Hands up who wants to live in SuperCanada? It is just like Canada but it has bridges to everywhere and really cheap, chlorinated chicken for all. No? Ok, how about Singapore-Upon-Thames? Or Switzerland-by-Sea? Or the Hidden Kingdom of the Second Camelot?
If conservatism is primarily the product of scepticism and caution when it comes to Utopianism, then the Conservative Party has forgotten its purpose. Or, at least, the grassroots have. Theresa May and her dwindling band of loyalists at least try to live in the dialectic of reality. ‘Chequers’ might have been rejected by antagonists in the EU and in her own party, but it at least was an attempt to engage with Brexit as an iterative progression from where we are now. The alternatives – lapped up by the Party rank and file – do not do this. They paint, broad brush and often abstract, romantic (religious, even) visions of a future untethered to today.
As in America, the pragmatic caution of Britain’s party of the right has given way to fervour. Fiscal caution is out. Bridges are in. Who needs trade when you can dance a jig around the maypole in celebration of Britain achieving its deeper, Gnostic destiny? Business? Well, as the former Foreign Secretary has explained, “f**k business”.
Theresa May is kept in office by those around her – MPs, donors, staffers – who are terrified of the alternative. They see Farage and Davis and Johnson – an alliance whether they confess it or not – touring the country, selling Arthur and Avalon to the masses. They know what a disaster this could be. They see a future where business has acquiesced to Boris Johnson’s demands and has left for safer shores, where Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour looks sane enough when stood against the frenzied blue-rinse brigade, where the young view the Tory Party not with apathy but with hatred. They hope that a soft Brexit – something like Chequers, something grounded in reality – might stem the flow of reason. Maybe we could get back to normal. Maybe Rees-Mogg would pipe down. Maybe Boris would run out of steam. That’s their gamble. That’s why she is addressing this party conference as Prime Minister, still, despite last year’s… nightmare.
But a gamble it is. And a risky one at that. Because in Birmingham this week you can feel a boiling rage that will not be satisfied until this country is transformed. It’s a sort of self-loathing – what self-respecting patriot wants Britain to be more like Canada? – but it is directed not internally but outside. At metropolitan Britain. At foreigners. At doubters and bureaucrats. And it is unlikely to be quenched without a reckoning. Tories used to believe they were the natural party of government. Increasingly they see themselves as the natural party of revolution. It’s unlikely to end well.