The Tories: they truly are a nasty party. The gutter mentality; the venality, the cruelty and the underhanded tactics have been the hallmarks of the Conservative Party’s strategies for nearly a century. Tories consider themselves divinely ordained to ‘lead’ the country. But it wasn’t always thus. The 19th century was dominated by the Liberal Party. For those of you reading this from a country outside the UK, as well as some of you in it, the Liberals weren’t social liberals; they were economic liberals. Remember this is the party that turned its back on the Irish people during the famine, believing the Invisible Hand of the Market would magically intervene in the tragedy. The Hand is, for all intents and purposes, a transmutation of God employed as a means of rationalizing non-intervention. Markets must not be interfered with. If any of this sounds familiar, it should. This is the origin of neoliberal economic theory. It’s the touchstone of neoliberals like Dan Hannan, who variously describes himself as a Whig and a classic liberal.
The Liberal Party was formed from a coalition of Whigs and free trade Tory followers of Robert Peel as well as free trade radicals. If we look at the Orange Book tendency of the Liberal Democrats, we can see there is little difference between them and the Tories. They are mutually attracted to each other because they share common origins. Thus the coalition government was an incestuous marriage. Nick Clegg may claim there is clear orange water between his party and the Tories, but he would be lying. The differences between the Whigs and the Tories were slight: support for the Corn Laws versus repeal of the same, and free trade versus protectionism. That’s it. Karl Marx had plenty to say about them.
Irish Home Rule in the late 1800s badly wounded the Liberals, when the Unionist faction defected to the Tories giving them the name they use to this day: The Conservative and Unionist Party. Then as now with Scottish Independence, the arguments against Irish Home Rule were predicated on fear. From this moment on, the Tories dominated government, even propping up the Liberal Lloyd George during the First World War. The so-called ‘Coalition coupon’ of 1918 finished the Liberals as a dominant force since only those few Liberals who possessed the coalition coupon were elected. Labour was now on the rise as the opposition party, even though Sinn Féin came third (they declined to take their seats).
With Labour now the official opposition, the Tories’ propaganda machine went into overdrive. Have a look at this poster.
Here, the Labour Party and socialists generally are depicted as a demon throttling the virginal form of a powerless Britannia, her trident apparently of no use to ward off the threat.
This poster claims Labour will send inspectors around to look into your souls. This desperate specimen is playing to householders rather than people renting from unscrupulous landlords or living hand-to-mouth existences.
When the propaganda failed to work, they used other means like espionage and sabotage. The Tories resented the first Labour government of 1924. Ramsay MacDonald’s government had neither a majority nor a mandate and relied on the support of the Liberals. In October 1924, MacDonald was forced to go to the country after a vote of no confidence. Four days before the General Election, the Zinoviev Letter was published in the Daily Mail. Labour lost the election and Stanley Baldwin’s Tories won a landslide.
The Tories were determined to ensure they held power no matter the cost. This meant having a dedicated department within Conservative Central Office that could produce propaganda and coordinate espionage activities. The Conservative Research Department was created in 1929 with the ostensible purpose of conducting detailed policy work. It’s real task, however, was to cook up dirty tricks to smear their opponents, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party – a lesson they had learned well in 1924.
Major Joseph Ball, the author of the Zinoviev Letter was appointed director of the CRD and given a knighthood. This cemented the link between the Conservative Party and security services. Joseph Ball also ran a right-wing journal called Truth, which pandered to anti-Semites . It should be recalled that the Tories were openly anti-Semitic and saw Jews and Bolsheviks as the same thing. Ball also sent spies into Labour and the Liberals. Ball had pro-Nazi sympathies and was a close confidante of Neville Chamberlain.
