Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Onward march of the Toryban

John Major described them as the Tories’ ‘Broadmoor Wing’. Now they’re running the party, reports Johann Hari

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It is hardly headline news that the Tory Party has been captured by the hard right. Labour Party members have long known that the Conservative Party has – ever since the crazed baroness became leader in 1975 – been brutally hurtling along on a rightwards trajectory, with only the occasional (usually purely rhetorical) concession to the centre-ground.

But it is still worth pausing to absorb the enormity of what has occured. The Tory drift to a Haiderite ultra-right agenda has happened in such small steps over two long decades that we can easily forget quite how shocking it is. The Conservatives fought the 2001 general election with marching songs that would make Jean-Marie Le Pen proud. The international expert on the far right, Professor Roger Griffin, says ‘there are many figures in the Tory Party who on the continent would belong to the neo-fascist parties’. Hague’s chilling rhetoric that Britain has become ‘a foreign land’, and the pernicious attempt to link waiting lists in public services to the presence of asylum seekers, too easily pander to racism.

Any reasonable person would expect that this late-era Hague would mark the high water mark for the hard right within the Tory Party, especially when it was shown so indubitably to be electoral arsenic. Yet, incomprehensibly, the elderly, reactionary membership of the Conservative Party (average age: 67 and rising) decided the problem under Hague was that the party hadn’t been hard right enough, and selected one of the twenty most hardline Tory MPs in the Commons to lead them, Iain Duncan Smith. This is a man of whom Norman Tebbit boasted: ‘If you think I’m rightwing, wait until you meet this guy.’

It is as though, following the 1983 catastrophe, Labour had chosen Tony Benn as Leader and he had made Audrey Wise his Shadow Chancellor. Yet even then Benn would have been hemmed in to some extent by big beasts like Dennis Healey and a large slice of the parliamentary party who would have clung to sanity. IDS has no equivalent to them. The Tory centrists are now either out of parliament (Heseltine, Patten, Heath) or at the impotent, tired end of their careers (Portillo, Clarke – and it’s yet another indication of the Tories’ rightward drift that these two robust Thatcherites are considered to be the party’s left).

Inside the House of Commons, centrist Tories are a dying breed. Andrew Roth, who compiles the parliamentary profiles of all MPs, has found that the Tories who occupy the Opposition benches today are made in the defiant image of Thatcher and Tebbit: hardline anti-Europeans and anti-state dogmatists. Take, for example, Andrew Hunter, the MP for Basingstoke. Until just a few months ago he was Vice President of the Monday Club, which seeks to send Britain’s blacks and Asians ‘back home’‚ and has distributed publicity materials which show black people being tipped into a rubbish bin. He was also patron of the magazine Right Now!, edited by a self-described ‘neighbourhood Nazi’, Derek Turner, and which has run articles arguing that black people are genetically inferior.

There is no parallel in postwar British history for a major British political party being conquered so comprehensively by its most extreme faction. Even Nick Kent, head of the increasingly marginalized Conservative Mainstream group, admits that the present Tory Party has a ‘hatred of gays, blacks, successful women and the European Union [that] is as extraordinary as it is offensive – but they cannot be reasoned with’.

This is the case from top to bottom of the party. Eric Forth, the influential Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, said at a meeting of the Thatcherite No Turning Back group last year that ‘sucking up to minorities’ was ‘ridiculous’ because ‘there are millions of white, Anglo-Saxon, bigoted people in this country and they need to be represented.’

And the rot goes to the very top of the Tory Party. It has been reported that IDS privately refers to gay people as ‘queers’. Even more worryingly than this casual bigotry, he has a history of dabbling with the far right himself. Only seven years ago he was tabling parliamentary questions about repatriating immigrants, and accepting the warm applause of groups like the extremist Swinton Circle, which argues that the British National Party is only a ‘breakaway party’ from the Tories. One active member of the Circle, Bill Binding, was a few years ago the deputy head of the British Ku Klux Klan.

Until he became Tory leader, IDS served as Vice President of Conservatives Against A Federal Europe alongside the Viscount Masarenne and Ferrard, who boasts that: ‘If you ask whether I am a racist, my answer is yes, and proud of it.’ IDS has backed caning in schools and hanging. He has worked as an arms dealer and for big oil companies. He even ran the 1995 leadership campaign of John Redwood, who argues that we should in effect become the 51st US state and abandon the EU. The list of worrying facts goes on and on and on. John Major described IDS and his friends, rather aptly, as ‘the Broadmoor wing of the party’. The lunatics have now taken over the asylum.

Duncan Smith’s attitudes towards our European partners are, if anything, even more disturbing. IDS is so close to the ultra-Europhobic Bill Cash that they co-authored a pamphlet on the EU in 1996, which predicted European integration would ‘inevitably’ lead to ‘the rise of fascism’. IDS now denies he has mooted withdrawal from the EU in the past, yet his demands for ‘concessions’ from the Union are so extreme that they are tantamount to an on-going call for us to leave.

IDS has even appointed Cash as the Shadow Attorney General, a job which includes interpreting European treaties for the Shadow Cabinet. Cash dedicates most of his energies to running the European Foundation, which, ironically given its title, propagandises relentlessly against the EU, and has an attitude towards the continent reminiscent of Ian Paisley’s attitude towards Catholics. Even William Hague reportedly talked, when he heard about this, of the ‘Taliban’ taking charge of the party. The new leadership has taken a deliberate decision to stop talking publicly about Europe. Do not be fooled, however, into thinking that this means they have stopped spitting poison across the English Channel in private. There is no evidence that their views have changed one jot.

In an attempt (at least) to sound centrist and distract attention from these creepy, far-right beliefs, IDS has been busily announcing sane-sounding policies on the public services. His talk of improving state schools is rather unconvincing though, coming as it does from a man who chooses to educate his own son at Eton.

We must not, in any case, allow IDS’ announcements in these high-profile areas to distract public attention away from the stench of his gangrenous prejudices. The World Trade Centre attacks understandably made the election of another balding lunatic as Tory leader seem trivial. We cannot, however, allow this to prevent us forever from communicating to the public that the Leader of the Opposition is a frightening, unpleasant individual. The public has yet to form any opinion of IDS: we need to make sure that when they do start paying attention to the Tories again, they hear all the facts.

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Johann Hari

writes weekly for the New Statesman

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