Could Red Toryism deeply wound the left?


10:53 am - July 17th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

Red Toryism is perhaps the only intellectually interesting debate that has come from the right over the last, say, 20 years. In many ways it firms up the superficial ‘compassionate conservatism’ agenda that David Cameron had borrowed from Republicans in the US, while he avoided the nasty immigration rhetoric that habitually eminates from the Tories like a bad smell.

But what I like about Red Toryism, and the very reason it poses a great philosophical threat to the left and an electoral threat to Labour, is because it is a deeply emotional philosophy.

Earlier this week the pressure-group Compass held a ‘showdown’ between the left and right on communitarianism – the underlying agenda to Red Toryism. In the blue corner: Oliver Letwin MP and Phillip Blond; in the red corner: Jon Cruddas MP and Neal Lawson from Compass.

The event felt like a damp squib because while the blue corner spent a lot of time outlining their vision of society, the red corner seemed to spend most of their time saying it was great such a debate was taking place and offering some intellectual context without actually taking on the arguments made by the blues. Well, it seemed like that anyway. I came away dissatisfied.

To get an understanding of Red Toryism, I suggest reading this profile by Jonathan Derbyshire.


Image from The New Statesman

In a crude nutshell, there are three strands: socially conservativism (protect the family!), anti-corporate capitalism (promote small businesses, protect our high streets!) and communitarianism (civic groups should take over from government functions as far as possible! we love community activism!).

Red Toryism specifically rejects the cold economic individualism espoused by Thatcher and plays up local activism, small businesses and community groups that will be very appealing to traditional working class Labour voters.

It is about community and localism in a way that will have deep emotional resonance with a population that is increasingly wary of globalisation, high levels of geographical mobility and general instability within the economy.

I would argue that this is traditional left-wing territory and if we leave this territory to the right then we’re faced with political suicide.

The left has several challenges. First we need a response to the social paternalism of the Tories. Laurie Penny has already pointed out why their obsession with family so creepy – but this requires not only stats, but a framing of the debate that paints these Tories as social authoritarians who want to re-create the ‘nanny state’. Even some Tories are opposed to it.

Secondly, we need to appropriate and recognise the importance of the economic localism that this new communitarianism proposes. People like the idea of local shops and vibrant high streets. We need a new narrative that opposes big monopoly power and the corporatism that was legitimised by the Tories and then New Labour.

Thirdly, we need to rediscover the emotional language of community and belonging. Many on the liberal-left pointedly avoid this subject like the plague for broadly two reasons: they want to avoid the racial prism through which many right-wingers see nationalism; secondly because they can be oblivious to the emotional pull of symbolism and identity.

There is an unfortunate tendency by many to think that only material inequality matters and this determines people’s voting patterns. This mindset needs to change, for reasons outlined very well by Drew Westen in The Political Brain.

Any country that starts to become more culturally or racially diverse needs a stronger sense of national identity. So far we have utterly failed to recognise this or even talk about it. This is partly why Gordon Brown’s Britishness agenda failed – they had no idea where to take it.

Will the left be able to grasp the threat of Red Toryism and its allure to voters? We’ll have to wait and see. The Compass debate illustrated that the threat is real.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Debates ,Economy ,Lib-left future ,Our democracy ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


1. Shatterface

Blond’s criticisms of capitalism and secular liberalism are no more ‘Red’ than the similar platitudes of Prince Charles; he’s a Christian fundamentalist and his ideology would set this country back centuries. Our enemy’s enemy is NOT our friend.

I agree that Blond was the genuinely interesting speaker at the Compass event and it was disappointing that the left speakers spent time saying what they’d come intending to say rather than taking up his arguments directly.

However, I think the reason Red Toryism is interesting, or at least part of it, is that it is clearly a dissident philosophy inside the Tory Party which might be useful in terms of vote catching but has little chance of creating substantive policy.

It’s all part of the peculiarity of modern politics when Tories can outflank Labour to the left.

I heard Philip Blond speak about ‘Red Toryism’, and my emotional reaction was not ‘this is really interesting’ but ‘this guy is a total and utter buffoon’.

Blond is getting a lot of love and attention from think tank land, but literally no one outside of the bubble has heard of Red Toryism, and the concrete ideas which he’s come up with (in response to the criticism that Red Toryism was all high level theorising) are drivel.

Furthermore, the appeal of Cameron’s conservatism to people who have been hostile to the Conservatives is its social liberalism – yet this is the bit which Blond is opposed to. Cameron is not going to take on board any of Blond’s ideas, and there is no evidence that they are appealing to voters.

Also worth noting that there has been a strong strand of communitarianism running through New Labour’s policies over the past 12 years – e.g. the ‘Respect agenda’.

But you are right that the left needs to be able to appeal to people who care about their community and find emotionally appealing ways of doing so. One key thing, though, is that people like that are the minority, not the majority (e.g. more people like the convenience of shopping at Tescos than care about their local family-run corner shop which sells fewer goods at a higher price).

You say:

“Red Toryism specifically rejects the cold economic individualism espoused by Thatcher and plays up local activism, small businesses and community groups”

Thatcher said

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

So “red toryism” is not a break from Thatcher, who also looked to the burkean little platoons too. It is a break from thatcherite rehtoric, and the left-wing mythologising of Thatcher as the ultimate bogeyman. But I don’t think there has ever been a more misquoted line than the “no such thing as society”…

5. Mike Killingworth

The answer to Sunny’s question is probably both “yes” and “no”.

“Yes” in the sense that Blond is a useful idiot who provides an excuse for power-seeking individuals to jump ship from NuLab to the Tories who will be in government for the next 15 years or so – a significant fraction of anyone’s career.

“No” in the sense that the left is better off without such careerists. How many of them, I wonder, are currently Conspirators?

A lot of what he proposes around the ‘asset state’ is more or less exactly what David Blunkett was going on about in 2005, and it’s as rubbish now as it was then. See http://www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk/?p=1069

I agree with Don P – great self-promotion etc, but utter lack of substance when it comes to policy, and nothing that will really appeal outside the inner commentariat sanctum. Better not to give free publicity though.

Is it any difference then Blue labour ism, Labour went from being red to Blue for ages Brown and Blair even wore Blue ties to prove they no longer needed the Unions or the working class, they would be the New Tory party even passing the Tories.

