Prime minister Theresa May closed a Conservative Party conference of hard right wing policies by laying out her “vision” in a speech today, Wednesday.
She said that after the “quiet revolution” of Brexit she would set out “towards the new centre ground of British politics”.
Some centre ground.
May’s speech followed home secretary Amber Rudd having to insist, “Don’t call me a racist”, after floating a plan to make business give out lists of their migrant workers.
Rudd also talked about clamping down on foreign university students—while the key for health secretary Jeremy Hunt was having fewer foreign doctors.
Before that May and her defence secretary Michael Fallon had pledged to give British soldiers a licence to kill and torture with immunity from human rights laws.
May paid lip service to the NHS and made much of confronting “the way a small number of businesses behave”. But apart from reiterating David Cameron’s unconvincing promise to crack down on tax evasion, this was all reheated nationalism and racism against migrants.
Her vision of a hard done by worker is “someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration”. Not someone who’s out of work or on lower wages because of years of Tory austerity and bosses’ brutal attacks.
Her vision of bosses’ obligations is “the social contract that says you train up local young people before you take on cheap labour from overseas.”
Much of the media gushed about how new and radical this was. ITV News political editor Robert Peston called it a “serious shift to the left”—though “not socialism”, in case you thought it was.
There was certainly a shift from George Osborne’s recycled Margaret Thatcher slogan of “rolling back the state”. May instead emphasised “the good that government can do”.
Her decision to ditch the European Union single market in favour of cutting immigration could also antagonise sections of the Tories’ business support.
But much of the detail was familiar.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is emphasising investment over austerity. His plans build on moves already made by Osborne—adding a “Midlands Engine” to the “Northern Powerhouse” for example.
So while austerity might be on the back burner, “We must continue to aim for a balanced budget”.
The tedious pledges of broadband underlined elements of continuity going right back to Gordon Brown.
May said the lesson of a very old Tory, 18th century MP Edmund Burke, was that to defend the establishment “you need to be prepared to reform it”.
Tories have always been flexible about how they hold down ordinary people—who Burke called the “swinish multitude”.
For May that means jumping on the bandwagon of post-2008 crash politics that’s spread all over Europe. That means ditching hollow promises of globalisation and the market in favour of toxic nationalism.
It is not original and it is not radical—but it is highly dangerous.