Sam Bidwell is a Parliamentary Researcher, and Director of the Centre for Commonwealth Affairs.
As the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling spells doom for the prospect of an asylum offshoring scheme under this Government, many are beginning to ask why the British right has been so incapable of getting anything done.
Suella Braverman is the latest in a long line of so-called darlings of the right who has failed to deliver on her ambitious talk. Like Priti Patel before her, Braverman’s bark has proven to be much worse than her bite: despite pledging to slash immigration, she oversaw year-on-year net migration of more than one million for the first time in history.
For a while, the tousle-headed liberal populism of Boris Johnson filled the gap. Even if he was never a true believer, he was shrewd enough to recognise the right’s utility as a vessel through which he could exercise power.
Unfortunately, he was also lazy, unfocused, and easily led astray. After the departure of his silicon svengali in November 2020, Boris’ commitment to the right’s agenda was patchy at best.
By contrast, nobody would dare doubt the commitment of his successor, who pursued ambitious tax cuts with reckless abandon. Liz Truss’ libertarian experiment also proved politically disastrous, plunging the Party into a rut from which it has never recovered.
It remains to be seen just who will take over the mantle next. The conservative movement’s biggest beasts sit firmly outside the Conservative Party – but the dynamism of Farage, and the operational competence of Cummings, are unlikely to be turned towards its salvation. It took an eye-watering £1.5 million to tempt Nigel into the Australian jungle, but one suspects that it would take rather more to bring him into Sunak’s Conservative Party.
Who does that leave us with? The faith, flag, and family style of Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger is wildly out of step with the vast majority of the British electorate, even if the pair has made valuable contributions to our national debate on childcare. The few remaining Trussites are disorganised and rudderless, struggling to find their feet in the aftermath of Dear Leader’s demise.
Some pin their hopes on Kemi Badenoch, who has quietly but ambitiously pursued an agenda of regulatory reform at the Department for Business and Trade. Yet for all of the initial hype around her, she has yet to sparkle, and lacks the kind of holistic vision needed to lead the Party out of its present quagmire.
As of yet, nobody has been able to combine the individual charisma of Johnson with the discipline and drive needed to affect real change. However, turbulence at the top doesn’t capture the entire picture; the right’s biggest failing has been its organisational and operational incompetence.
All too often, the Party’s right has chosen to identify problems without offering corresponding solutions. The few solutions that have been offered have tended to be blunt instruments, more likely to inflame tensions than deliver results in such a hostile institutional environment.
The litany of regulators, quangos, and finger-wagging commissions birthed by New Labour was almost deliberately designed to prevent future governments from tacking too far to the right. Without a thorough examination of the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, and our arcane charities legislation, it’s difficult to see how the ambitions of groups like the New Conservatives can ever be realised.
And yet fundamental institutional reform has taken a back seat to railing against so-called woke ideology and an ill-defined elite. Commentators in the right-wing entertainment industry would do well to spend less time on boomer-baiting conspiracy theories, and more time examining the incentive structures that drive high migration, reflexive regulation, and judicial interference.
The sole exception to this rule in recent history is the Brexiteer Spartans, ably led by Steve Baker. Now rehabilitated by the Party’s mainstream, Baker was once the marshal of a Eurosceptic vanguard which terrorised Parliamentary committees during the Coalition years.
Following the referendum in 2016, he was instrumental in the defeat of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement; with nerves of steel and a basic understanding of Parliamentary arithmetic, the Wycombe MP was consistently able to give the Hard Eurosceptics influence beyond their numbers.
Yet this is an exception that proves the rule; this kernel of competence would eventually (and imperfectly) sprout into Brexit, the flagship victory of the populist right.
If anything is to be learned from the failure of the Rwanda Scheme, it’s the importance of institutional reform. Hare-brained quick-fixes and ear-catching soundbites are no substitute for the dull business of governance. Without a change of course, the Tory right risks undermining its own valid concerns about sluggish economic growth, the breakdown of public order, and the expansion of the regulatory state.
It will take more than good intentions to bring back voters who supported the Party in 2019 to “Get Brexit Done”. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that the current strategy of getting nothing done doesn’t lead anywhere good.