Now we have a labour party without direction not sure if it’s Blue or pink or a lighter shade of blue and we have the Tories which are red.

My real question is will we notice the difference if Labour wins the next election or if the Tories do…

It is about community and localism in a way that will have deep emotional resonance with a population that is increasingly wary of globalisation, high levels of geographical mobility and general instability within the economy.

Or, as a hippy might put it, the West has realised that the loss of tribal responsibilities is a very major social problem: and a “club for hating foreigners” is easier to market than a campaign to make the world better.

We’ve spent a very long time breaking down as many lateral connections between people as possible [1], to replace them with vertical ones. There’s a need to reverse that. I do not believe that “the left” is the answer; they have always been tribal, in the worst African sense of self-destructive and feuding gangs. We let them get away with it for decades and look what happened.

Secondly, we need to appropriate and recognise the importance of the economic localism that this new communitarianism proposes. People like the idea of local shops and vibrant high streets.

Yes! Yes! Absolutely! And equally absolutely, that is not the reason to do it. What people like the idea of is an easy, cheap life with all the mod cons (for them) and every other bugger doing all the work.

The reasons for economic localism and a renascent communitarian paradigm in the West are concrete, not perceptual. Community integration eliminates ghettoism and its attendant sociological catastrophe curve. Localised, small industries in massively multi-player, distributed markets (think Ebay and Etsy) are better for global economies than cartels of conglomerates, because they spread wealth (and thus autonomy) much more thoroughly across global society and bypass the gatekeepers of privilege.

Damn good post, Sunny: thank you. However, as always, I fundamentally disagree with one of your axioms, which is that “the Left” needs rescuing.

I think the end of “the left” would be a grand thing, because “the left” is our heritage from an industrial past just as “the right” is our heritage from a feudal one. We are not an industrial nation any more [1], and none of the ideologies, none of the tribal allegiances, and none of the rhetoric of the left can be easily divorced from its roots among the industrial, urban working class.

As a political demographic, they represent at most 30% of the country: and that demographic is shrinking rapidly year on year. When the Baby Boomers have died off, said demographic will lose very nearly all significance, as most of the people living in Britain today who as adults led industrial, working class lives are now pensioners. What we need is something to replace the entire emotional language of left and right with. You’re entirely correct about how the reactionaries have, for much of the last 30 years, had a mortal lock on emotion in politics. We’ve been the rational ones; but there is no discontinuity between rational agendas and emotive, symbolic expressions. The problem is not that the Left can’t do this, the problem is that what the Left are trying to do is turn back the clock to a politics which represents our industrial history rather than our current, let alone future, political climate.

The rhetoric needs to change, as do the underlying ideas. We need to be talking about distributed social networking; we need to be seriously addressing the economic implications of post-industrialism, we need to be talking about healing the rift between urban and rural cultures, we need to be talking about the politics of compassion set against the politics of domination. We need a discourse that is about autonomy set against hierarchy, of freedom versus prejudice.We need to be talking about responsibility battling the forces of greed, courage and pride as an antidote to the politics of xenophobia. We need to stop looking to the past for ideological answers, because that’s where the Tories live.

[1] When did people get the idea that 2 parents 2.4 children was ‘normal’? Normal families have over 20 people in. We only broke the lateral connections during the industrial era; barely last week, in human species terms. We replaced them with a conveniently vertical structure (children < parents, parents < grandparents) which was more in keeping with a world-view where every body belonged to the mill-owner, and the worst possible outcome was lateral solidarity among the swinish multitude.

[2] Defined by any of population employment, or by unit production, or by economic sector. Primary and Secondary industry together account for only 24% of our GDP.

9. Edwin Moore

Well it is possible to be a caring conservative with a liberal conscience. I remember a bright young Glasgow Tory from the 70s who bluntly told Protestant bigots that he wasn’t interested in their votes.

Alex Salmond is positioning the SNP in this corner of the field – Scotland is open for business, and was happy to embrace economic Thatcherism, but is a caring welfare state with a welcome for all.

Ha.

“When did people get the idea that 2 parents 2.4 children was ‘normal’? Normal families have over 20 people in. We only broke the lateral connections during the industrial era; barely last week, in human species terms. We replaced them with a conveniently vertical structure (children < parents, parents < grandparents)”

These changes happened naturally without state interference. The problem is that for the past half century the welfare state has gradually displaced the married 2.4 family. This is not something which happened by accident, it was state-sponsored. Leftists are also social authoritarians when it comes to the married family. They have created an anti-family nanny state that the tories want to replace with a ‘pro-family’ nanny state.

“These changes happened naturally without state interference.”

If you ignore all the Acts of Parliament which made the Industrial Revolution (and mass transportation) possible, yes.

However, I think the reason Red Toryism is interesting, or at least part of it, is that it is clearly a dissident philosophy inside the Tory Party which might be useful in terms of vote catching but has little chance of creating substantive policy.

Well, it seems to me their policy ideas are more coherent than what the left was proposing. So I’m not sure I buy this.

Letwin outlined examples of how they’d want civic organisations to assist in rehabilitation of prisoners… they talked about social housing too (Don he answered your pointing about social housing too – he’d read that thread – but I can’t remember it now).

I find the easy dimissal of Red Toryism a bit depressing. My point is that it may not have concrete policy proposals yet solidified, but it’s not actually a policy theory – it is one about emotion and community. For that you don’t need policy, only the right rhetoric. Perhaps the best example was Ronald Reagan.

Also worth noting that there has been a strong strand of communitarianism running through New Labour’s policies over the past 12 years – e.g. the ‘Respect agenda’.

Oh come on now – that was never a proper idea or anything coherent. That was a rubbish response to deal with crime.

John Q Publican – an interesting response. You seem to be agreeing with me on what needs to be done, but think the political left is not the place to do it. Why?

The reasons for economic localism and a renascent communitarian paradigm in the West are concrete, not perceptual.

I agree with that. I am interested in economic localism for genuine reasons, not just as a response.

As a political demographic, they represent at most 30% of the country: and that demographic is shrinking rapidly year on year.

I disagree. On economic issues the population is very sympathetic to leftwing concerns – though we don’t always couch our language properly.

