The British Conservative Party supported the war on Iraq – but a lot of British conservatives didn’t. The Stop The War march in February was one of the most socially inclusive demonstrations ever (it featured 2% of the population – more importantly, it wasn’t just made up of students, pullovered leftists and Muslims).
More statistically, only 57% of Tory voters polled in July said they thought the war was justified – well behind Labour voters. And meanwhile, the Daily Mail is backing its normal arch-nemesis the BBC in its coverage of the almost endless Hutton Inquiry. The Mail, for all its vices, knows its readers and doesn’t take lines they don’t like – so it’s hard to characterise this as just a Mail vs NewLab scrap.
What’s going on here then? It looks like a clash of two traditions that often overlap, and therefore often get confused. Effectively, it’s a clash between the Tories and the conservatives who generally vote for them.
Broadly, the Tories are the party of aristocracy and empire; their chief change in recognition of the collapse of the traditional British class system has been to substitute accent, education and money for breeding. While this has almost certainly improved the average top Tory’s IQ, it has done little to change the party’s attitudes.
Tory voters, however, tend to be Middle England’s middle classes: the conservatives. At times (Thatcher’s landslides) some DEs also vote Tory because they think anything else would make them noticeably wore off. At times (1997-2002), some conservatives vote Lib Dem or Labour because they think the party has lost its way.
Despite the difference between the groups, people tend to view conservatives as Conservatives and vice versa – and Iraq is an excellent example of why this isn’t right.
Tories like empire. They’re disappointed we had to give up the last one. And it’s not all in a bad way… they like the way that the empire spread education, railways and cricket across the world. So do I, come to that. Small-c conservatives, however, don’t like being killed or impoverished to pay for killing. If the alternative to these is the risk of being killed, they see the point – so WWII was fair enough. But if the alternative is the certainty of some non-English people in Iraq being killed, they don’t. Education, railways and cricket are all very well, but we shouldn’t spend money or lives in order to bring them to foreigners.
Hence the rise in Lib Dem support: not only is the conservatives’ traditional party supporting the war, so is the New Labour party that they deserted it for (especially since people who identify as “conservative” view the Lib Dems as to the right of Labour – but that’s another story).
As a liberal, I believe the Tories are right and the conservatives are wrong. We do have a moral obligation to bring education, railways and cricket to the world’s oppressed people, or die in the attempt. We’ve got a responsibility to help other people, irrespective of their or our nationality. This is a fairly standard liberal view; I entirely understand that conservatives disagree. Maybe one day they’ll get over the class bloc thing and start voting for conservatives instead of Conservatives…
Final thought: the left’s attitude to the war is almost the same. Tony Blair, David Aaronovitch, and the large numbers of other nominal leftists who supported the Iraq war are being Tories here; the leftists who didn’t are being conservatives -“not in my name” means “I don’t want to get bloody hands even if it saves Iraqis from much worse horribleness”. And the Lib Dems, although arguably being more democratic, are taking a less liberal position than either of their mainstream rivals.