Politics

A Philosophical Guide to Tory Evil

Why? Just why do they do it?
June 25, 2018, 8:45am
Photo: Clickpics / Alamy Stock Photo

Here are some things that happened last week. Three young men, graffiti artists, were found dead on the train tracks at Loughborough Junction, having been hit by a train. The chairman of Beckenham Town Conservatives, Brian Cooke, tweeted that the three men were "common scum and criminals who cost the railway millions and keep fares high". He has since been suspended by the local party.

Sir Christopher Chope, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, unanimously blocked the progress of a Private Members' Bill that would have made upskirting a criminal offence – ostensibly because he just hates Private Members' Bills.

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During a separate vote, over whatever Brexit bullshit the government is currently dithering about, Tory whips – faced with the possibility of a rebellion – refused to honour the convention of "nodding through" the votes of sick MPs. The result was that sick and heavily pregnant MPs – one in a wheelchair carrying a sick bucket – were required to physically pass through the Commons' voting lobbies (no, the quirky medievalism of our parliamentary system absolutely does not conspire with the evils of the present to enforce the privileges of an all-too-modern elite, why would you even think that it might?)

Theresa May, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has declined to condemn US President Donald Trump over his government's deliberate manufacturing of a humanitarian crisis – a crisis that in many ways simply represents an intensification of the logic of the same "tough" stance on immigration to which May owes her career.

I suppose you might be thinking: so what? Bears shit in forests, Popes are Catholic, the Tories are evil. It's just sort of the way of the world. We're never going to be able to do anything about it.

But that thought actually represents a big problem with UK politics. We're so used to the Tories being evil that, generally speaking, we just sort of accept it. Condemnations still happen, of course, but they feel exhausted, almost pointless, like complaining at the sea for moving with the tides. There's a reason Nick Clegg always got more hate for austerity than David Cameron or George Osborne: they were just doing what anyone would have expected them to do, while Clegg was still afforded some semblance of agency. Compare also how #FBPE types have started to see Jeremy Corbyn as more responsible for Brexit than Theresa May.

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In light of recent events, we need to ask something that no one is really asking, namely: given that the Tories are evil… why? Is there some coherent moral philosophy behind their actions, or do they just like to be bad?

THEORY 1: TORIES JUST LIKE POWER

Here, I think, is a popular explanation for why the Tories seem like they're so evil: they're not. They just really like power, and will do anything to cling onto it – no matter how nasty or underhand.

So the Tories will insist that sick MPs are rushed to Parliament from hospital to hurl into buckets as they vote. So they will enforce a violently stupid immigration policy in order to appeal to their voter base of frightened racists. So they will exploit a financial crisis to enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the general public. And so on and so forth.

But in a way I think this gives the Tories too much credit. On the one hand: yes, I'm sure there are Tories out there who see themselves as Machiavellian geniuses cynically exploiting the public's prejudices, and whatever other opportunities, for their own personal gain. But not all of them are like this.

Theresa May, for example, has consistently favoured a hard line on immigration, even when her views (as, for instance, over Windrush) clash with those of her base. This suggests that she really just might personally not like immigrants. Meanwhile, it is hard to see how something like Cooke's tweet, or Chope's blocking the upskirting bill, serve any sort of Machiavellian purpose.

THEORY 2: NECESSARY EVIL

An alternative explanation is that the Tories don't actually intend to do evil, they just think you need to do some things that look evil or nasty in order to bring about various positive effects. Take, for example, austerity: yes, a Tory supporter of the policy might admit, it's done a lot of damage to people's lives and communities – but it was necessary to rebuild the UK economy after the 2008 crash. After it's over, we'll all be a lot more prosperous as a result.

This sort of line has also been used to justify the Tories' failings over Brexit – witness the disasterism that is implicit in a doomed "No Deal" Brexit.

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But again, this theory seems like it's not going to be able to explain things like the Cooke tweet. Moreover, it leaves us with a puzzle: if the Tories are doing evil to pursue the good, then what do they actually value, and why? Where does the creative destruction stop and become simply creation? Is there really a coherent philosophy or plan here?

THEORY 3: EVIL IS AN END IN ITSELF

This leads us pretty directly to the third theory, which is that there is no coherent philosophy or plan for the "good" world Tories hope to bring about by pursuing evil, destructive policies – because they don't value good things at all. Instead, the Tories are just evil because they like being evil, and to this extent think that it is good. Perhaps they are all committed Nietzscheans, and as such conceive life as an endless struggle by the powerful to express their will over the powerless. As the self-consciously powerful, the "natural party of government", the Tories will always actively want to do things that seem – to weak people like us, with our "slave morality" – like they're bad.

But in a way this just re-states the problem that we started out with. The Tories are evil – that's it. Their evil, as a sort of natural fact about them, is thus radically incomprehensible – we just have to learn to live with it. But then we can no more blame the Tories for being evil than we can, you know, blame bears for shitting in the woods. This is not politically desirable at all.

THEORY 4: THERE'S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO BE BAD

So let's maybe try a different tack here. We've been trying to find one explanation for why the Tories seem like they're evil – but maybe that's impossible. Maybe different Tories are differently evil – for different reasons, in different situations.

Actually, considering the examples from this week, that seems pretty straightforwardly, empirically true. Sometimes the Tories do bad things to enforce or cling on to power. Sometimes they seek to use that power to bring about a better world they want through evil-seeming, destructive means. Sometimes they're just being nasty because they can.

Right now, the Tories are mostly all about petty, pointless evil. The Cooke tweet, the Chope thing, May's all-too-complicit silence over Trump. All go above and beyond anything they'd need to do in order to bring about a good world through creative destruction; all seem like they're, if anything, actively detrimental to the instrumental goal of clinging on to power.

And here's why I think this is. Let's compare the state of the Conservative party right now to that of the Thatcher years, or the coalition government. In both of those cases you had a confident, relatively united party with at least some semblance of democratic legitimacy. In such circumstances, the Tories were able to channel their evil energies towards some common purpose: dismantling the welfare state, for example. In this sense their behaviour more closely matched what you would expect under theory 2.

But currently, the Tories are unable to do this. Since the 2017 general election, the Tories have been paralysed by their own ineptitude, a state of affairs which is vastly compounded by the confusion over Brexit. And so they're lashing out. They're acting nastily, destructively, just to show that they can still act at all.

So, in a way, actually, if I'm right, this is really good news! Right now, the way in which the Tories are being evil suggests they're on their way out of power – indeed, that they've already basically lost it. The risk, of course, is that in realising this, we might just start feeling even less bothered to criticise it. Let's not fall into that trap. The Conservative party is on the brink of collapse – so let's keep pushing.

@HealthUntoDeath