On social issues, the country is much closer to the left than it is to the right (except on immigration).

“Oh come on now – that [the Respect agenda] was never a proper idea or anything coherent. That was a rubbish response to deal with crime.”

That’s what New Labour’s involvement with communitarianism ended up meaning once it went from think tank world to practical politics – ASBOs, community payback schemes and so on. There are plenty of policy papers which link it back to theories of communitarianism, and it was definitely an attempt to appeal to traditional working-class values etc.

“Letwin outlined examples of how they’d want civic organisations to assist in rehabilitation of prisoners”

?

civic organisations already assist in the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Worth noting that under Red Toryism socially liberal people, big business and consumers would all lose out. Those three groups are basically the electoral coalition that every political party needs to win.

If we had greater ideological diversity within parties, I could imagine ‘Red Tories’ popping up in particular areas, similar to ‘Blue Dog Democrats’. But given the way our political system is set up, the closest thing we have to ‘Red Tories’ in the northern cities are ‘Liberal Democrats’.

Interestingly attempting to tackle what “big monopoly power and corporatism” has done to criminal justice and prisons led the Commission on English Prisons Today to talk about a) localism, and b) national identity with progressive aims in mind. You can read more about the report they released earlier this month at http://www.prisoncommission.org.uk/

16. Edwin Moore

‘Any country that starts to become more culturally or racially diverse needs a stronger sense of national identity.

Oh and I disagree entirely with this Sunny. Loose identities are to be welcomed. I know two Glasgow girls of Pakistani origin – in Glasgow they feel conscious of their Pakistani Muslim heritage, when they go back to Pakistan they embrace their Glaswegian dimension: when they go to meet their English cousins they feel Scottish; when they meet their English cousins in Pakistan they (and their cousins) feel British.

As for

‘So far we have utterly failed to recognise this or even talk about it.’

Well, not true in Scotland where every young footballer of Irish Catholic descent who chooses to play for Ireland gets slagged off in the media – and on the street.

I’m not surprised Compass failed to give a good account of left-communitarianism. They haven’t got a clue what it is, really, they just use a diluted form of its rhetoric in a doomed effort to make it sound like they’re grounded in political philosophy rather than in the nether regions of Neal Lawson’s ego.

Yikes, that came across as more bitchy than I meant it to.

At any rate, as someone who reckons they are nearer left-communitarianism than liberalism, it annoys me that Compass wear those clothes without ever having spelled out what it thinks left-communitarianism is.

Sunny @14:

Yes, I agree on what must be done. I agree that the future-minded need to remember that rationality is for deciding what to do and symbols, emotions and oratory are for persuading others to agree with you.

The reason I don’t see that goal as being attached to saving the left is:

“the left” is our heritage from an industrial past just as “the right” is our heritage from a feudal one. We are not an industrial nation any more [1], and none of the ideologies, none of the tribal allegiances, and none of the rhetoric of the left can be easily divorced from its roots among the industrial, urban working class.

… as I said. And then as I said later,

The problem is not that the Left can’t do this, the problem is that what the Left are trying to do is turn back the clock to a politics which represents our industrial history rather than our current, let alone future, political climate.

It is also apparent that this may be about different definitions of ‘Left’. It is possible that to you ‘leftist’ politics means: progressive, compassionate, intelligent and rational. While the left, particularly in America, has espoused all of these principles and ideals over the last 50 years; and while it is undeniable that ‘the Left’ among the political classes have been the people getting things done in terms of civil liberties and social progress, the idea that leftist politics is intrinsically progressive and compassionate is very flawed. Most of the men who voted in the left-wing administrations during the sixties would have been outraged by the immigration of blacks into their country; would have been, and were, distraught at the idea of equal rights and equal status for women. The Left is a politics of class, not progress or liberal thought.

To me (being an historian) ‘leftist’ politics means: a political discourse dedicated to promoting and supporting the urbanised, industrial working class as the dominant faction in society.

Thus, to me, leftism is as backward-looking (if less arrogant and reactionary) as conservatism; both hark back towards an age when, they think, their way was representative of the good and the just and the majority opinion. I agree that for the period between 1850 and 1983 giving power to the working class == giving power to the people; 60-80% of the population fit the definition. Hasn’t been true for a while now, and will never be true again.

I am interested in economic localism for genuine reasons, not just as a response.

Sorry, I may have been unclear. Your sentence structure implied that the reason we should be evolving decentralised economic and social models is that “people like” that sort of thing. I rarely consider that a good reason for doing anything, unless, and first, I can come up with reasons good enough to do the thing even if people didn’t. I’m with Giordano Bruno on the wisdom of doing what people want just because a lot of people want it.

I disagree. On economic issues the population is very sympathetic to leftwing concerns – though we don’t always couch our language properly.

On social issues, the country is much closer to the left than it is to the right (except on immigration).

Hmm. To me, that looks as though you are conflating ‘left-wing’ with ‘compassionate, responsible’. Over 70% of Britain believes their wage is approximately the national median: including a wage spread between 12kpa and 125kpa among respondants who considered themselves so. It’s a fairly banal statistic in some ways but it illustrates that the vast majority of the country do not even define themselves as working class, even when they probably are: they think of themselves as in the middle class(es) whether they actually are or not. This is equivalent to the thing about over 70% of Americans consider ‘an average American’ to be something one aspires to be.

Also, I was explicitly referring to the working class using its technical meaning within the field of economic history. By which, it means those who are employed in secondary industry or in service (rather than tertiary industry in general), who do not own their own home, and who are very unlikely to have been engaged in further or higher education. This demographic invented the “left” in modern terms, they drove its rise to power, and they did both because for 150 years they were the overwhelming population majority here. I was pointing out that this is no longer true, and that therefore “the left” is no longer a fit ambition for the future. We need something else that offers compassionate politics, rational principles and future-proof policy.

Liberal, yes; ‘left’, no, for me.

In a crude nutshell, there are three strands: socially conservativism (protect the family!), anti-corporate capitalism (promote small businesses, protect our high streets!) and communitarianism (civic groups should take over from government functions as far as possible! we love community activism!).

This is all a bit vague; until I see precise policy proposals I cannot tell whether I am for or against it.

To get an understanding of Red Toryism, I suggest reading this profile by Jonathan Derbyshire.

