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Why 'Mayism' Is Really A Thing.

Matthew DEoancona | NYT SYNDICATE LONDON "There is no 'Mayism,'" Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain said last week."There is good, solid Conservatism." She was speaking at a news conference in the northern English city of Halifax to present the Conservative manifesto, the party's plan for the next five years of government, which is intended to win votes in the general election on June 8. The prime minister was being either tactically bashful or positively disingenuous. Above all else, this document showed that there most certainly is such a thing as Mayism, and that it represents a radical breach with the Conservative Party's recent past. For more than 30 years, the Tories inspired by Margaret Thatcher have been committed to free markets, deregulation, the privatisation of government-owned businesses and the rolling back of the state. And much of this survives in the bone marrow of contemporary Conservatism. But May aspires to update this orthodoxy with a radicalism that amounts to much more than a polite course correction. The new manifesto is quite explicit:"We do not believe in untrammeled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but as dangerous." It is hard to exaggerate the force of this repudiation, a series of sentiments that would not look out of place in a socialist text. The party that smashed the trade unions in the 1980s now promises to protect employee entitlements, such as the right to take time off work to look after a sick relative. It proposes caps on energy prices, a significant (and risky) intervention in the competitive marketplace that provides gas and electricity to consumers. Why is May doing this? First, because she can. Though the opinion polls are fluctuating a little, they point uniformly to a heavy defeat for the Labour Party and a result that will give the Tories comfortable room for manoeuvre in the lawmaking House of Commons. So if the prime minister wants to make her mark, and lay out a new direction for her party and country, now is the time to do so. Second, she sees Britain's departure from the European Union, which she quietly opposed before last year's referendum, as an opportunity as well as a monumental challenge. Even before the vote in favour of Brexit, May had come to believe that globalisation, the digital revolution and unprecedented population mobility presented the 21st-century nation-state with a series of fundamental challenges and that the rules-based capitalist system and liberal democracy were in deep trouble if they did not address the grievances of those who felt left out, disenfranchised and unconsulted. All of which chimes with her determination that the Conservative Party should speak to, and for, working-class communities as vigorously as it does with its traditional base of rural and affluent suburban voters. This has translated into a direct appeal to those who are"just about managing" ("Jams," as this slice of the struggling middle class has become known by policy makers in the Civil Service), to ethnic minorities and to the vulnerable. May's critics object that the rhetoric is not matched by reality. But she has already overturned one Tory shibboleth in pursuit of her broader project. It has long been an article of faith for Conservatives that as far as possible, wealth should be taxed lightly a principle that has naturally recommended the party to the rich and made the poor suspicious of its motives. As a former Conservative prime minister, John Major, put it, Tories believe in"wealth cascading down the generations" and are generally opposed to death taxes. May's immediate predecessor as party leader, David Cameron, made it possible for couples owning a property worth up to Au1 million (about $1.3 million) to leave it to their descendants without paying a penny of inheritance tax. But the Tory manifesto proposed a dramatic shift in this doctrine: a new system in which home care of the elderly is paid for out of capital released from what they own. This may sound technical, but its significance is simple. The Conservatives now regard wealth as a legitimate target for the state to raid. So great, indeed, is this ideological leap that the prime minister has already wobbled under pressure, amending the original manifesto promise to cap the sums that the elderly or their heirs will be expected to pay. This poses an important question: Can she hold her nerve? On immigration, the prime minister is sticking to the net target she pursued as home secretary in Cameron's government: fewer than 100,000 a year (the latest annual figure for net immigration stands at 273,000). Those of us who see immigration as an economic necessity, as well as a cultural good, question the practicality and desirability of this goal. But May's allies maintain that such constraints are essential to maintain the social cohesion of Britain's inner cities in the future. Most striking is her relentless focus upon society, its dreams and its pathologies. In recent decades, the Tories have been the party of the economy, rescuing a nation on the brink of industrial collapse and hyperinflation in the aCUus, and reducing the deficit during Cameron's six-year tenure as prime minister. May insists that sustained economic growth remains her most important objective, especially as she embarks upon tortuous exit negotiations with the European Union, which she hopes will yield a strong trade deal. But the governing principle of Mayism is a conviction that politics is not simply a branch of economics; that the voters' experience is not exclusively defined by disposable income; and that the nation's prosperity is, in any case, distributed much too unevenly. Caricatured by her political opponents as a stony-faced neo-Thatcherite, May is nothing of the sort. There are plenty of her own members of Parliament who are troubled by the direction in which she is heading another reason she is seeking a solid House of Commons majority that will enable her to govern as she pleases. Though her campaign slogan is"strong and stable leadership," what she promises is nothing less than a root-and-branch transformation of Conservative ideology. Buckle up. (Matthew d'Ancona, a graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, and a former fellow of All Souls, is a political columnist for The Guardian and The Evening Standard.)

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 24, 2017
Words:1073
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