FOR many hundreds of years we’ve learned to associate certain types of behaviour with Toryism. Yet, I fear that this can make us judgmental and appear guilty of some of the behaviours we would revile in profound and deep-rooted Toryism. Without thinking, we ascribe an entire suite of deficiencies with Toryism such as greed, avarice, covetousness and duplicitousness. As with all judgmental behaviour this risks objectifying and dehumanising them. It blinds us to the good that, like Julius Caesar, is oft interred in their bones.
Seasoned observers of the Tory psyche have even divided the condition into several sub-categories. The most recognisable of course is the aristocratic genus with its overt and extravagant displays of excess. We commonly associate land-ownership and grand country piles with this and imagine that there will be servants.
Ironically, these cradle, multi-generational Tories can quite often be the most inoffensive and pleasant ones to encounter. Having been born into these ways they aren’t actually prone to the grasping, fill-yer-boots, all-inclusive type of Toryism evident in the current UK Government. They can be agreeable in a bluff and genteel way and be genuinely interested in how you manage to keep a roof over your head, feed yourself and purchase clothes. Never having worked to earn their keep they have a childlike wonder at the many and ingenious methods deployed by ordinary people to maintain themselves in a civilised, if rudimentary, manner.
Below them in the Tory index are what sociologists and cultural commentators like to describe as the “nouveau riche”. These are people who, having actually worked (in a manner of speaking) to make their fortunes then devote an inordinate amount of time and money trying to be like the cradle Tories. They scan the property horizon looking for mansions and take to buying horses and dressing up in the sort of apparel they fondly imagine is the natural plumage of the aristocracy. Sadly and pathetically, they have neither the wit nor insouciance of the natural-born Tory and are prone to making horses arses of themselves in their desperation to appear grand and superior.
Yet, compared with the lowest form of Toryism these types could be considered almost noble. The base Toryism I refer to is commonly to be found within the Holyrood and Westminster group of Scots Tories. They have neither the charm of the High Tory nor the money of the nouveau types. Most will have been reared in a lower-middle-class sort of household. Some may even have come directly from a working-class background.
Perhaps disappointed by the glacial pace of their progress in life they seek outside factors by way of justifying to themselves why they haven’t achieved as much as they would have liked. Minority and ethnic cultures and groups are their favourite targets. “If only we didn’t indulge them all then there would be more for us,” they tell each other. It’s the mentality of the small child who becomes upset when he doesn’t get to win pass-the-parcel or musical chairs at his own birthday party.
Many of them can be found in golf clubs where, having spent years trying to secure a membership, they then strive to keep others from their own communities locked out. Thus, they can reasonably claim to have secured a little scrap of exclusivity in their lives. This can come at a price, though. Having found the golden ticket that unlocks what they believe to be status they find that they must keep up the appearance of elegance and refinement. For many of these wretched souls it can be like running up a down escalator.
They can also be found in the editorial departments of right-wing media organisations where it becomes painfully and embarrassingly clear that the process of mixing with Tory politicians has wrought a kind of Stockholm Syndrome in them. Having touched the hem of what they imagine to be quality they then become desperately eager to be favoured by them and spend much of their free time pursuing invitations to the sorts of events where real Tories can be found. A single night supping with a proper Tory is often to be found embroidering their anecdotes for many years afterwards.
They dress in clothes they can’t afford and buy drinks they can’t pronounce. Tragically, they spend hours trying to lose what they imagine to be a rough and uncouth dialect so that when you next encounter them they startle you by speaking like Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served or a 1970s social club convenor introducing the night’s acts: “I am now for to be having your best of order.”
When you observe closely the recent conduct of the UK Tory Cabinet you find yourself unable to categorise them with any degree of certainty as belonging to the second or third rank of Tories. Many exhibit the attributes of both. In the course of this pandemic they have exhibited remarkable character traits that indicate a sort of psychopathy. Each week, it seems, beings fresh revelations of greed and corrupt behaviour on the grand scale.
Most notable last week was Priti Patel’s lobbying efforts on behalf of a firm which eventually picked up a PPE contract worth more than £100m. On the same day it was announced that Boris Johnson’s trip to Mustique at the start of Covid was worth twice what he declared. These have followed a depressing pattern of financial lust most commonly witnessed in the PPE racket.
In this, some identifying characteristics are evident. They seem utterly impervious to shame about grasping other people’s money. Even people who are poor will seek to preserve their dignity for as long as possible in getting from one day to the next. I witnessed this for myself when I visited a food bank in Glasgow’s east end a few years ago and met proud people who felt embarrassed that they had to rely on the kindness of strangers. Very often, it was the prospect of being unable to feed their children which led to them accepting a food parcel.
Yet, in the lobbying conduct of David Cameron and the soft furnishings episode of Boris Johnson there is evidence that shame is an alien concept. Both of these men are rich beyond the dreams of 95% of the population. They have occupied the stateliest offices in the realm. Yet, they think nothing of shaking a collection tin underneath the noses of friends and colleagues to provide further financial upholstery.
When our elected government proceeds on such shamelessness it betrays a profound psychological fault-line not covered by concepts such as mere greed and corruption. More troublingly, it suggests that nothing is considered out of bounds in their pursuit of power and wealth.