The 1929 General Election resulted in a hung parliament and Labour formed a minority administration. MacDonald was forced to call an election for 1931, which the Tories won by a landslide… by stirring up xenophobia. A national government was formed with a much diminished MacDonald as figurehead Prime Minister, leading a splinter faction that had been expelled from the Labour Party. In 1935, the pretence was over and the national government, now headed by political puppet-master, Stanley Baldwin, won the general election. The government was Tory in all but name and included MacDonald’s National Labour Party and John Simon’s Liberal National Party (the Liberals had actually split into three parties!). Baldwin was depicted in Tory propaganda as the face of progress and prosperity but he was getting old. MacDonald had been broken by illness and died two years later. In 1937, Neville Chamberlain, who was also chairman of the CRD, became Tory leader and Prime Minister. There would be no General Election until 1945 when Labour won its famous landslide. Ball was eventually sacked in 1942. Jonathan Pile writes:
Ball in 1940 ought to have been interned with Sir Oswald Mosley , Archibald Ramsay and Admiral Sir Barry Domvile for their treasonous views and activities under Defence Regulation 18B. Instead he was appointed by Chamberlain over Churchill’s as head of the Security Intelligence Centre , an ultra secret part of the anti-fifth column organisation, the Home Defence Security Executive which had precedence over MI6 and MI5.
As a “poacher turned game keeper” he continued to secretly control the anti-war, anti-government weekly magazine Truth, and there is some evidence of a covert involvement in the peace mission conspiracy of the Rudolf Hess flight of May 1941.
Ball was finally expelled from the corridors of power in 1942, and used his extensive old boy network of appeasement contacts to build up the multinational empire of Lonrho which he sold on to the controversial German “one-time Hitler youth” Tiny Rowlands (sic).
The Tories, for the most part, accepted the National Health Service and nationalizations (after voting against both). Labour lost the elections of 1951, 1955 and 1959 due to infighting. It seemed the Tories could do no wrong. By 1963, however, the Profumo Scandal tarnished the image of the party and in the 1964 General Election, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party won by a slender margin. Wilson called a snap election in 1966 to increase his majority, while the Tories chose Edward Heath to lead the party in an attempt to distance itself from its aristocratic past and appear more modern. Labour won the election and embarked on a series of social reforms to the consternation of the Tories.
Many Conservatives turned to the Republican Party in the United States for ideas, while a whispering campaign was initiated against Wilson, who was accused of being Soviet agent. This was due to two things: the work of the CRD and hardline military men who had Tory sympathies. In 1968, Cecil King the proprietor of the Daily Mirror and scion of the Rothermere/Harmsworth family suggested overthrowing Wilson in a coup and installing Lord Mountbatten as Prime Minister. King even went as far a meeting Mountbatten himself. This plan would be resurrected in 1974 with the appearance of Colonel David Stirling’s GB75 and General Walter Walker’s Civil Assistance. Central to this plot and others like it was Brian Crozier, who is listed as a “historian, journalist and strategist” in his Wikipedia entry. Crozier had been active in a variety of shadowy right-wing groups that had links to the Central Intelligence Agency. One of these was the Congress for Cultural Freedom, for whom he worked from 1966
Now you may say “Well, all parties use dirty tricks”. That may well be true, but the Tories take it much further. The 1976 Reg Prentice affair is a case in point. Julian Lewis infiltrated the Newham North East Labour Party and stood as a ‘moderate’ candidate (with financial backing from the right-wing Freedom Association) in an effort to steer the constituency party to the right. It failed and Lewis had a brief spell in the Navy before officially joining the Conservatives. Lewis, now armed with a doctorate in Strategic Studies from Oxford University, helped to found the Orwellian Coalition for Peace Through Security alongside Crozier, Tony Kerpel and fervent Thatcherite, Edward Leigh, MP.
The CPS’s primary mission was to destroy the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Labour Party, which largely supported nuclear disarmament, by using the courts. It was hoped that this strategy would bankrupt both CND and the Labour Party, thus ushering in the kind of political system that was acceptable to the right. Namely, one in which the political right prevailed and the Labour Party would be made to resemble the corporate-friendly Democratic Party of the United States. Tellingly, the CPS’s office was on Whitehall and was financed by a variety of right-wing groups in the United States and Britain. One of these groups was the Heritage Foundation. In November 1983, Labour had begun its march to the right by electing Neil Kinnock as leader. Coincidentally, Tony Blair had also been elected as MP for Sedgefield in June’s General Election. His rise through the party ranks would be rapid. Shortly thereafter, the party gradually modified its position to unilateral disarmament to the point that it was rarely mentioned, if at all, during the Blair years. These days, it’s disappeared completely.
