The dilemma of the Tory right: reply to Simon Heffer

4:25 pm - May 19th 2010

by Dave Osler    

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Only a Tory without principles would demonise the right, argues Simon Heffer in the Daily Telegraph this morning. And David Cameron demonises the right. He doesn’t quite fill out the syllogism, but let’s just say that therefore Socrates is a mortal.

Once one cuts through the customary Hefferian hyperbole, today’s tirade is basically an extended complaint that those ghastly milquetoast moderates that make up the Tory leadership perpetually ignore those that lean to starboard.

Even viewed from what is perhaps the worst point on the entire political spectrum from which to observe the affairs of the Conservative Party, the contention seems indisputably true. What is more, the reason for this is obvious.

It is patently not the case – as Simon wants us to believe – that there exists mass latent support for coherent rightism, and that vast swathes of the public would rally to its standard bearers if only it were given organisational expression.

Such an attitude eerily parallels those socialists who insist that ‘the masses are to the left of Labour’, a contention difficult to reconcile with the desultory scores secured by various flotsam and jetsam candidates two weeks ago. It might be a comforting thought, but it isn’t true.

The basic glitch in the models of the ideological purists of both persuasions is that ideological purism is not currently a saleable commodity. Third Way insistence that elections are won from the centre ground is not wrong, and that is why Cameron has followed Blair’s lead in placing himself firmly there.

I’m a Labour leftist myself, for Heaven’s sake. I am well aware that there are few takers for Marxism, in either watered down or full-on format. Even trade union-based Big State social democracy is a hard sell in the present climate.

Our task is to win widespread acceptance for these ideas; and while the Tory right is not as far out on a limb as we are, at least in numerical terms, it must come to terms with the same strategic landscape.

True, as far as the mood of the man or woman in the pub can be read, left ideas such as pulling out of Iraq or the renationalisation of the railway system are almost uncontroversial. But buy them another drink and they will call for the return of hanging and a tougher line on immigration. These themes are merely populist, and not distinctively leftist or rightist as such.

Yet Heffer evidently likes his conservatism sound or not at all, and subtly warns Dave that the hard right awkward squad haven’t gone away, y’know. ‘That’s a nice looking coalition you’ve got there, Mr Cameron,’ he seems to say. ‘Wouldn’t want anything nasty to happen to it, would we?’:

Our new Government is obsessed with image and manifestly finds policy problematical. The wing of the Conservative Party that Mr Cameron and his friends would call “Right” comprises the people most likely to cause the coalition to fall …

To keep the “Right” – itself a coalition of Hayekian liberals, Powellite souverainistes and social conservatives – in its box, the process of insult, begun in opposition, will be used to seek to have them ridiculed, marginalised, soiled and, eventually, rendered pointless.

The thing is, Simon, the Conservative Party did not go to the electorate presenting themselves as Hayekian liberals, Powellite souverainistes or Mad Mels tanked up on miaow miaow; the Cameroons stood as ecofriendly progressives, and such mandate as they have has been extended to them on that basis.

If the Powellites and Hayekians don’t like what is on offer from Cameron, they could always decamp to UKIP, or even set up their own sideshow. You can just imagine the dialogue on the doorstep.

Activist: ‘Sorry to bother you madam, but I’m canvassing on behalf of the Monster Raving Powellite Souverainiste Alliance. Can we count on your support next Thursday?’

Elderly voter [stares blankly into space]: ‘You wot, luv?’

Both the Tory right and the Labour left implicitly accept the trade off that it is better to have limited influence inside the tent than none whatsoever outside it, and maybe tug the mainstream a few inches over to either direction. So sorry Simon, it’s like it or lump it.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments

As someone on the libertarian right I agree with this analysis. While there may be popular support for hanging and immigration restrictions, there is also popular support for higher taxes on the rich and otherleft-wing measures. The public is Right of the Tories on some matters and Left of Labour on others. Those of us with politically unpopular positions can only hope to gain influence by winning power and initially governing from the centre. Only then can we begin to advance our arguments and agendas from a position of strength.

Very well put indeed.

(Even though some commenters here seem to think that the boy king is a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Count Dracula.)

