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In defence of Conservative ‘guilt’


2:08 pm - August 31st 2010

by Neil Robertson    


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At the Guardian, Theo Hobson says:

On Any Questions recently, someone asked the panellists whether they intended to cut down on their meat consumption, for environmental reasons. There were a couple of hesitant, nondescript answers and then Ken Clarke calmly guffawed at the whole idea. Like I’m going to cut down on my merry feasting, he basically said.

And the audience found his cavalier confidence sort of reassuring, and laughed. Here, it struck me, is the very nub of the Tory soul: it enjoys showing its lack of angst. And such confidence impresses people. Let us be ruled by these Nietzschean strong souls, we cravenly feel, who are too busy living well to entertain cowardly moral scruples.

Y’know, misrepresenting the motivations of your opponents might not be one of the worst characteristics of an ever-corroding political debate, but it is one of the more grating.

Whilst I’m sure the liberalism Theo Hobson subscribes to is suitably right-on and resplendent in its idealism, it still pales when compared to the bold (and apparently naive) ideal of treating people on the other side of the debate like human beings.

The distinction Hobson draws here – between the environmentally-aware, socially just and eternally earnest liberal and the arrogant, self-interested Tory with no regard for anyone but himself – is so crude as to be unworkable, even as political rhetoric. All we would have to do for Hobson’s dichotomy to fall apart would be to locate just one Tory who agrees with him on an issue he holds dear.

In fact, he need only ask the aforementioned Ken Clarke, whose preference for European integration and prison reform is ground upon which a Tory and a Bleeding Heart can share.

Nor is it at all accurate to insinuate that Tories possess such a serene sense of calm that they’re exercised by nothing other than their own tax rate. Of course there’s such a thing as Tory Guilt, it’s just that those fears are differently located from our own, and we have far more pejorative descriptions for it: racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Catholicism, climate denial and milk snatching.

There will be occasions when some of those descriptions are true and occasions when they’re not, but as irritating as it might be to have my rational, well-grounded arguments for Nice Things dismissed as ‘liberal guilt’, I’d do well to admit that I get off pretty lightly.

Plus, it’s not like the types of topics Tories worry about is any kind of secret; just open up the feverishly anxious Daily Mail on a given day and you’ll find plenty of proof. They worry about family, and think the breakup of the nuclear ‘ideal’ will have troubling consequences for society. They worry about education; they long to see a return to discipline, selection & more traditional subjects. They worry about the state; they believe states should be small, that tax burdens should be low and that encroachments into the public’s private life should be avoided. They worry about immigration, and fret about what increasing numbers of foreign men & women will do to the cohesiveness of society.

Obviously, I share few of these concerns. I think some are overblown, some unfounded entirely, some based in reasoning or faith which I don’t share. Nonetheless, they are fears which are often as genuine and deeply-felt as our own, and simply believing them to be wrong doesn’t make them vanish. Nor will simply mocking those concerns make anyone more susceptible to your point of view – tempting though that often is.

In the long run, of course, we’re all dead, but if we want to go out of this world with a little deeper an understanding of humans than we currently possess, if we want to gain a broader understanding of the beliefs and principles that guide the people around us, if we want to edge just a few inches closer to the better societies we profess to want, it would be useful for us to take the time to understand our opponents rather than ascribing unfairly miserly, misanthropic attributes to them. That goes for the left and the right.

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About the author
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
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Reader comments


“we have far more pejorative descriptions for it: racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Catholicism, climate denial and milk snatching.”

“we have far more pejorative descriptions for it: racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Catholicism, climate denial and milk snatching.”

The Liberal Conspiracy double standard appears once again. Bet you wouldn’t show the same bigotry against Judaism or Islam as you do against Catholicism.

“The Liberal Conspiracy double standard appears once again. Bet you wouldn’t show the same bigotry against Judaism or Islam as you do against Catholicism.”

n.b. next time good idea to read the article before commenting.

oldandrew,

Neil used that as one of a list of labels thrown around by left-wing liberals rather than actually consider the issues. It may be the best example of how stupid that list is, considering that catholics are more likely to be ‘working class’ than protestants in this country, as far as I understand, and unless the pope has anathematized social democratic parties, are quite likely to vote Labour (although that is never a given).

It does illustrate Neil’s point in an excellent article though. Although I look forward to one or two commentators comments…

“Neil used that as one of a list of labels thrown around by left-wing liberals rather than actually consider the issues.”

