Burning money – is this the face of modern Conservatism?


“For those to whom much is given, of them much is expected,” said my former Head of Sixth-Form on Leaver’s Day, words that are typical of ‘old’ Conservatism – that is the paternalism of Edmund Burke and Disraeli, the great author and Tory Prime Minister.

Thus, when Ronald Coyne from Cambridge University decided to burn cash in front of a homeless man in early February 2017, he became the embodiment of Disraeli’s complaint of our society being “two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy.” Indeed, the modern equivalents of this Disraelian ideal, such as Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, show that modern Conservatism is still very much in pursuit of this paternalistic goal; one seeking to help the homeless with all the kindness one could offer, not to demean them in the most humiliating of fashions.

Some, however, would disagree with this, arguing that this gentleman represented the other strand of ‘modern’ Conservatism – that of Lady Thatcher. Yet her ‘NO, NO, NO’ would be emphatic, doing all that this shopkeeper’s daughter stood for: the ability of all in society, including this homeless man, through hard work and talent, to climb the financial ladder.

Coyne so burnt the mantel of the modern Conservative Party, in both its paternalistic and Thatcherite forms. For, regardless of where between the two the party lies at present, the image of the Conservatives being the Etonian enemy of the poor still exists – and has been reinforced by the careless, drunken and despicable actions of a boy whose mother insists comes from a ‘normal family’, trying to create an artificial image of himself.

Nonetheless, although damaging, what is important is that the Party still very much considers his ethos the antithesis of Conservatism: for in the words of Burke – “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Photograph: Mario Sanchez Prada via Flickr.

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