To somewhat echo Richard’s initial point, I think where both groups get things wrong is misunderstanding the widespread libertarian element in the population. Thus, they disagree with the Tory right on social issues and with authoritarian impulse of Labour (and all the Big State types). This libertarian impulse is across the left-right spectrum, but in general, people simply don’t like being told what to do anymore (if they ever did, I think the time when “people knew their place” is largely a myth). This is something that isn’t, and can never really be, captured in the ballot box. I think the Tories were on to something with the Big Society idea, but people don’t trust them on it – parties opposed to “Big Government” have often increased the size of government!

Where I disagree with Richard is the idea that by capturing the government from the centre, you can influence it one way or another. That’s never happened. Change comes from the people, not from the government.

4. Richard W

Absolutely spot on analysis. I always found the argument during the 1980s by those on the left that the reason Labour kept losing elections was they were not left-wing enough. Why people voting for Thatcher would switch to Labour if they were more left-wing was a mystery to me. After 1997, the Right presented the same arguments and the voters kept voting for the middle. In our FPTP, parliamentary system a few million voters effectively determine who wins. Since those few million voters are in the middle you can only win from the middle. Unless of course the opposition make themselves unelectable and that opens up the possibility to be more radical.

It is classic Right wing nut paranoia.

The Right always needs an enemy to beat. A dragon to slay, if you like, and if there is no dragon the Right will invent one. But what the right always does also is have a purity test for it‘s own members, where it decides if they are right wing enough. And when it all goes tits up, the Right then claims that the person involved was not right wing enough.

This is the line that the Right in America are using to deal with the failure of GW Bush. His disastrous presidency can never be blamed on the ideas of the Right . So as his time in office was a complete fuck up, it therefore follows in wing nut minds that he was not a real Conservative. The ideology itself must never be blamed, it is always the person was not pure enough.

Hahaha Sally – the left never behaves that way of course!


Still lying about your political views I see.

Why do tories lie so much?

8. Charlieman

Dave Osler, OP quoting Simon Heffer: “To keep the “Right” – itself a coalition of Hayekian liberals…”

It seems that Simon Heffer doesn’t even understand the Hayekian liberals. Most of them will be on side with the Conservative/LibDem coalition if it delivers what is promised: the human/social rights liberal reforms (the “great repeal” promised today by Nick Clegg) and the smaller state/alternative provider model for social services. The latter two are achievable aims, possibly essential ones for their economic models to function, so they are unlikely to revolt for a couple of years.

(I hesitated before making that prediction, noting that my previous suggestions about David Cameron’s future conduct have proved to be as accurate as Mystic Meg.)

There was never a better time for arguing that laissez-faire or state intervention within markets simply does not work, but what did the electorate get to choose from – three main parties selling the same old same old.
So, where are we going with nu-labour now? because I can’t see them being very strong in opposition unless they veer away from their current centrist position. And I wonder how many former lefties will reflect upon the missed opportunity that was May 2010?

I’m a Labour leftist myself, for Heaven’s sake. I am well aware that there are few takers for Marxism, in either watered down or full-on format. Even trade union-based Big State social democracy is a hard sell in the present climate.

Spot on.

The reason the tory right-wing is afraid of Cameron is because they’re basically debating technocratic politics amongst themselves, unbothered by real world problems, just like back at the good old student union.

Of course, ‘student union politics’ is a label that only gets applied to lefties, usually by dribbling halfwits who half-read Popper once while high.

If Cameron’s coalition lasts, then people will notice that those on the right of the party are, indeed, practising student union politics. Once that happens, what on earth will the right be able to accuse the left of?

“Of course, ’student union politics’ is a label that only gets applied to lefties”

In my experience that was bollocks, the lefties never bothered turning up to the students union and preferred to do other things like direct action/publicity stunts. It was the young conservatives who played student union politics by doing things like blocking motions calling for wheelchair access for the student union facilities (and then wondering why people hated them)

@1 Richard

“….Those of us with politically unpopular positions can only hope to gain influence by winning power and initially governing from the centre. Only then can we begin to advance our arguments and agendas from a position of strength.”