He described being accused of Catholicism as “far more pejorative” than being accused of Tory guilt.

I stick with what I said about the double standard.

@ 4

In many parts of the country (Liverpool, parts of the North East, South and East London, Glasgow) the relationship between working class Irish Catholicism and the Labour Party is very close indeed. If Labour ends up alienating the whole Catholic constituency it will never win power again. Even George Galloway, who’s been prepared to alienate just about everybody, understood this. For some reason I cannot begin to fathom this blog has taken on an extremely rancid anti-Catholic tone in recent months.

7. Terry Daniels

Unfortunately Ken Clarke has previous’form’ in his lack of concern about people:

Deputy Chairman and a director of British American Tobacco (BAT) (1998–2007), for which Clarke faced allegations relating to activities of BAT in lobbying the developing world to reject stronger health warnings on cigarette packets and evidence that that corporation had been involved in smuggling and targeting children with advertisements

Oldandrew,

The quote is

Of course there’s such a thing as Tory Guilt, it’s just that those fears are differently located from our own, and we have far more pejorative descriptions for it: racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, Catholicism, climate denial and milk snatching.

The issue here is that Neil reckons the use of Catholicism is used pejoratively, in that Tory Guilt is not actually pejorative at all. I doubt he actually thinks it is a pejorative term (or if he does, he is an idiot). As Gould says, this is a notable trend on this site and elsewhere recently and I agree with your concerns about the sectarianism it shows. However, I don’t think Neil is one of those using it in this way.

Can’t help but wonder if the increased derogatory use of Catholicism reflects concern about the Pope’s visit, which makes it clear to the mainly secular commentators (and I’m in that camp) that this is a religion, not an identity. But that doesn’t explain why it might be linked to Conservative guilt, unless there is something about abortion in there (an issue too important to be divided on political lines).

Oh yes you’re so very mature aren’t you? I think you’ve taken reasonableness too far.

That piece by Hobson is so fatuously smugly lodged firmly up its own fundament, it’s unreal. The idea that Ken Clarke doesn’t want to forego his steak pie and chips therefore means he views himself a Nietzchean superman (ha!) who feels himself born to rule; the idea that the “liberal guilt” he defines is synonymous with having a conscience; the idea that no member of the Tory party could possibly be capable of having a conscience (I did have one, but I had to pop it in the envelope with the cheque when I joined – Central Office feeds them to Eric Pickles) – stupid tribal clichés designed only to make the author feel better about himself.

Neil, cheers for trying to stick up for Tories, but even then you seem to think that “Tory guilt” only runs as far as hating minorities (all Tories hate anyone who isn’t a straight WASP, natch) – as opposed to the supposedly exclusively liberal hatred of poverty, inequality or injustice.

Is it really so hard to get someone on the centre-left to stand up and say they genuinely believe that Tories (or at least some of us) can be motivated by poverty, even if the means we think will be effective in reducing it are different to yours? Or that we are at least theoretically capable of loathing, say, racism? And that those of us who have good fortune are capable of it at the same time? Or do you all really believe in this hackneyed bogeyman who happens to wear a blue rosette?

Good points on the whole. Very little can be done by way of persuasion if you spend the whole time cursing your targets very existence.

Can’t wait for the ever fair and balanced Sally to find this though.

12. Forlornehope

“Do not hate your enemies, it clouds your judgement” Don Corleone

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde

😉

S. Pill,

Damn, you’ve uncovered my main purpose on this site. To be nice to left-wingers and annoy them accordingly… 😉

HA! I knew it!

16. Flowerpower

Of course there’s such a thing as Tory Guilt. At a dinner party the other day we and another couple discussed how – if the local Gove Free School gets greenlighted – we might, despite everything we have always espoused and believed in, send our kids to a state school instead of Eton or St Paul’s. I dunno how we’ll ever live with that….. but you have to put the kids’ interests first and what with Bristol, Oxbridge etc. discriminating against indy pupils for admissions, you don’t want to put the little mites at a disadvantage. Still, it soesn’t seem quite right somehow.

Then there’s the passing feeling of guilt my mother feels when she spends her Winter Fuel Allowance on a Christmas hamper from Fortnum’s. Since she spends January to March in the West Indies, she doesn’t exactly need the WFA, and sometimes wonders whether she should send the cheque back to the government. But then she contemplates the awful damage the politicians would do with the money and considers how flushing fivers down the lavatory would be a better use of the cash…… so Fortnum’s hamper it is. Still there’s a lingering uneasiness…..: Tory Guilt.