Just read it, it appears he’s against Tesco and atheism. In which case I’m against him.

@8: I think the end of “the left” would be a grand thing, because “the left” is our heritage from an industrial past just as “the right” is our heritage from a feudal one.

Sort of.

In any country, some people will have more wealth than others. The interests of those with lots of wealth will not completely coincide with those with little wealth. So you’re bound to get a political right (defined as those who identify with, and have policies designed to appeal to the rich) and political left (ditto the poor).

However the intellectual baggage of the right and left of the 20th century — e.g. deference to religion, or nationalising industries, is disappearing, and is going to continue to disappear.

Cabalmat @21:

Hmm, you do seem to have got what I was driving at, but: political left == support the poor has never, ever been true. The political left has always supported the working poor, or the deserving poor. Liberals, and progressives, and modernists, have always supported the poor; these groups are by no means necessarily ‘leftists’.

But my underlying point, adequately illustrated here, is that the terminology and associated meanings of ‘right’ and ‘left’ are not only nebulous and deeply flawed, but intrinsically about class. Britain is illustrating what happens to a post-industrial society; actual class, definitions of what classes are, and perceived class status are all becoming very fungible, very confused, and open to very considerable pointless tribalism over semantics. As a result, an entire political debate framed in terms of the class struggle as it appeared 100 years ago is not an adequate way to talk about the post-Internet era of geopolitics, which is why I keep ranting about moving away from that mentality all together.

Leave it to the Tories, whose political philosophy is historical anyway; let’s us who want to think about the future get on with it. Let’s start a debate about the politics of compassion, the politics of responsibility and the politics of sustainability; not the politics of class, race and sex. Let’s talk about long-term versus short-term policies, growth versus greed, inclusive versus divisive principles instead of recycling last century’s tribal enmities. Let’s make it about the future versus the past. Maybe that way we can bring home to people what “Conservative” actually means.

19 – “To me (being an historian) ‘leftist’ politics means: a political discourse dedicated to promoting and supporting the urbanised, industrial working class as the dominant faction in society.”

That’s one definition, but it doesn’t describe left-wing parties in the 21st century very well, or indeed at any point since the 1960s. For example, you say that “what the Left are trying to do is turn back the clock to a politics which represents our industrial history rather than our current, let alone future, political climate”

Political parties which define themselves as being on the Left are currently in government in, to take a few examples, USA, Brazil, Chile, Venezuala, Bolivia, Australia, India, South Africa, the UK and Spain. That’s a spread of examples from six continents and nearly 2 billion people.

And in none of these countries are they ‘trying to turn back the clock to a politics which represents our industrial history’.

24. Sam Adams

“On social issues, the country is much closer to the left than it is to the right (except on immigration).”

Well thats absolute bollocks. On practically all social issues the country is much closer to the right. A large proportion of the population would vote to restore the death penalty. Practically everyone outside the westminster bubble would make prison sentences longer and more punitive. On crime there is absolutely no connection with the voters want and what the political parties thinks is best. The public and much further to the right on this issue than both parties in westminster. When’s the last time you heard people complaining that so-and-so received too long or too harsh a sentence?

On welfare as well. The public is much closer to the right since in most people’s view the left has stopped meaning ‘work’ and now means ‘benefits’.The strongest critics of the dependency culture and of deliberate worklessness have always been those who live in the same communities, ie. ordinary left wing Labour voters. Unlike the offcial Left represented by the Guardian reading trendies who no nothing of real life, working-class people resent paying their taxes to help other people waste their lives.

25. Shatterface

What donpaskini says.

John Q, your comments are interesting but your definition of ‘the Left’ comes from within your field of expertise and it’s little to do with actual Left-wing policies as practised in wider society.

26. Ken McKenzie

@24

You have fallen into the trap of mistaking vocal commentators on issues for the majority opinion.

Here’s something interesting. In four years time, when we’ve had three years of Tory Government, even if they do a splendid job (and as a resident of the UK, rather than a leftie, I hope they do), you’ll find suddenly everyone will apparently be wanting something a bit to the left of what the current Government is offering.

That’s not necessarily representative. It’ll be for two reasons. Firstly, complainers are motivated to speak out more than non-complainers. The Internets tell us this quite starkly – were you to go purely on comments, you’d think everyone who follows every media outlet in the UK is very right wing, extraordinarily egotistical, and absolutely barking mad. But all you are looking at is the kind of people who comment on newspaper websites, who are almost invariably not the people who know what they’re talking about, and are also nearly invariably not people you’d want to actually have a conversation with.

The other reason is because the media isn’t very interested in the large majority who hold sensible, moderate views, or who agree with the current political thinking. Because they aren’t very exciting or controversial.
‘Majority agrees with Government policy’ is a headline you will never see. Not because it’s not possible, but because it’s not news.

That’s what New Labour’s involvement with communitarianism ended up meaning once it went from think tank world to practical politics

And this is precisely my point – that New Labour never did and still doesn’t get how to emotionally connect with people. Blair briefly did… well he did better than what Brown can manage. Brown has all the emotional connection of a dead car battery.

Worth noting that under Red Toryism socially liberal people, big business and consumers would all lose out. Those three groups are basically the electoral coalition that every political party needs to win.

Not necessarily. My point is that as lefties we should remain true to socially liberal people (in contrast to red tories) but be anti-big business and pro-consumer.

Being pro-big business is very anti-consumer. I don’t know how you can support the idea that the left should suck up to big businesses.

John Q Publican:
The problem is not that the Left can’t do this, the problem is that what the Left are trying to do is turn back the clock to a politics which represents our industrial history rather than our current, let alone future, political climate.

I probably don’t disagree. But my vision is specifically forward looking.

To me (being an historian) ‘leftist’ politics means: a political discourse dedicated to promoting and supporting the urbanised, industrial working class as the dominant faction in society.

I think it has evolved since then – otherwise leftwing politics wouldn’t be so obsessed with women rights / minority rights and a more humanitarian foreign policy.

Labour came out of helping the working classes – but the underlying philosophy is the need for equality of opportunity and helping the marginalised gain power through joint action.

—-

This is all a bit vague; until I see precise policy proposals I cannot tell whether I am for or against it.

