The haggard patient heaves himself into a sitting position and, with painful slowness, takes a little gruel, swallowing the disgusting pap with difficulty. He who until recently was consuming rare beef and good red wine smiles wanly at this minor, toothless triumph. The relatives around the bed exclaim with forced delight how well he has done and how good it is to see him eating heartily again. They make weak jokes and excessively cheerful remarks about how he will soon be home again. The whole scene is a ghastly, flesh-crawling deception. Everyone present knows that death is hovering a few beds away and there is no hope. Yet nobody will say it. Such is the position of the Conservative and Unionist party.

Now, if the Tory party were a person and we were its family, there would be a good excuse for this polite fraud. But the Tory party is not a person and we are not its wife and children, or even its friends. There is no point in pretending that the Tory party is going to recover. This pretence only delays the construction of a new movement, which cannot flourish until we have said goodbye to the old one. It also gives the Liberal Democrats the freedom to supplant the Tory party, unobstructed, in many of its former strongholds, a freedom they are enthusiastically using.

The Tories’ position is hopeless. No man living could conceivably unify the party’s contradictory wings. Europhile or Eurosceptic, pro- or anti-marriage, market enthusiast or moralist — each of these quarrels is fundamental and cannot be settled by compromise. To refuse to resolve them is to ask to be dragged, by events beyond our control, into places we never decided to go. ~Peter Hitchens, The Spectator (subscription required)

Mr. Hitchens’ pained denunciation of the pathetic Tories is entirely correct. Of course, it would have been correct five years ago, or even five years before that when they were still in power, and I think Mr. Hitchens knows that. The same lame arguments he decries today have dominated the internal politics of the Tories for eight years. But Mr. Hitchens’ dissection of the rotting corpse of British Conservatism is more incisive and informative than that.

“And here is the core of it. The Tory party does not know what it is supposed to be opposing. In fact, in general, it has either supported or failed to oppose all the most important actions of New Labour. These are constitutional, moral and cultural, and they are the real issue. The admirable Peter Oborne, a brave and original conservative critic of the government, insisted a fortnight ago in this magazine that the Tory party had ‘won all the great intellectual and political battles of the last quarter-century’. Regrettably, this is not so. Margaret Thatcher certainly did not win the culture wars. She did not even fight them.”

One might apply the same criticism to the Reagan administration and the Republican majority in Congress since ’94. That the GOP has learned how to be successfully two-faced and hypocritical while still managing to motivate voters and win elections masks the same core confusion and loss of principle. Everything that Mr. Hitchens has to say about the Tories could be said, more or less, about the Republicans here, except that the GOP has answered the question of whether to copy New Labour or not with an affirmative.

Hitchens reserves a more damning indictment for later: “They cannot even understand patriotism properly. It was clearly never in British interests to join the American invasion of Iraq. The bitterest opponents of this adventure have been traditional conservative types. Yet, precisely because it is not instinctively patriotic, the Tory party grasped at the war as an attempt to prove that it still loves the country it sold to Brussels in 1972.” Likewise, faux conservatives in this country embrace war as a patriotic supplement. Having little or no family or historical connection to America, or losing it after having had such a connection, they can nourish their emaciated sense of loyalty only through enthusiasm for the deaths of others in wars waged for the interests of other nations.

There is one telling difference, and this rests in the difference between political parties here and in Britain. The Tories are losing party members to the Grim Reaper, and unlike here their membership numbers are very small, while the GOP is flush with a new generation of imbeciles and half-baked nationalists weaned on the nonsense that passes for political discourse on talk radio and cable television. It is conceivable that enough of the Conservatives could simply vanish and no party organisation would remain. Let us hope, however, for whatever little there is worth left saving in Britain that the Tories end with a bang rather than a whimper. A quiet death will probably mean that no one will bother to pick up the now-extinguished torch of Conservatism.