That Tory ‘new’ right… October 15, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy, The Left.
Some will notice that there’s a bit more interest in British politics on the site at the moment. Before 2008 there used to be a lot more long form posts on the CLR on various topics including that, simply because there wasn’t so much happening and so much to respond to on a daily basis. But as the pace has quickened the posts have shortened and that’s a pity. Also, and more relevantly, attention to other political environments abroad faded. That might be no bad thing, it’s far too easy to write about events that have no actual linkage in a glib and thoughtless way. Still, the UK is on our doorstep (some would say actually in the house).
And as already noted I’ve started reading in some depth about UK politics again – I still find the very fact of a Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition or any coalition of whatever stripe in contemporary UK politics as fascinating and remarkable. Indeed in its own way I wonder is that belongs within a similar category of events as some of the political outcomes in this state which where the influence of economic decline, or collapse, played a role (albeit much more exaggerated in prominence in the Republic) or is it likely that absent the economic crisis Labour under Brown would have ended in a similar enough position come what may.
Whatever the answer, the reality is that UK politics also provides a diversion of sorts from our own situation. But as ever there are similarities and in some ways increasing ones at that.
And as if to underscore that thought there was an interesting and useful review in the Guardian a week or so back by Jon Cruddas, British Labour Party MP, of a book compiled by some of the Tory ‘new right’ entitled Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity. Cruddas mildly applauds the authors for ‘their socially liberal credentials on race, sexuality, gender and identity’ but his critique of their social and economic attitudes is devastating and in two short paragraphs sums up an approach that unfortunately appears to be gaining an hegemonic grip not just on the UK polity but on this one as well. Indeed one could see it as the ultimate articulation of the orthodoxy – whether one considers that orthodoxy ‘neo-liberal’ or otherwise.
Yet at its core this book is not about social liberalism. Scratch off the veneer and all is revealed: a destructive economic liberalism that threatens the foundations of modern conservatism. The state is assumed always to be malign, and it’s taken for granted that the labour market is not flexible enough (is it ever?). For reform read marketisation and intensified commodification. In this world, safety nets stifle a “can-do” culture, weakening our work ethic and muscular individuality. Banking crises are simply part of the natural order of things; Britons are working fewer hours because they can’t be bothered or are wilfully avoiding work. The role of politics and public policy and the impact of structural problems in markets and institutions are absent from the analysis.
I like his rhetorical ‘is it ever?’ in relation to the labour market not being flexible for the right, but he’s spot on as regards marketisation and so forth. And having read some of what the Tory ‘new right’ suggest is the way forward it seems to me that there’s a remarkable, some might say, incredible unreality about their project, in terms of its sheer lack of ignorance of what working life is like for far too many. This is something Cruddas dissects particularly well as when he notes:
For these authors – all members of the party’s right-leaning Free Enterprise Group – it is a binary world, where everything is forward or back, progress or decline, sink or swim, good or bad. They do not appear to see the world as a complex place. The choice is between regulation and dynamism: their ideal worker is one prepared to work long hours, commute long distances and expect no employment protection and low pay. Their solution to the problem of childcare is unregulated, “informal and cheap childminders”. We need dramatic cuts in public expenditure, they argue, to be matched by equivalent tax cuts. The demonisation of the welfare recipient continues apace; a broad dystopian worldview dominates the future. The bottom line for these Tory radicals is that the notion of community, society or indeed country is always trumped by textbook economic liberalism.
It entirely shows up Nick Cohen’s panglossian report from the weekend about the Tory party conference as being the nonsense it is. It doesn’t matter an iota if this Tory ‘new’ right is entirely sincere in its beliefs. Those beliefs are pernicious in and of themselves.
Cruddas argues that it is this very strand within Toryism which threatens to destroy it from within (intriguingly he doesn’t seem to believe that Cameron belongs to this ‘new right’) but I wonder. It seems to me that in global terms these Tory politicians are going very much with the grain of the times.