As I said – this is irrelevant really. People aren’t necessarily interested in policy proposals. From a policy perspective though – there are two caricatures: the left want the state to do everything; the right want corporations.

What the red tories are saying is they want civic orgs to do the work they might previously have wanted corporations to do. That, to me, is an attractive philosophy. What do we have in response? More statism? No thanks.

Various:

The thing is, I don’t think ‘left-wing’ politics has evolved; I think that a label has been clung to for tribal and electoral reasons that bears no relationship to the modern reality.

I think that progressive politics has out-evolved the (industrial, class-based) concept of ‘left-wing’. Does that make any more sense?

I accept that my definitions are academic: but the fact that there it is harder to redefine an academic concept than it is to spin a political term, I don’t necessarily think that’s bad.

29. Chris Baldwin

The Tories always claim to believe in this stuff. Seriously, does anyone expect the Conservative Party to ever be anti-corporate? Really? No joke?

30. Shatterface

‘I think that progressive politics has out-evolved the (industrial, class-based) concept of ‘left-wing’. Does that make any more sense?’

I think what you mean by ‘progressive’ is simply what most of us here mean by ‘Left-wing’.

The problem is that ‘progressive’ (moving forward) is a natural antonym for ‘reactionary’ (pushing back) and since few people self-identify as ‘reactionary’ as opposed to ‘Right-wing’ it doesn’t feel useful as a term of opposition.

31. Sam Adams

“you’ll find suddenly everyone will apparently be wanting something a bit to the left of what the current Government is offering.”

Really? Is that what happended in 1997? Notice that all of the things which conservatives hate most about Brown’s Britain were caused in large part by the Thatcher and Major governments. All the usual complaints – subjection by Brussels, the bureaucratisation of the police, unbridled immigration, multicultural/egalitarian education, and the displacement of the family by the state all received their greatest impetus during the years 1979-1997. Also taxation and regulation were not reduced contrary to conventional wisdom. The result of the Thatcher/Major governments was an expanded, centralised, less accountable and increasingly meddlesome state. Government under Tony Blair became more politically correct than it would have been under the tories, but the country did not fundamentally alter course. In the end the tories were destroyed because of their “sleaze” not because they were too “right-wing” something which they were not. It is therefore not apparent that the country would want something ‘a bit to the left’ of a current government because this country has never really had a choice between a ‘right-wing’ government and a left-wing government. All our governments have been moreorless liberal-left.

“But all you are looking at is the kind of people who comment on newspaper websites, who are almost invariably not the people who know what they’re talking about, and are also nearly invariably not people you’d want to actually have a conversation with.”

No I’m not. That would be silly. Firstly, I am going on what i have read in numerous issue based opinion polls that have been conducted over the years. These have repreatedly shown – for instance – that a large proportion of the country backs the restoration of the death penalty – a little under half last time I checked. Yet this issue is not even debated by our MPs. On immigration and crime as well polls have consistently shown that most want tougher crime policies and much tougher immigration policies. Over the years I have done a lot of door to door campiagning in a a number of standard middle-working class constituencies in around bristol, I never remember anyone mentioning they wanted MORE immigrants or MORE liberal sentencing, it was always the vehemently the opposite. Never did I encounter anyone preoccupied with any of the political class concerns such as gay rights or more women in the boardroom etc. Please, Mr McKenzie show me some polling evidence of this silent satisfied majority of yours and I will concede.

The Tories always claim to believe in this stuff. Seriously, does anyone expect the Conservative Party to ever be anti-corporate? Really? No joke?

If they do it, then its a threat. Even if they don’t do it – that is the area we should be occupying.

“Any country that starts to become more culturally or racially diverse needs a stronger sense of national identity.”

Why?

34. Planeshift

“On immigration and crime as well polls have consistently shown that most want tougher crime policies and much tougher immigration policies.”

And this is what they recieved. Labour toughened up punishments and toughened up immigration controls. Its just that the newspapers and urband myth didn’t report it.

(awaits the trolls)

“Being pro-big business is very anti-consumer. I don’t know how you can support the idea that the left should suck up to big businesses.”

I don’t. But the Tories are blatantly and obviously going to suck up to big business and are not going to curb their powers, whatever Philip Blond may want.

“What the red tories are saying is they want civic orgs to do the work they might previously have wanted corporations to do. That, to me, is an attractive philosophy.”

New Labour also says that it wants civic organisations to have a bigger role in, for example, housing, welfare, schools, local services, preventing violent extremism, (the list is almost endless) – and Labour, locally and nationally, has a track record of massively expanding funding for civic / community organisations, while the Tories cut funding for these groups wherever and whenever they get the chance.

If the results of this are sometimes disappointing, it highlights the fact that this stuff is not a panacea, even if it is kind of nice that the Tories are prepared to pay lip service to it (though not pay for it).

“What do we have in response? More statism?”

If only 🙂

I don’t think we’re really in disagreement – I’ve run and won elections by drawing heavily on “the emotional language of community and belonging” and helped develop community groups and local activism to take on special interests which were damaging the community. It’s definitely got its strengths, but also limitations.

Red Toryism is a complete con and Liberals should not fall for it. Why? Because some of the things they are advocating have not got a chance in hell of ever being adopted by the Conservative party. “anti-corporate capitalism?” Well good look luck trying to get the Tory party to adopt that one.

This is just another attempt to convince floating voters and moderate liberals that ‘call me Dave’ has changed the Tory party for good. He hasn’t, they are just the same as they ever were. There is no such thing as compassionate conservatism. 8 years of Bush should show what a sack of shit that was. The only people he was compassionate for were billionaires, millionaires, corporate lobbyists, and holy rollers. The usual base of the Conservative movement.

Call me Dave is in a very strong position at the moment because the shadowy figures behind the tory party believe he is going to win, and therefore they don’t want to rock the boat. But once he has won, if he tries to peddle a more easy going Conservatism he will be out on his ear. The Tory party in now controlled by the far right, and will not yield to any compassionate agenda.

How does Red toryism fit with the kind of psychos and weird nuts that Cameron has aligned himself with in Europe? No, it doesn’t quite fit.

“Labour toughened up punishments and toughened up immigration controls. Its just that the newspapers and urband myth didn’t report it.”

