The Decline and Fall of the Tory Empire

The last emperor of the Western Roman Empire was arguably Romulus Augustulus, whose reign began in 475 and ended in 476.  He was deposed by the Germanic barbarian chieftain Odoacer; according to legend, the warlord “took pity on (Augustulus’s) youth” and let him live. 

I’ve always wondered what the people around Romulus Augustulus thought; did they and the people who lived in the Roman Empire believe that the regime would revive and continue?  Could they not see that their world was coming to an end?  Or could they simply not conceive that there was an alternative to Rome?

Much of the leadership of the Conservative Party has supposedly been educated in the classics; Jacob Rees Mogg has used Latin on Twitter, Boris Johnson inappropriately used the word “Carthaginian” recently to describe Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement.  I wonder if their myopia is similar to those around Romulus Augustulus: their world is coming to an end and they don’t realise it.

The Conservative Party has some young, talented MPs: however, they are far too liberal for the party they represent.  They tend to be anti-Brexit, and thus despised by the party’s rank-and-file membership.  It says something that two of them, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, felt the need to abandon the Tories for the new Independent Group.  What remains is fiercely Eurosceptic and damn the consequences.

The consequences for the future of the Conservatives will be dire: young people are by and large Remain voters.  They generally do not vote Conservative; the Conservatives have given them no reason to change their opinion.  Promising to fill gaps in food supply with high fructose corn syrup and chlorinated chicken may have something to do with this.  It says much about Leave being an enthusiasm of a previous generation that they brought forth Tim Martin, the owner of Wetherspoon’s, who looks rather like “Father Jack” from “Father Ted”, as their spokesperson to appeal to young people.  Those young people who do support Leave appear to be dodgy, such as Darren Grimes who was fined £20,000 for helping illegally shift funds around in support of the Leave campaign.  Furthermore, there is no reliable economist who believes that leaving the EU will brighten the prospects of the young.   Indeed, they may diminish them, and on a personal as well as financial level. 

I have had the pleasure of teaching university courses: a number of my British students have formed relationships with partners that came from the European Union.  It was entirely possible for say, an English student to fall in love with a Polish one, and for them to live together in a cramped city bedsit for 6 months to see if their relationship was sufficient to withstand the accommodation.  Only true love survives sharing a bathroom and being elbow to elbow in a grimy kitchenette on a consistent basis.   Having endured, these couples would marry (or not), and in many cases, go on to have happy lives.  By dropping out of the European Union, this scenario has become more difficult.  Couples who already are together have had to fill out extensive forms so one or the other can remain in the cramped bedsit and leave their half-empty bottle of shampoo next to the drain.  Young people will remember this on top of the other more practical difficulties: finding their blue passport requires going into the longer queue, finding jobs are scarcer, finding that good food is more expensive, garbage food is all that can be afforded.   Why would they vote for the party that visited this misfortune upon them?  Why would they vote Conservative?

Brexit is only part of the picture: it is clear that the outer limits of free market ideology were reached long ago.  The Economist ran a cover not long ago decrying the “Rise of Millennial Socialism”.  There is a reason why Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn appeal to the young: return to the couple in the cramped city bedsit.  Their prospects of being to save up enough for a home are bleak, and they are saddled with debt to pay for the education which enabled them to get a job which paid for the bedsit at all.  Meanwhile, they can easily see how wealth and power is being concentrated into a smaller group of people at the apex of the economic pyramid.  These new economic overlords do not feel the same sense of obligation as the “Robber Barons” of the 19th century did to give back to society in the form of public works: for example, thanks to Andrew Carnegie, we have Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Mellon University.  There is no Bezos University being built in the Lincolnshire fens.

It’s also not a free market.  A free market implies that a superior product would overtake an inferior one once it was available.  If someone had a better idea than Amazon, they would find it tough going to get it deployed: first, they wouldn’t have the scale.  Second, they would likely have to pay their full tax bill, as opposed to Amazon which can shift its assets across the world to avoid paying anything.  If the entrepreneur with a better idea than Amazon failed, the heavy hand of the state would be upon them to find any paid employment; Amazon gets courted and feted by governments begging for their investment.  Rather than a “free” market, ours is a captive system, which was heavy on the laissez faire, to the point that it ignored lessons from statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt who taught that capitalism needed to be tightly controlled, lest the public suffer.  Never mind: the economic policies of the Conservatives appear to be based on the premise of paying lip service to the worries of the young and then promptly doing nothing about them.  Again, why would any young person vote for this?

The Tories may comfort themselves with the thought that as people get older, they tend to become more conservative in outlook.  That is more likely to be true in a scenario of younger people settling down and accumulating wealth: the aforementioned policies of the Conservative Party are making that nearly impossible.  Again, there is no incentive.

I once told a Conservative that Brexit had meant that they had eaten their future all in one sitting.  He didn’t care for my saying this, but he didn’t argue.  I have to wonder if someone at one of Romulus Augustulus’ feasts stood up from the table and said, “Stop, stop, cannot you not see our world is dying?”  If they did, I haven’t yet found a reference to it.  I suspect that such a person would have been a minority, surrounded by people who were still picking the choicest bits off the carcass of the regime that was perishing in front of them.  Eventually, there is nothing left to consume; Odoacer comes knocking at the door and doesn’t always take pity.  Time runs out, things pass.  The end of the Tory Empire is in sight: yes, the blue rosettes are still pinned to lapels, the MPs still hold their seats, they still have grand offices of state and are whisked to meetings in large black automobiles.  But what is certain today turns to dust unless one is willing to adapt to the present and future.  The Conservative Party has shown no willingness to do so.  Sic gloria transit mundi.

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