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When ‘respectable’ conservatives bow to the far right it’s always disastrous

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The far right does not seize power. It is invited in to power by mainstream conservatives, who boast of their commitment to free societies. They do it for partisan gain. They do it because they hate and fear the left more than they hate and fear the far right. But most of all they do it because they have run out of ideas. The energy and the votes appear to lie with radical rather than “respectable” conservatives. The future is extreme, and, like prostitutes turning a trick, conservatives would rather lose their respectability than their chance of staying in the game.

Leftish condemnations of “neoliberalism” miss that the Thatcher/Reagan ideology of the 1980s is over. Conservatives rarely admit it, in public at any rate, but an idea is still dead even if no one turns up for the funeral. Who can now pretend hopes that a small state and free markets would bring prosperity to the mass of people are anything more than a hollow joke? The 2010s have been the worst decade for wage growth in 200 years. The real value of average wages has still not staggered back to its 2007 level. The web’s enabling of fake news gets all the attention. But if it had never been invented, there would still have been a reaction against the emptiness of the promises of the old ruling order.

Put yourself in the place of the conservatives who thought Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s certainties would sustain them. They have learned the lesson of the 2010s that fear beats hope. They have heard the audience cheer when they bash immigrants and the EU, and fall silent when they talk of compromise and tolerance. They wonder what would happen if........

© The Guardian