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This Is Not Conservatism, This Is Nihilism

02/04/2013 16:12 BST | Updated 01/06/2013 10:12 BST

Black Monday arrived on April 1. Given this Government's record for public relations, it is no surprise that the massive wave of austerity kicked in on April Fool's Day and over the Easter weekend, a holiday rich in the symbolism of the salvation of man from his basest instincts. Cameron's calm, patrician-metropolitan shtick sold many on the idea that he was post-ideological. But there is nothing 'post' or 'meta' about it at all: this Government simply has no compass.

This Government has no central ideological vision of how Britain should be, other than a general sense that it didn't like the preceding 13 years very much. As reviled as Blair's New Labour may be (perhaps the only thing that the large majority of Tory and Labour Britain agree on), it at least made an analysis of what the country needed and how to build a democratic coalition to achieve it.

Ending child poverty, introducing a minimum wage, devolving power to Scotland and Wales were all things that the Tories grumbled about at the time, but they lost those battles. So the battlefield of ideas the Tories wage war on now is a narrow, cynical one defined by a section of the press (no, let's be honest, fourveryspecificnewspapers) because it beats having to actually work out what you are for when it is so much easier to just casually assume that you can shrink the state without any real effect, or that Europe is always bad, or that a large portion of the population will never understand the dignity of work.

How else do you explain a bedroom tax that will hit two-thirds of a million people, including the elderly, single-parent families, the disabled and a large number of the striving poor? The only explanation for such temerity is that they assume everybody to be as disinterested as they are. That they think everybody has drunk the austerity Kool-Aid, can't figure out that a policy designed to save the Government £550m won't make a dent on a deficit of £1.2tn commensurate with the social dislocation it will cause, or remember that the Conservatives were once the party of the family?

Camborne's recent attitude seems to be that they are very disappointed in us as we are all letting British capitalism down. Because laziness rather than ideological clarity leads Camborne, they can't understand why we don't heart capitalism more. Those spiffing, whizzy chaps in the city show us how it is done, surrendering their autonomy to the machine of finance. How could it possibly not work for the rest of us?

Camborne's worldview has finance at its peak, with a mythologised but relatively small manufacturing class just below, and the rest of us losers further down still - the Lumpen-scroungertariat if you will - failing to wake up and join the financier class. So desperate have they been to perpetuate the myth that RBS had to bailed out because of the minimum wage and the EU Working-Time Directive that it doesn't even enter the political vocabulary to question whether a return to the ancien régime is desirable.

I doubt that Camborne are curious enough to have contemplated the Marxist theory of alienation, which states that social problems arise from capitalism's pervertion of the natural relationship an individual has to their means of production. Like everything Marx and Engels wrote it is better read as critique than as manifesto, but if they had they may have recognised the irony of conservativism, a creed which thinks the noblest task of politics is to free people, refusing to accept any economic model for society other than one where we are merely cogs in a machine.

It probably goes without saying that an industrial policy based on incentivising a financier class, and ignoring the economic needs of the other 90%, doesn't really strike conservatives as counter-productive. Financiers make lots of money. Money equals efficiency. The only thing that creates inefficiency is government. Therefore the sole task of government is to make things easy for financiers.

When Thatcher said that there is no alternative she meant that something had to be done and there was no room for failure. When Camborne say it they mean that they haven't thought of an alternative, because why bother? Britain is in all this mess because greedy welfare claimants (and Europe, probably) got in the way of the productive class from trickling down all of their money to the rest of us.

Those on the left should not just be against the consequences of this thinking, they should oppose the ideology full stop. When Camborne came to power they betrayed their conservatism, with some alacrity, by doing two things. First, they felt had to purge the system of any institutional memory of new Labour. Realising that their window was short, possibly less than a Parliament, the party of Burke and Smith decided that they had to force consensus and upend tradition in as quick a period as possible, the wisdom of ages be damned. Second, after a major financial calamity that led to very un-conservative things like nationalising banks and intervening directly in the market to control prices, they decided that the best course of action was to return immediately to the very same system that caused the mess to begin with.

Whatever happened to the conservative values of learning from your mistakes, of plain-speaking, common-sense and pragmatism? Is it conservative to say that the best way to respond to this failure of capitalism is to do exactly what you did before? Or that the market has value independent of its members? As austerity bites, this Government will wear its battle-scars as badges of honour. The only thing worse than letting this Government win the political battles is to let it imagine it is winning the battle of ideas.