Does economic self interest explain the policies of the Conservative Party?

One of the most striking features of the modern Conservative party is how little resemblance it bears to many left wing caricatures. And I don't mean that in a good way. If Marx was right, and"the executive of the modern state is but a committee for the managing of the collective affairs of the bourgeoisie" then the British Conservative Party isn't much of a party of government. In the In the last two years, Conservative backbenchers, the Conservative backing press and party membership have forced the government to relentlessly pursue a form of Brexit which will result in profound economic dislocation in the short term in order to achieve a significantly less favourable set of economic arrangements in the long term. One could scarcely imagine a policy less driven by business interests. And it's not as if this is a question of a kind of false consciousness of the high capitalist: with the notable exception of a manufacturer of innovative fans and a pub-chain tycoon, the captains of industry and finance are pretty clear on what their interests, collective and individual are, and boy is this not it.

But it would be a mistake to see this as an aberration which started on June 24th, 2016. The central economic strategy of the Cameron government, the essential raison d'etre of the premiership, was in no real sense a representation of the interests of big money. Austerity, in slowing the recovery from the financial crisis of 2007-2008, has meant excess money chasing limited investment opportunities, and lower real returns on capital than would otherwise have been seen. And since the Keynesian alternative said nothing about the need for increased rates of taxation at the higher end, if the Conservative party were merely a vessel for the interests of capital, fiscal policy since 2010 would have been very different indeed.
In the specific case of Cameron and Osborne, this may have been the result of a genuine intellectual error. In the immediate aftermath of the financial crash, many observers reasonably believed that some of the damage, particularly to financial services may have been permanent and irreversible. This would have meant a supply side shock reducing economic capacity, which would neutralise, at least in part, the case for fiscal expansion. A tell tale sign that this was indeed the correct assessment was a bout of inflation in 2011, though this did, as a number of commentators at the time predicted, turn out to be due to a hike in oil prices rather than a sign that the economy was already operating at capacity. When this all turned out,as the Keynesians predicted, to be completely wrong, Cameron and Osborne were so politically invested in their fiscal approach that a volte face was not possible.
The fact that Conservative Britain at large continued, and largely continues to believe in this folly is unlikely to be explained by an intellectual error in evaluating such technical arguments. That it does so in spite of business and financial institutions pleading for increased investment is a testament to the fact that the contemporary Conservative party is anything but the party of organised capital. That is not to say that many of its supporters, and indeed those who are driving such policies are not wealthy as individuals. But they are not acting in line with anything remotely approximating class interest. Nor, for that matter, is money a sufficient condition for power within the Conservative. Rather, power is defined by and exerted on behalf of the prejudices and opinions of individuals who happen to be wealthy, and may occupy positions which require a high level of wealth, such as proprietorship of a major newspaper, but whose power is not in proportion to that wealth.
What, then, if not financial gain, is the animating feature of the modern British Conservative Party? The American intellectual historian Corey Robin might have a few ideas. In The Reactionary Mind, he argues that conservatism (he primarily means 19th Century British and 20th Century American) is primarily motivated by a reaction against a perceived loss of privileged in a social hierarchy. He does not argue that this has no economic dimension to it; one does not have to be an ardent Marxist to see a rough overlap of social and economic relations. But the key sense of loss and percieved threat is to social status, not material wealth. That the two may tend to coincide is nothing more than a likely and hence frequent coincidence.
This thesis is probably either too universal in its formation, or too obscure in its definition. Clearly not all individuals we would think of as conservative behave in this way. But as a rough picture of something which might often be the case, it seems like a pretty good start, and quite relevant to contemporary Britain. Austerity may not have advanced the economic interests of conservative backers, let alone 'capital' is a whole, but it did follow the prejudices about the efficacy and correct size of the state of a large number of people who tend to be at least somewhat well off. The reaction is perhaps less about perceived financial interests and more a suspicion of state action in the economy as an encroachment on property rights.
If this seems more far fetched than to suppose intellectual error, we might ask why a particular group have proven particularly susceptible to this error. As for Brexit, the best predictor of whether one voted remain or leave in the 2016 referendum are attitudes to thinks like immigration, education and crime and punishment. The picture which emerges is quite clear: those with liberal, pluralistic attitudes voted remain, those with authoritarian, monocultural attitudes voted leave. Brexit is primarily a reaction against social liberalism, and the perceived loss of social status of those with traditional conservative views. The focus of many conservatives on the culture of political correctness and student progressive activism is quite a clear illustration of this. What greater loss of social standing and respectability could one have than seeing ones own views and ideas regarded as immoral and unacceptable, particularly if raised in an environment where moral character had been a defining feature of identity?
Viewed in this sense, the Brexit revolution has been anything but a failure. It has been seen the most swift and thorough elevation of social reactionaries to their old place at the top of the moral and political hierarchy. And one cannot help but conclude that if only that form of bastardised, crude Marxism that might have made old Karl blush were true, and conservatism really had represented the interests of capital and capital alone we might have avoided much of the worst of the political developments after the financial crisis. This is not to say that this would be sufficient, or that the such interests, themselves hardly uniform, would generally be coextensive with the greater good. But, if we are going to have a Conservative government, I'd rather have the mythical Conservative-capitalist party than the actually existing one of Jacob Rees Mogg.