In 1985, Lewis and Kerpel set up Policy Research Associates, which included the Media Monitoring Unit. The latter was established to counter perceived left-wing bias in the media. One intention was to create a media that was compliant, supine and overwhelmingly supportive of Thatcherism. The other intention was to narrow the range of acceptable political and economic discourses in the public sphere. We continue to live with the consequences to this day.
Lewis became Deputy Director of the CRD in 1990 and held that position until 1996, a year before he was elected to the Commons as MP for the New Forest. If you look at his Wikipedia entry, most of the references come from his website. If you look at his speeches, the vast majority of them are related to defence and security. Yet, very little is known about the man himself. We do know that he was a ‘go to man’ for dirty tricks and he didn’t take kindly to journalists making enquiries into the shadowy nature of CRD’s work. This came to the fore in 1993 when Scallywag printed a series of stories implicating a number of high-ranking Conservatives in a paedophile scandal at Bryn Estyn and Dolphin Square. The magazine also alleged that John Major and a Downing Street caterer were having an affair but they were set up. Major was having and affair with Edwina Currie, the Health Secretary. Major successfully sued. Scallywag continued but was eventually driven out of business by Lewis when they threatened to print a story about him. Lewis bought the contents of their office.
Labour won by a landslide in 1997 and it seemed as though the Tories had been put on the back foot. Blair had stolen their clothes by keeping Thatcher’s anti-union legislation in place and by retaining Right to Buy. Here was a ‘new’ party that was just as friendly as Thatcher towards big business and the financial sector. The political and economic discourse had been limited to variations on a neoliberal theme. Nu Labour’s version of neoliberalism had a pale social democratic gloss to it. It was packaging that barely concealed a mish-mash of free market capitalism, liberal interventionism and managerialist politics. Even if some Tories believed it to be socialism, it wasn’t. It was knock-off Thatcherism with added pizzazz. Politically, the field had been skewed rightward, leaving the Labour Left marginalized.
This brings us to the early 21st Century: the Conservatives had been out of power for 13 years, their longest spell in opposition since the 19th Century. The election of 2010 resulted in a hung parliament and the Tories formed a coalition with their erstwhile enemies and partners, the Liberal Democrats. Given their historical origins, this relationship was more of a death embrace than a working partnership. Even their apparent mutual antipathy was little more than sibling rivalry. Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and David Laws are Tories in all but name.
The Tories’ election campaign uses all the dirty tricks imaginable. Their allies in the press continue to produce smear stories on their behalf as they have done for nearly a century. Two years ago, the Daily Mail, believing the year was 1924 printed an outrageous smear about Ralph Miliband. On Sunday, the Daily Telegraph claimed to have a letter written by a 5,000 small businesses allegedly supported Cameron, claiming a Labour government would be “bad for small business”. Within 24 hours it was exposed as bogus; the metadata on the letter revealed that it had been written by someone in Conservative Central Office.
Compared to the dirty tricks campaigns of the past, these recent smear attacks look amateurish and sloppy. The supposedly earth-shattering letters and ‘leaked’ memos are bad copies of past forgeries. It’s as if the Tory strategists don’t really care if you think their lies are lousy or not. This is due, in part, to an arrogance that stems from their sense of entitlement and this blinds them to their own failings.
The other strategy of this election campaign is its use of attrition on the public mind. Tories want people to feel fed up with all politicians: this has the effect of turning off those voters who would otherwise vote for a left-wing or progressive party. Thus the only people to come out and vote are the Tories. If the Tories get a majority or form the next government it will be because they have lied and cheated their way into office.
Edited to add:
Cameron, Osborne, Letwin and Lansley also worked for the CRD as ‘advisers’. Enoch Powell also went through the CRD.
“Wilson, MI5 and the Rise of Thatcher” in Lobster, No. 11 Available at: http://www.8bitmode.com/rogerdog/lobster/lobster11.pdf