I, like many in the Conservative Party, was incredibly proud of our commitment to marriage equality, and though I was admittedly upset that it was not supported by the majority of the parliamentary party, I saw the obtuse opposition of the majority as nothing more than a token of socially conservative antagonism by MPs such as Philip Hollobone, Peter Bone, and Christopher Chope to prove that their ideology is not in its final death throes. Unfortunately, however, it seems that they were absolutely right, and the recent ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ shows that the draconian social conservatism is far from dead.
Reading through the terrifyingly authoritarian 42-Bill programme put forth by what has been termed the ‘Tory Taliban’ made me sigh in audible despair, and once again consider my position within the Conservative Party. From a Sarkozy-esque burkha ban to a reintroduction of capital punishment to a privatisation of the BBC, the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ has it all, coupling the unwelcome socially authoritarian policies with the certainly welcome economically liberal policies, with that token injection of Thatcher worship as they pledge to rename the annual August Bank Holiday after her which even I, an unashamed Thatcherite, admit goes just that one step too far.
Politically, it’s a rather confusing move. It’s difficult to work out whether this is a grasp at the reins of the Conservative Party’s ideology, a genuine commitment to social conservatism, yet more ‘running scared’ from the ‘ever-growing popularity’ of UKIP, or even just some very positioning for the 2015 General Election. However, for whichever reason this programme of legislation has been proposed, it’s clear that these dinosaurs of the Conservative Party are far from extinction, and seem only to be growing in strength, ideological belief, and number.
Their policy programme is not entirely unwelcome, though one must venture through the rather dark forest of draconian objectives before finding even a glimmer of any sound, achievable, publicly acceptable aims. The privatisation of the BBC and the decriminalisation of not paying the licence fee is something which would not look entirely out of place in the manifesto of a truly libertarian party, but as has previously been mentioned, these policies are coupled with such reactionary ideas that to support the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ wholly would be unthinkable.
Typically of Messrs Bone and Hollobone, the European Union and its relationship with the UK features prominently, with laws being drafted detailing how the UK would leave the EU, and also a piece of legislation to prevent the combined populations (according the Nigel Farage) of both Bulgaria and Romania having new rights to work, live and claim welfare here from next year when the ‘floodgates’ are opened. However, the prominence of the EU within their forty-two pieces of legislation seems somewhat misplaced at the moment, especially with David Cameron’s promise of an EU Referendum in 2017, should he win a majority in 2015. Indeed, funnily enough, the ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ was released at near enough the same time as the Conservatives kick started the ‘Let Britain Decide’ campaign, allowing the British people to ‘co-sponsor’ James Wharton’s Bill, even if only ceremonially.
Peter Bone, one of the main architects, said that ‘this is a serious attempt to deliver policies that the British public really want’, again consolidating the fact that what the document’s authors are doing is seeking popularity for the Conservative Party, though of course still rooting it in ideological commitment. However, I’m not entirely sure that Peter Bone quite understands the mood of the British public, as the reactionary policies put forth, except perhaps those pertaining to the European Union, and, according to some polling data, the Bill reinstating capital punishment, are often ones that are stereotypical of an authoritarian government; rather than those of a liberal democracy, something which most of the British people are proud to be a part of.
However obscure the political aims of the ‘Tory Taliban’, their legislative priorities are clear, and they are very unfortunate priorities to say the very least. Banning the burkha, reintroducing the death penalty, and subjecting basic civil rights to a referendum are policies that I, and most of the Conservative membership, hoped to be a thing of the past, but it seems that their legislative agenda is not simply going to disappear. Again, like many members of the party, I hoped that one day we may return to a manifesto of low taxes, personal freedom, and a liberalised economy, but that dream may be far further into the future than any libertarian Conservative would have hoped.