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Conservative policy

Has Thatcherite Toryism had its day?

Free markets and low taxes: Chancellor Nigel Lawson in 1984. Hulton Archive/Getty

“Do Conservatives still believe in capitalism?” asks Robert Shrimsley in the FT. For decades, Tories were unified behind the Thatcherite economics of free markets, private enterprise, lower taxes, deregulation and globalisation. Today, the party’s leading figures all have different ideas about Britain’s “anaemic growth” and how to fix it. Boris Johnson had a sound plan to invest in “skills, infrastructure, science and public services”, but when the pandemic hit, this “good-times project” was lost in the rubble of wrecked public finances. Liz Truss asked the right questions but reached “disastrously flawed” answers. And the new crop of more statist Red Wall Conservatives dislike globalisation and immigration, and want more social policies such as tax breaks for stay-at-home parents. What none of them offer, crucially, is a strategy to pay for any of this.

“The upshot is an inconsistent mess.” The battle with inflation is no longer enough to unify Tories. The only common ground is a desire to reskill the British workforce, part of “the Johnsonism they can no longer afford”. This isn’t confined to the UK – right-of-centre parties across the west have reacted to the collapse of their economic model by retreating into “nativism, traditionalist social policies and cultural conflicts”. What’s clear is that today’s Tories want a “new form of capitalism” that they cannot easily define, but which puts less stress on the free market. The big problem they face is that if the new economic model is “interventionist and social democratic”, other parties can offer that with much more conviction.