Really? The criminals certainly don’t seem to have got the message. The killer of Robert Knox thought that going to Belmarsh prison was ‘sweet.’ “Take me to fucking Belmarsh” he said: ‘I’m going down anyway. I don’t mind. I get gym every day, meals, just take me there.’

Of course, sounds just like someone shaking with uncontrollable fear from our ‘tough’ criminal justice system.

38. Shatterface

‘Of course, sounds just like someone shaking with uncontrollable fear from our ‘tough’ criminal justice system.’

Sounds more like someone who’s going to get a bit of a shock when he meets his first real hard men.

39. Planeshift

“Really? The criminals certainly don’t seem to have got the message.”

Obviously reading the wrong newspapers then.

Of course the perception of criminals counts as an authoritative source on the legislative direction of criminal justice policy. I’m sure the one off example of a criminal behaving in a hard man manner supercedes all other kinds of evidence, like looking at actual legislation and policy.

Nope I think theyre probably reading the same newspapers that report the standard sick joke sentences handed down to murderers and criminals all the time. Take for instance the recent case of Kevin Tripp this year which was widely reported – just a man minding his own business in the supermarket queue who received a “the most almighty blow” to the head by a convincted criminal Tony Virasami (who was wearing a tag – of course!) Mr Tripp spent a short time in hospital “bruised, yellow and so very, very, cold” until he died.

In the end his Virasami got ‘four years’, which actually means two years because the sentences are automatically halved. During the short time Virasami is inside, he will addressed politely by powerless warders, allowed to watch TV and make phone calls, given a food menu, will not be made to do work and will have easy access to drugs.

Sorry, you were saying we have a ‘tough’ criminal justice system?

What has he got against atheism?

I’ve had to wade through enough fucking shite in the “liberal” media from Eagleton, Bunting, Koran Armstrong, some fuckwit called Paul Vallely, not to mention right-wing knobs on the blogosphere taking every chance they can get to slag Richard Dawkins & them off, despite having no idea what their views are.

I have arrived at the conclusion that he is a twat.

42. Edwin Moore

Hi Asquith (fellow haunter of Big H’s threads). I think the relevant bit from the Derbyshire piece is this:

‘The problem with secular liberalism, for proponents of Radical Orthodoxy, is that, in removing God, it loses any grip on the notion of objective moral truth. Secularism leads to nihilism, because it leaves “worldly phenomena” such as morality “grounded literally in nothing”.’

One tries to be polite, but clearly anyone who denies atheists a grasp of objective moral truth is, erm, a twat.

Is ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ – me being completely new to the term – some sort of evolutionary (right-wing) version of that vanished thing, liberation theology?

Aye- glad to meet a fellow heretic!

I can actually see the point of what some social conservatives are getting at, as much as my policy solutions differ from theirs. But the impression I always get of Blond on studying his statements is that he essentially rejects liberalism, individualism, Enlightement thinking & what have you. I suppose we took different paths after the Glorious Revolution, so I am physically incapable of joining forces with him even if I share his views on a given matter.

I really do think he is trying to mussy the waters & add some nasty shite. It just feels wrong.

Any country that starts to become more culturally or racially diverse needs a stronger sense of national identity.

Tell that to a Scottish Nationalist. But seriously, what it needs more than that is actual power in the hands of real people. Not some namby pamby ‘national narrative’ to placate the people.

45. Shatterface

‘The problem with secular liberalism, for proponents of Radical Orthodoxy, is that, in removing God, it loses any grip on the notion of objective moral truth. Secularism leads to nihilism, because it leaves “worldly phenomena” such as morality “grounded literally in nothing”.’

And Blond thinks grounding morality in the supernatural is something other than nothing?

Whose god do we ground morality on, the wrathful smiter of sodomites or the turn the other cheek chap?

It’s not so long ago that the Beardy One changed his mind about eating meat at all on a Friday, some still can’t eat pork at all. Ask around and he’s telling one lot not to work Saturday, another not to work Sunday; for some he created us in his image, for others he slipped up over foreskin.

Whatever happened to purgatory – are the souls out on licence?

So much for eternal truths.

46. Edwin Moore

There are hard problems here. But while I have never come across the Blond chap before, I am already familiar with the pose.

Like some others Scots, I was absolutely amazed that Salmond could publicly endorse what he called the economic side of Thatcherism while rejecting the ‘social’ side.

The balancing act of the SNP is to present itself as moderate, caring, socially aware chaps, but also open-to-business conservatives, and it’s a balancing act that is increasingly hard to maintain on the rope – like the Great Valerio. Expect to hear more of Mr Blond.

Folks – I don’t really care what Phillip Blond thinks about secularism. I’ve not actually advocated that we adopt that philosophy.

I stated three threats to lefties from Red Toryism and pointed out how it has a deep emotional message, regardless of whether you think the policies stack up or not. You think the electorate gives a crap about policy? Tony Blair reneged on most of his manifesto commitments and yet he kept getting re-elected. Please do not be under the mis-apprehension the populace cares as much about policy as we do.

Don – my problem isn’t that New Labour doesn’t do this – but it has no broader idea or narrative. If New Labour really wanted more local community power it would devolve power a lot more. It hasn’t.

I’m not saying we should follow the Tories nor am I saying Labour was great. My point was: Red Toryism, if executed properly, has the potential to hurt the left badly. It remains to be seen whether Cameron is intelligent enough to realise that.

48. Shatterface

‘You think the electorate gives a crap about policy?’

If they don’t, fuck ’em.

Myself, I think we should engage with the electorate as grown-ups. I despair at seeing such utter contempt of the electorate expressed on ‘Left-leaning’ site.

‘Tony Blair reneged on most of his manifesto commitments and yet he kept getting re-elected.’

So it’s just about winning elections, fuck all about changing things for the better? Did you learn nothing in the last 12 years? Mouth a few happy-clappy platitudes and hope nobody examines what you’re saying?

Red Toryism is a Trojan horse for medievalism.

It’s no fucking danger to Labour as nobody outside the blogosphere has ever heard of it; if they had, they’d recognise it as reactionary, illiberal, anti-Enlightenment garbage.

49. gav pearce

Fantastic thread,Great ideas and debate.
John P
Althouigh I agree with many of your points but to say the left is just about the urbanised working class is a little narrow in thought.
Leftist thought was based on the 3 principles of the French revolution
Equality
Fraternity
Liberty
Surely the pursuit of those principles are behind leftist thought then and now.

