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UK politics

Is this really a Tory government?

A petrol station in Bury St Edmunds on Saturday. Edward Crawford/Sopa Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The centre in British politics is moving “stealthily, steadily to the left”, says Matthew Parris in The Times. The knee-jerk response to every problem has become: “What’s the government going to do about it?” And, increasingly, the response of the “chameleon” Tory party is: “We’re working on it.” What is it about the words “empty supermarket shelves this Christmas” that fills ministers with horror and media commentators with indignation? Will we starve if there’s no turkey? Do mince pies contain essential nutrients unavailable from other food sources? Surely as grown-up consumers we can just adjust our habits.

Conservatives used to believe in the free market. If you’re short of applicants for a job, you “raise the wage”. If there’s a fuel shortage, you let prices rise, because it will encourage more companies to supply fuel and prompt buyers to be sensible. Everyone understands the attraction of socialist intervention and state control, and occasionally it will prove necessary. But the voices that used to act as “counsel for the prosecution of statism” are silent. Events today may call for intervention, but “events always will”. The Conservatives used to resist that call. Now we’re getting a change of government without the formality of a general election.