:
“Curzon had not yet learned the lesson – and, in fact, he never did learn it – that the way to a voter’s heart at election-time is through his stomach or his pocket, and that in South Derby they did not care a fig what was happening in India or the Middle East but were desperately concerned at the fact that income tax had recently gone up from sixpence to eightpence.” (p. 35)
I see the same parallels with Swinson. Not only was she intransigent with the wish to overturn the result of the 2016 EU membership referendum but also she tried to appeal to the “woke” crowd with her proposals regarding the issue of transgenderism. There was virtually nothing about what her party would do for ordinary people and their bread and butter concerns. To paraphrase Mosley, the voters did not care a fig about gender issues and using the right pronouns and Swinson seemingly did not bother to appeal to the voters’ stomach or pocket. More damaging in the eyes of many voters was her unwillingness to respect the majority vote in 2016; something wags pointed out was ironic considering that her party is called “Liberal Democrats.”
Even when she lost Swinson simply said that she was proud that her party “stood up for openness, generosity and hope” but nothing about why they slumped into their worst performance in years and why voters were not attracted to what the Liberal Democrats had to offer. It seemed to me that like Curzon, she viewed that the voters were “unworthy” of her.
The second is the historic win of Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party which was significant in a sense that many of the seats that the Conservative Party won have either not have any Conservative MP for many decades even a century or ever had Conservative MP since the constituency was created. This meant that the so-called “Red Wall” that stretched from the north of England to Wales which was one of Labour’s strongholds had turned blue.
Part of Johnson’s success was due to his slogan of “Get Brexit Done” as the majority of those in the so-called “Red Wall” had voted to leave the European Union back in 2016. He also appealed to those outside the big cities by focusing on domestic issues such as jobs, infrastructure, investment and crime as well as understanding that these communities were at heart patriotic, yearned for social cohesion and wanted greater control over their own destiny.
Johnson’s campaign strategies as well as his historic victory made me think of his similarities with an earlier Conservative Prime Minister – Benjamin Disraeli – and it seems like I’m not the only one who has made this link, as a few journalists and political pundits have done the same. The phrase “One Nation Conservatism” has regularly been bandied about since the Johnson’s win. Like Johnson, Disraeli was a writer who rose partly to fame off the back of his “Young England” trilogy (Coningsby, Sybil and Tancred) where he outlined his political philosophy whereby the “two nations” despite their differences were united by shared values and institutions. Through Disraeli’s efforts, the Conservative Party became a national and popular force, by marrying the enactment of social policy, aspiration and patriotism as a way for social cohesion.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson Portrait
It has been pointed out time and again the social legislation (such as the Public Health Act of 1875, the Education Act of 1876 and a new Factory Act to protect workers among others) passed under Disraeli’s ministry as hallmarks of his One Nation philosophy. However in recent years some historians and biographers have questioned if Disraeli was really sincere or was it political opportunism. As his recent biographers Douglas Hurd and Edward Young have asserted, Disraeli was not a believer of achieving a more classless society and his moves to get the Second Reform Bill passed were more of a way to outflank the rival Liberal Party. However as both Hurd and Young have acknowledged, Disraeli recognised the need for change both for the party and for the country:
“[B]ut rather than ran this change down their throats as [Robert] Peel have done, he chose to persuade and cajole his colleagues into moving to more sensible positions……to Disraeli’s great credit, the Conservative party has maintained a general flexibility, which has served it well through to this day. Crises are there to be countered; opportunities to be taken with whatever tools come to hand. The key, then as now, is to maintain a Conservative approach which is open to reform and progress; the idea had been Peel’s, but it took Disraeli’s wit to carry it out.” (p. 262)
Boris Johnson himself has seemingly internalised this lesson with regards to carrying the rest of the Conservative party with him and winning over many working class votes. Whether he succeeds in holding on these working class votes is open to speculation but the recent Queen’s speech where the government has announced policies that included greater investment in areas outside the big cities and increased budget for research and development outside the troika of London, Oxford and Cambridge seems to demonstrate Johnson’s commitment to Britain as a whole and the revival of Disraeli’s vision of the Conservative Party as a national party.
Leonard Mosley. Curzon: The End of an Epoch (London, 1960)
Harold Nicolson. Curzon: The Last Phase 1919-1925 (London, 1934)
David Gilmour. Curzon: Imperial Statesman (London, 1994; republished 2019)
Nayana Goradia. Lord Curzon: The Last of the British Moghuls (New Delhi, 1993)
Jonathan Parry. Disraeli (Oxford, 2007)
Robert Blake. Disraeli (London, 1966)
Christopher Hibbert. Disraeli: A Personal History (London, 2004)
Douglas Hurd & Edward Young. Disraeli or the Two Lives (London, 2013)