50. Edwin Moore

Sunny says (at 2.07 – sheesh, Sunny try Ovaltine)

‘I stated three threats to lefties from Red Toryism and pointed out how it has a deep emotional message, regardless of whether you think the policies stack up or not.’

Sorry to keep harping about Salmond, but although the approach you describe has worked well for the SNP, it is increasingly a hard act for SNP people to maintain in policy terms.

The next Glasgow by-election, for Martin’s seat, will be fascinating but I expect Jurassic Labour to win. Scotland is becoming a testing ground for British politics.

As I keep banging on about, all discussion of British politics is made weird by the disappearance of both the old, broad left, and the nuisance-value Trots.

Gav Pearce @49:

Leftist thought was based on the 3 principles of the French revolution
Equality
Fraternity
Liberty

And the principles which sponsored the Jacobin Terror are clearly something we want to be basing our thinking on. It’s not exactly original of me to note that in practice, equality and liberty are intrinsically incompatible, or that equality of opportunity (which is a modern Leftist doctrine) is philosophically distinct from equality.

Liberty I’ll get behind. Fraternity is a bit embedding-of-the-patriarchy for me, I prefer “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose”.

Surely the pursuit of those principles are behind leftist thought then and now.

And this is what I debate. Right-wing, in your time-frame, meant supporter of the divine right of Kings. Left-wing meant opposer of the divine right of Kings. This is clearly not an adequate description of the international Labour movement 1819-1983, now, is it?

Leftist thought may have been about Liberty, Equality and Fraternity when leftist still meant democrat/republican, but “left-wing” got comprehensively re-defined by industrialism to mean “power to the working class”, and it really did mean power to the urban working class. Rural Britain’s pastoral culture remained (and some would say remains) steadfastly conservative, and “right-wing”. The urban poor and the rural poor did not politically identify with one another until quite recently.

Sunny @27:

I think it has evolved since then – otherwise leftwing politics wouldn’t be so obsessed with women rights / minority rights and a more humanitarian foreign policy.

Labour came out of helping the working classes – but the underlying philosophy is the need for equality of opportunity and helping the marginalised gain power through joint action.

Thing is, there’s already a name for political thinking of that sort, and it’s liberal. The fact that the industrial working class were marginalised, thus meaning that Liberals wanted to give them power, and that the industrial working class were organising, meaning they created the Labour party to give themselves power, does not make either Liberalism left-wing or the Labour party liberal.

Since WWII, the idea of liberalism has become rhetorically intertwined with Leftism. This was not done by us; yes, lots of poor, newly educated people in the sixties and seventies were liberals and left-wingers at the same time, since there’s no intrinsic contradiction there. But it was the right, and particularly the US Republican party, who managed to propagandise the Western world into conflating Left with Liberal and then defined both as dirty words. This is Cold War rhetoric, it’s imperialist thinking and it’s an historical worldview. That’s where the right-wing live; why should we allow their propaganda machine from last century determine the frame of debate?

Shatterface @30:

I think what you mean by ‘progressive’ is simply what most of us here mean by ‘Left-wing’.

Yes: that’s one reason I’m still arguing with you all. The qualities of progressiveness and liberality are accidental side-effects of a Left-wing agenda, not philosophical foundations for it. They are the philosophical foundations of Liberalism. The idea that Left == Liberal is very new and quite flawed: and some (Charlotte Gore?) would argue that today, Liberal != Left.

The problem is that ‘progressive’ (moving forward) is a natural antonym for ‘reactionary’ (pushing back) and since few people self-identify as ‘reactionary’ as opposed to ‘Right-wing’ it doesn’t feel useful as a term of opposition.

This, for me, is the heart of everything I’m saying in this thread.

The reactionaries re-defined politics, using the scare-crow of imperial Russian communism to do it. They defined the terms of debate as Left vs Right == Weak vs Strong == Elite vs One of Us == Interfering vs Ruggedly Individual == Corrupt vs Moral and Upstanding. They completely redefined the connections in the political world and we went along with it. … I say ‘we’: I was 5 at most when this was happening.

They were able to do it because the right are plutocrats. The cost of entry to the information market in 1945 was very high compared to now. It was still pretty high in the 60s and it was still pretty high in the 80s. Hearst was able to get cannabis banned in the States with only three years of saturation propaganda; it took the right wing from the 50s to the 80s to adequately redefine their political opponents as intrinsically wrong in the minds of the electorate, unless they abandoned their progressive values.

I’m proposing, and I suspected that Sunny was also suggesting, that we use the lower cost of entry to the propaganda market and screw them right back. “By changing a few words… The world may move or not by changing a few words!” [1] If we frame the debate as progressive vs. reactionary, if we frame it as the politics of compassion against the politics of greed, or of liberty against authoritarianism; if we abandon the tribal allegiances of last century and start drawing a new map, I think we might be able to beat them at their own game. There’s more of us, and we’re better at the internet.

[1] Toby Ziegler, The West Wing

52. Planeshift

Oz – sorry for the delay in my response. I committed murder last night, and our lenient justice system gave me a 24 hour jail sentence so I couldn’t reply.- but I got 6 hours off for good behaviour

Unfortunately it appears you didn’t read what I wrote, which is that under labour the justice system has become tougher. I didn’t write that it was as tough as you’d probably like. So stating one example of what you consider to be a lenient punishment (which you described incorrectly, prisoners serving 4 years or more don’t automatically get parole after half the sentence- they have to apply for it) doesn’t challenge the statement I made.

In order to demonstrate that I am wrong about the justice system under labour becoming tougher (actually the trend towards tougher punishments was started under Michael Howard, and continued by labour, so they shouldn’t get complete credit) you’ll have to cite some pieces of legislation or policy decisions that made things more lenient.

27. Sunny from 1997-2005 , or there abouts , Labour pushed the idea of a triangulation between government , business and the voluntary sector running the UK. Since, 2005 Labour nationally has reduced it’s support to the volunatry sector due to the pressure from labour run councils. Where the voluntary y sector grows in prestige , power and spending it often demonstrates the lack of competence in many aspects of local government. No government organisation wishes to see it’s power decline.

