We told you so, you fucking fools

Robert Conquest is an historian of the Soviet Union whose book The Great Terror argued that the Stalinist purges had murdered millions of people, against the orthodox belief that only elites in the Communist Party had been killed. After the opening of the Russian archives proved him right in 1991, his publisher asked for a new title for a revised edition that included this new information. Famously, he is said to have suggested “I Told You So, You Fucking Fools”.

After Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning near-victory last night, I feel the same way.

The Tories did so badly in part because they did not give people a reason to vote for them; in part because they doubled down on a hard Brexit strategy; in part because they neglected and even attacked their own base. For many years they and almost everybody else have totally failed to make a broad-brush case for free markets, with the honourable exception of a few think tanks and newspaper columnists. With that in mind, why is it surprising that someone who despises markets is so popular? How good the moderate and coherent Osborne brand of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism now looks.

May revealed herself to be completely incompetent, leading an intellectually bankrupt party. The election was unnecessary and having been entirely centred on her supposed qualities as a leader, it foundered once she was exposed as a lightweight who couldn’t even answer a few basic questions from a regional newspaper. I doubt she will last long — nobody wants her.

As I wrote a week ago, one of her biggest failures among many was to not have any ideological basis for her policies. The manifesto was catastrophically bad; the only policy that anyone knew about it was the plan that seemed to force people with dementia to lose their houses when they died. The Labour manifesto’s most well-known policy was to scrap tuition fees.

The Tories did not offer anything to voters or to their own supporters. A free market manifesto could have energised Tory campaigners and candidates who would have had a reason to go to bat for May when she stumbled. It could have included policies that would have been popular with voters, like stamp duty and inheritance tax cuts, or ways of unlocking more infrastructure investment, that could have been sold on the doorstep as a reason to vote for them if you didn’t like them on Brexit. Fox hunting doesn’t count.

Ryan is right that you cannot hope to out-Labour Labour with energy price caps and the like — you can neutralise them (as the Tories tried to do with the NHS — correctly in my view, even though it failed) but you cannot beat them, and neutralising comes at the cost of conceding your opponent’s argument.

Virtually no time at all was spent on the economy. What a colossal mistake. Many people’s incomes are the same in real terms as they were ten years ago, which is unprecedented. It was insane to ignore this and not to offer policies that might have boosted investment (chronically low in Britain by international standards) and people’s wages. All we got was a crude parody of continental European industrial policy, which in practice meant hectoring firms about worker representation on their boards and baseless claims about price gouging. What good is a polling lead on the economy for a right-wing party if you’re only interested in talking about business to attack it?

The Conservatives could have had a powerful and, to their base, exciting election platform. More homes, more investment, and better infrastructure could all have been delivered through smart, density-focused planning reforms, by restoring capital allowances in the corporation tax and cutting the part of business rates that falls on property investment, and by allowing local government to finance new infrastructure from private investment.

These ideas are free market to the core but are about fixing the problems that ordinary people have. Standing for free market conservatism does not mean having to be a dogmatic ideologue — something May and her team never understood.

As for the issue that probably matters most, a soft Brexit is now much more likely. Because of that this election may actually end up being a decent outcome.

Ruth Davidson, the only real winner on the Conservative side, and who must now count as a political giant, has already emphasised the importance of an ‘open Brexit’ that does not threaten the economy. The DUP has an interest in avoiding a hard Brexit, which would ruin Northern Ireland’s economy and perhaps force a hard border with the Republic of Ireland (or, even worse for them, a hard border between Northern Ireland and Britain). Conservative backbenchers are probably so unreliable on Brexit (preferring ‘sovereignty’ at any cost to people’s incomes) that the government will need a deal that can win some support from Labour or the SNP. This is a very good thing.

Pete Spence asks what would have to happen for liberal Brexiteers to reconsider whether Brexit was a good idea. For true believers, it is a nonsense question — akin to questioning democracy after a bad political party wins an election. But to supposedly pragmatic ‘liberal leavers’ who wanted to leave the EU to escape regulation and protectionism, the prospect of a Prime Minister Corbyn totally unconstrained by rules against tariffs, subsidies and nationalisation surely makes them question their decision.

The harder Brexit we get, the worse the economic damage will be, and we are one small recession away from a Corbyn-led Labour government. ‘Liberal Leavers’ should be arguing loudly for as soft a Brexit as possible — starting now.

Theresa May and the Tories completely deserved their humiliation. They gave voters no clarity at all about Brexit, assuming that we would trust May to be ‘tough’. The manifesto, backed half-heartedly by a party that seems to stand for nothing and cannot bring itself to try, was an embarrassing throwback to Edward Heath-style Toryism. No wonder voters weren’t put off that Corbyn wanted us to send us back to the 1970s. So did Theresa May.

You might also want to read my post on what the Tories should offer now — practical policies to win young, working class and urban voters.