The Decline and Fall of the Conservative Party

"Unless Popular Conservatism succeeds as it deserves, and Swift believes it will, that is a future that ends not with freedom but with poverty."


"It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind."

(So Edward Gibbon wrote in his memoirs. He went to Swift’s own grammar school – albeit briefly – a fact of which Swift is very, perhaps inordinately, proud.)

But let us examine Gibbon’s magisterial prose in a little more detail.

We have the Capitol (not just the central hill of the seven of Rome, but a place of great political and religious significance), in ruins.

We have the friars, who have snaffled the Temple of Jupiter. (And as every schoolboy used to know, Gibbon believed that the advent of official Roman Christianity – dated roughly to AD330- was at least in part the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire (founded 31BC, deceased AD476).)

They are deliberately described as barefooted. This is not just a turn of speech. It is a reminder to the readers of the contrast between the glories of Rome Imperial, and the poverty of Rome Religious.

As Swift watched and read the debate over the smoking restrictions, he was irresistibly reminded of Gibbon’s words.

Why? Because the mere details of who can smoke or not, who can buy vapes or not, who can advertise burgers or not, who can bet or not, are themselves trivial. None of these policy choices will be effective, and some – such as the ban on single-use vapes – will actually be harmful. Others will increase crime. They will be thus as powerful as the vespers sung by those long ago friars. But they make a good headline, however deluded they might be.

What matters much more is that these policies are now either promoted or supported by many Conservative MPs (not all, there are honourable exceptions).

These are Conservatives who have forgotten what the party used to, and should, stand for:

Letting people choose how to run their own lives, spend their own money, eat and drink what they want – and frankly be happier as a result

Being deeply suspicious of those who believe state organisations know better, and therefore reducing their influence on personal freedom at every opportunity

Wanting and electing representatives who stand for personal choice as a default, not a second best, because bigger government is inevitably less effective than a public administration focused on what really matters : defence, land and order, border security, freedom of speech and so forth

Above all, recognising that the growth national prosperity has, will, and always will come from allowing people to influence the economy and their society through choice, entrepreneurship and spending their own money, and not from tax.

The present Conservative Party horribly resembles the ruins of the Capitol and the fallen Temple of Jupiter as Gibbon saw them.

Present day Tories are living amidst the noble ruins of a vanished past, in which Conservatives were synonymous with choice and freedom, and gave voice to the majority of voters who would rather, thank you very much, run their own lives.

Conservatives have to wake up. Too many MPs have conceded the ground to the interventionists. They have forgotten the very philosophy under which the party was born.They have left their voters behind in the pursuit of vanity.

Unless Popular Conservatism succeeds as it deserves, and Swift believes it will, that is a future that ends not with freedom but with poverty.

As my great namesake, the Dean himself, pointed out:all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.’ We are edging that way. Let us change course while it is not too late.