Shortly after the 2016 Brexit Referendum, we were accosted in our local pub by an acquaintance who testily demanded “why are you drinking that [foreign beer] Kronenbourg now we’ve had Brexit? You should be drinking [British] Fullers!” A trivial question? Mistaken? We don’t think so. Because we think it goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Conservative, and to the present troubles of our Prime Minister.
One honourable tradition in Conservatism is that the greatest good lies in belonging, usually to a nation and its particular culture. Symbols are indeed important. In England these include the Monarchy, Cricket, village greens-and what the English call Real Ale, such as Fullers. All are admirable, and all contribute to that sense of continuity which is such a vital national cement. [Overseas readers will be able to think of their own immediately] You tamper with these things at your peril, as Edmund Burke so rightly knew.
The other, equally honourable, is free markets. Low taxes and individual freedom are its nirvana. So trading goods and services freely across the widest area is the surest way to achieve general advance and prosperity. It’s been pretty well proved to work in practice. The alternatives have been truly cruel and inefficient. But of course it tends to wash away all that is local and particular, replacing them with a crude meritocracy of world brands. Like Kronenbourg. Microsoft. And McDonalds.
Which brings us back to that night in the pub. Should I be free to choose Kronenbourg? Or will its existence threaten the livelihood and traditions of thousands of British workers? Will choosing Fullers make me more British, or just more English? And anyway, it’s now owned by a Japanese company. As for Kronenbourg, some of it is brewed in the UK- but where do all those hops and barley come from? You could Google the answer on your I-phone, but where was that made-and who wrote the programmes that run it? Where? If we start restricting the movement of goods and people for the National Good, have we not opened the door to other interventions like raising taxes to the same end?
Boris Johnson’s real sorrows stem from the fact that he is presiding over a party and a country which has not truly answered these two questions. Nor have the Right and Conservatives in general. Until they do, the outcome will be incoherence and confusion on all sides, and an open goal to the Left. If they are clever enough to see it.
#boris johnson #free markets #conservatism #hayek # margaret thatcher #edmund burke #tradition #tax cuts #keir starmer #labour party #conservative party