Am I the only one who finds this somewhat chilling? At worst it’s an apologia for the type of coup d’etat that would warm the cockles of authoritarian hearts everywhere, at best it’s a post hoc justification for selling the deluded voters bread and circuses, whilst planning for the right or left wing utopia of choice.

Richard W @ 4 is right I think. New Labour saw this after the wilderness years, but rather than pursue a progressive agenda, blazed a shameful trail down an ever more pointless authoritarian cul-de-sac. Similarly the Cameroons had to haul the atavistic carpet munchers of the right towards the centre to make themselves electable.

As a social democrat, I’m suspicious of the new coalition. It makes me queasy, and probably always will. However, anyone listening to a lot of the early announcements must have been pinching themselves and wondering why it takes a ConDem coalition to do things the Labour government ought to have been doing.

The Monster Raving Powellite Souverainiste Alliance (surely someone has to use this for real at the next election…? So much better than “UKIP”!) tendency within the Tories will, in the end, do much the same as the left did under New Labour: grumble a lot, rattle a few sabres and in the long term achieve precisely nothing.

Heffer is a wing nut. What he basically wants is an independent England devoid of these pesky celts who refuse to vote Tory en masse.

Actually what he really wants is a return to 1950s England. He doesn’t seem to have twigged that the social cohesion of the ’50s was mainly a product of Labour communitarianism.

It’s a funny thing with these right wing nut jobs like Heffer, Mad Mel and Peter Hitchens forever moaning about the ills of contemporary society and blamng the left and liberals, when actually they are a product of the neo-liberalism we’ve lived under for the last 30 years. It’s all part of the package fellas!

As for having trouble with Maxist views, if you anything to the left of Roy Hattersley you are regarded as “a Trot” nowadays.

BTW Heffer is a big fan of George Orwell (I think we know what version of Orwell he likes the best) probably because of essential Englishness

A very good piece. Even in my own party, Plaid, we have such discussions. This is even more diverse given we still have those who rally around the national cause for Welsh independence, but can range across the political spectrum, albeit with left being the dominant part of the party.

As someone who is often on the extreme (acceptable) right economically at least (I’m not sure where libertarian-libertine sits on the social scale…) there is a key point missing here. That is that many like me, especially those in the Conservatives (unlike me) are actually happy with the current coalition proposals – they achieve many of their aims, and allow them to focus on future battles (tax cuts, further acceptance of principles of individual liberty) when they can be achieved and afforded.

Simon Heffer and his ilk are like Seamus Milne; employed to give a point of view that is as designed to develop reaction as much as reflect public opinion. Remember the comment sections of the broadsheets are there to challenge the reader a lot of the time, and Mr Heffer is certainly a challenge. He is not however a standard bearer for any particular movement, and as such is not (to be fair, currently) a real threat to Mr Cameron, any more than that wasp on the window (which I must usher outside) is to me (for the accuracy of this metaphor, I’m not allergic to wasp stings).

17. Stephen Rouse

Heffer, Mel, Littlejohn etc are Cameron’s useful idiots. He can point to them and say “Hey! Just think how much worse we could be!” These people are never going to have influence. We need to keep our eyes on the real movers and shakers in the Tory party.

18. Nick Cohen is a Tory

Silly article.
Cameron is the same as any right wing Thatcherite.
If you look at the main objectives of a conservative government
1. Maintain neo con policies (Hague, Fox and Daniel Johnson (editor of standpoint) are all more neo con than Blair.
2. In 10 year complete privatisation of the NHS, partial privatisation of education, workfare,channel given to Murdoch when they break down the BBC. Read Daniel Hannan (Cameron’s mentor). They are more Thatcher than Thatcher. Remember Hannan’s political hero was Powell. These are the people at the centre of power
3. In regards to crime and immigration we will still have the same rhetoric from the Tory government.
4. Apart from ID cards they still not taking the anti civil liberty laws off the statute book.
5. Surveillance society, it will be interesting to see if the number of cameras increase. Boris has asked for an extra 2000 for the tube.
6. The same anti union rhetoric

Dave, name one difference or objective between a Cameron government and a Davis government

My god they have Thathcer boys like cjcjc smiling like cheshire cats

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    I'd happily join the the Monster Raving Powellite Souverainiste Alliance

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