@13 “I do not have to forgive my enemies, I have had them all shot.” — Ramón Maria Narváez

18. Illegal immigrant

Blimey – Liberal Conspiracy reaching across the divide. Whatever next? Con Home deciding that, on balance, Labour got immigration policy right? Mike Smithson giving up gambling?!

Think I’d echo the point made by Parasite @ 10, which is that I’m more than capable of feeling guilty about the same sorts of issues as the CiF crowd. I even agree that relative poverty and inequality are, on the whole, not good things! Can you imagine?! It’s just that on the whole, I prefer centre-right/ classically liberal/ evil Tory troll (just for you Sally ;)) solutions to the problems, ‘cos I tend to think that in lots of areas the state makes things worse through well-intentioned interventions.

And I don’t really think that that Ed Miliband wants to crush the individual under the collective boot of his Bennite agenda. He seem squite a nice chap really, if misguided. That Ed Balls, mind…

@16. For flip’s sake. It’s ContinuityIDS which is almost leading the charge for getting rid of universal benefits, with positive glee. Still, ‘Tory Guilt’ is just the rich getting richer while de poor ged chillun, innit?

20. Biffy Dunderdale

Really a very good article. More in this vein please.

Evening all,

There’s a good quote in a Craig Finn song which sums up my feelings about Theo Hobson’s article: “I know good guys in bad bands; I know bad guys in GREAT bands.” That Graeme Archer chap seems lovely; that Tony McNulty chap seems… errrm…

Anyway, just a couple of follow-ups:

Parasite,

Neil, cheers for trying to stick up for Tories, but even then you seem to think that “Tory guilt” only runs as far as hating minorities (all Tories hate anyone who isn’t a straight WASP, natch) – as opposed to the supposedly exclusively liberal hatred of poverty, inequality or injustice.

If it helps, I don’t think that, and I do think that plenty Tories do care about poverty & injustice. Many libertarians do too, they just have a different – and I’d argue incorrect – approach to those problems.

Watchman,

The issue here is that Neil reckons the use of Catholicism is used pejoratively, in that Tory Guilt is not actually pejorative at all. I doubt he actually thinks it is a pejorative term (or if he does, he is an idiot). As Gould says, this is a notable trend on this site and elsewhere recently and I agree with your concerns about the sectarianism it shows. However, I don’t think Neil is one of those using it in this way.

I’m glad you read that bit in the way I’d intended it – and that I’m not an idiot! I can attack Mr Ratzinger and the Vatican with a quite ordinary liberal gusto, but I can’t attack Catholics without also having a dig at half my family. And there’s no reason why I’d want to do that.

Pah! Neil is our resident nice guy. He plays the good cop to my bad cop routine. 😉

oldandrew – well done for missing the point spectacularly.

Pah! Neil is our resident nice guy. He plays the good cop to my bad cop routine.

It’s all a front. I’m the reason they invented ASBOs.

22,

I commented on the point that interests me, the ability of this site to talk about Catholics in a way that they’d never talk about Jews or Muslims. I find it fascinating because it is the authentic sound of the middle class, Guardian-reading left talking to itself.

That said, I am aware that it was just a passing remark, and not a repeat of last week’s orange outburst.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    In defence of Conservative 'guilt' http://bit.ly/dB4nHJ

  2. Robin Webster

    lefties vs righties – who worries more/ gets to be nicer http://tiny.cc/nq2qj vs http://bit.ly/dB4nHJ. Interesting for climate stuff.

  3. Politics of UK

    In defence of Conservative ?guilt? #ukpolitics http://bit.ly/bBymZh

  4. Walter Levin

    Blog: In defence of Conservative 'guilt' | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/bsi9sC

  5. Metal Bijou

    RT @politicsofuk: In defence of Conservative ?guilt? #ukpolitics http://bit.ly/bBymZh

  6. jt

    In defence of Conservative 'guilt' | Liberal Conspiracy: But that doesn't explain why it might be linked to Conser… http://bit.ly/aFWHvQ

  7. Matt Lodder

    On Guilt: Interesting and resonant article by Theo Hobson on political smugness http://bit.ly/a8n87t. Good rebuttal at http://bit.ly/celQA0.





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