Many local action groups come into existance due to the failure of local government. Spending hours knocking on doors on wet winters evening to persuade people to attend a meeting, to complain about a local problem( -building a superstore, run down park, closing down a school,vandalism etc , etc ) is no fun.

Much of Labour ‘s and the unions income comes from people working for the state. An effective voluntary sector could greatly redue labour’s power base in local government, especially in the cities and large towns.

If parents set up a school which becomes very good and therefore sought after, in an area where state run schools are poor, then this would be major undermining of left wing teaching unions and LEAs. Obama has already raised the issue of the poor quality of much of the state school system in the USA.

If the left is make the slogan “Power to the people ” a reality, it may have to take on the dominance of the unions in the state sector, especially local government.

One could say the charity “Kids Company” in s London is proof positive that the voluntary sector can be better at providing services than the state.

If Labour has effectively supported the volunatry sector since 1997 and especially stood up to local government and the unions , then Red Toryism would not exist.
If Red Toryism is to succeed , The Tories will have to stand up to the financial sector.

Red Toryism seems very similar to the belief in self help which was fundemental to the Quakers and Non Conformists who provided most of the craftsmen who developed the industrial revolution and banking from the late 16c onwards. Barclays Bank was set up by Quaker merchants in the 17 or 18 centuries. The Quakers and Non Conformist also went on to form many of the charities ( e.g Joseph Rowntree ).

It was the Quakers who set schools to educate children in mathematics, business, modern languages , rather than classics and divinity ( taught in the grammar and public schools) which gave them the scientific and technical skills required for the industrial revolution. The Quaker schools challenged the power of the church , monarchy and aristocracy as they were beyond their control. In fact many LEAs appear to behave like the church in the 16-18 centuries when it comes to controlling what is taught.

The industrial revolution enable a meritocracy to challenge the power of the Monarch, aristocracy and church, whose income depended upon land ownership.

For localism to work it must be able to effectively challenge politicians, civil servants and unions which want to maximise the influence, power and spending of government and the financial sector, especially in the City of London.

One could say the charity “Kids Company” in s London is proof positive that the voluntary sector can be better at providing services than the state.

One could, but one would be a complete & utter moron using the sterling work of a small but highly effective charity to suggest that a far larger task is best done by an outfit that is likely to be annihilated within five years by Tory cuts anyway…

The industrial revolution enable a meritocracy to challenge the power of the Monarch, aristocracy and church, whose income depended upon land ownership.

Hmm. I’d seriously debate the validity of this analysis. What we have is most certainly not a meritocracy; how the hell could the Keens have got into power if it was? Or Alan Sugar? Or the various ex-USSR gangstersmagnates who seems to have bought up the premier league?

We are in a plutocracy, not a meritocracy. Prior to the industrial revolution we were in an aristocracy.

The fundamental difference was that being titled used to get you power, whether you were rich or not. It also used to make you rich, which was all nice and cosy if you were in the club.

Now, being rich gets you power, and being rich also makes you get richer (see earlier comments of mine on the subject of the Great Machine) and that’s also nice and cosy if you’re in the club. Bear in mind here that upward mobility in Britain is lower now than in 1970, that the wealth gap is steadily widening and that there are less people in command of a higher percentage of our species total wealth now, than at any point since Pharaonic times.

The idea that this is a meritocracy stems from the idea that money is the scorecard of merit; that only those who deserve to be are rich. To make a hollow laughing.

John Q Publican .

Prior to IR, income came largely from land , except for merchants in City Of London. Due to the poor quality of much of the land extremely large holdings( 1000s of acres ) were required to create wealth Land ownership tended to be settled for long periods except for few periods of great upheaval- Norman Conquest, Black Death dissolution of monasteries , Civil War , Willam of Orange. The Agricultural Revolution greatly increased yields such that hardworking small to mid size( 40-300acres )/ yeoman farmers could increase their wealth and form a rural middle class . Successful farm labourers could pass on an inheritance such that the grandchildren could become farmers who owned their land.

By the end of the 18 C large fortunes had been made by industrialists such as Wedgewood who were largely Quaker/Non Conformist crafstmen without having to own land. In addition there was a large increase in the Middle Classes for whom Wedgewood made his pottery.

The IR was created by craftsmen not aristocrats, monarchs or the church and therefore reduced class divisions by increasing social mobility.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. sunny hundal

    My take on this week’s Compass event – Could Red Toryism deeply wound the left? – http://tr.im/sNEb

  2. Graeme Archer

    RT @pickledpolitics: My take on this week’s Compass event – Could Red Toryism deeply wound the left? – http://tr.im/sNEb

  3. Graeme Archer

    Sunny this is brilliant & I think you’re the 1st Left writer who “gets it”. RT @pickledpolitics: http://tr.im/sNEb

  4. sunny hundal

    My take on this week’s Compass event – Could Red Toryism deeply wound the left? – http://tr.im/sNEb

  5. Graeme Archer

    RT @pickledpolitics: My take on this week’s Compass event – Could Red Toryism deeply wound the left? – http://tr.im/sNEb

  6. Is Red Toryism the Threat the Left Should be Focused On? « Bad Conscience

    […] Sunny Hundal and others at Liberal Conspiracy have recently been discussing Red Toryism, the embryonic brand of conservativism  expounded most notably by Phillip Blond. Sunny and co have raised particular concerns that Red Toryism could supplant the left indefinitely. This is (roughly) because it combines a small-c conservative preference for tradition and gradual organic change with a suspicion of corrosive free market economics and the attendant breakdown of social relations. In other words, areas long assumed to be the preserve of the left could be appropriated by Red Tory rejection of the Thatcher settlement. Red Toryism, it is feared, could steal the best leftist clothes and appeal to everyone from the centre to the reasonable-right, thus crowding the liberal left out from power indefinitely. […]

  7. Labourhome » Blog Archive » Can a Slovenian philosopher help save the left?

    […] Hundal has spotted a strategic problem for the left since the initiative vindicates elements of people power that the left have always fought for. The […]

  8. Liberal Conspiracy » Why we should say no to Red Toryism

    […] Toryism by Jonathan Rutherford     July 28, 2009 at 9:33 pm Sunny recently wrote of the danger posed by Red Toryism to the left, following a Compass debate on Left and Right […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.