Wednesday 3 October 2018

None of the Tory factions are conservatives. There is no moral centre.

As far as the Tory right are concerned Theresa May's conference speech was more wet centrism. They were looking for more Tory red meat. They seem to think there will be a right wing renaissance if they have a leader who promises to flog off the NHS, slash taxes, shrink the state and make Brexit as hard as it can be. I haven't seen any evidence that suggests the wider British public would vote for that.

But even if Brexit didn't exist the right would still be saying these things in any circumstance. Here I want to explore what it means to be a conservative because it occurred to me earlier that I no longer have any idea what a "real conservative" is and it seems to me that the right of the party are economic radicals who have no intention of conserving anything - and as far as I can see have no moral mission whatsoever.

As it happens I do think Theresa May is conservative. She's a Church of England Tory moral authoritarian who basically does believe in markets and personal responsibility but still thinks the state should be pushing people around and controlling what they see, eat and do. I imagine it actually goes down quite well with middle England and were it not for Brexit she would be a lot more popular than she is.

The problem for May, though, is that on the face of it she is more fond of pushy moralising than actually doing anything that might actually solve a problem I actually have. But then Mrs May is far from alone in that. The one complaint from all sides is that there is no big idea. A complaint I might have made myself in the past.

Brexit, though, has been a huge learning experience for me and having come out of the other side of it, I tend to view radicals of any stripe with suspicion in that they all seem to think that a problem can be tackled with simple solutions if only someone was brave enough to cut through the red tape and the nimbyism. That usually means you are dealing with people who haven't studied the problem and thing the issues are simpler than they are.

More not the point, having looked in depth at the WTO option and what we stand to lose, I generally think now that things could be a whole lot worse than they are and if we can maintain this basic standard of living then it's about as good as we can ever expect. Good government at this point is less to do with radicalism as it is picking a single major problem and dealing with it while trying not to interfere with that which works reasonably well.

Here the obvious target is housing - and though from the right we get demands to liberalise planning, this is another complex area where a lot of the red tape exists for good reasons and it only becomes apparent why such procedures exist when you ignore them. The right do not want to see a programme of mass house building at the hands of the state and believe that with a a bit of policy tinkering here or there then the market will provide.

On that score I do not believe them one bit. I do not think we can trust the market to address the issue to the scale necessary with the right degree of urgency simply because there is an incentive for developers top ration the supply and play silly buggers wherever they can get away with it - not least building rabbit hutches that no normal person could build a life in.

In this I support May's initiatives to stimulate more council builds for one basic reason. It worked last time. Coupled with right-to-buy it has in the past been hugely successful in terms of social mobility that we have not been able to repeat since. As far as big ideas go, it's the one that is universally useful. Whether or not that is a conservative policy is, to me, neither here nor there. I do not demand ideological purity. I just want to see something get done.

As not the broader issue of conservatism, the notion of rationalising the state for its own sake tends to ignore the complexity of modern governance - and if Tory attitudes to agriculture are anything to go by in terms of ending subsidies and trade defences then we are dealing with people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. That to me is not at all conservative. The dogmatic "free trade" brigade are cranks and ideologues who believe that outcomes will attend to themselves.

If there is an argument for rationalising the state then it is from the perspective of sustainability and to ensure the relative prosperity we currently enjoy can continue. Right now, as this blog has noted, the British are the worst savers in Europe, fiscally illiterate and we are storing up a massive pensions black hole along with an acute care crisis. I am of the view that the British public are conditioned to rely on the state as their financial backstop which cultivates poor decision-making and that is the principal reason why the working class is losing out to more frugal European immigrants who have o such conditioning.

This is actually where the remainers have it wrong in wedding their cause to the cult of the NHS. If we are saying that the collapse of social mobility is a contributory factor to Brexit then doubling down on state provision from cradle to grave is actually reinforcing that structural disadvantage. If we want young people to be able to compete then more than anything they need an attitude adjustment. This is why I argue that Brexit is more a cultural correction.

In this I am convinced that young people need the means to be able to compete. I can very readily see Brexit hitting UK universities quite hard which will in turn result in universities having to work harder but it will also force them to rationalise and it is my hope this will put university degrees back in their proper context rather than a prerequisite for any remotely well paying job. That then creates more fluidity in the work place which is another factor essential to social mobility.

To me conservatism has always been a moral force that says no to the material demands of a largely spoiled public and one which creates the economic liberty for people to succeed for themselves. It does have a role to play in nudging people into better choices but over the years that has lost its moral purpose to simply become an over protective nanny and too timid to take on the retail politics of the left. They instead seek to compete on their turf.

In that regard the criticism of the hard right is well founded, but their solution of simply flogging off the NHS without a social strategy that conservatives should have, is really just shock doctrine economics that most likely will shunt a generation into lasting poverty while the corporate machine gradually cannibalises individual and family wealth.

The nudge factor has to be along the lines of planning, saving, self-educating, and avoiding temptations that lead to ruin. This is why I feel the CofE and British conservatism have always been naturally allies. The rural version that is, not the happy-clappy social justice warriors they have become. But then I'm not a god botherer and the country isn't that way out anymore. We need to find a way to fill the moral vacuum in government to restore moral authority.

For all that I could never be a member of the hollowed out shell that is called the Conservative Party, I could never consider myself of the left. I think Labour is a slovenly party that nurtures the very worst instincts of people, promoting reliance on the state and excusing people from any from of self-improvement. I am not remotely surprised to see that the continuity Blair regime in social provision has seen a collapse of social mobility.

What now passes as a conservative party is an marketing label the factions fight over - each accusing the other of being something other than conservative when neither can lay claim to the title. The economic radicals are ideological thugs while the centrists are managerialists who believe in liberty and markets in theory but not in practice. What they both lack is a moral centre and without that you simply do not have a Conservative Party. You have only zealots, self-serving sociopaths and uninspiring functionaries.

In fact, had the Tory party not lost its moral instincts they wouldn't be making such a pig's ear of Brexit. The crass "free trade" mantras of the right would not be making the running and the party would see that there is a basic moral obligation for managed immigration. Instead the functionaries of the party simply see immigration restrictions as something they must do in order to relate to their voter base. It explains the "dad dancing" faux patriotism and borderline jingoism. They have no idea why we are leaving the EU, they don't want to leave the EU but feel obliged to while putting on a show for the punters.

Meanwhile, on the right, Brexit is not a cause of itself in the name of democracy. Rather it is simply the removal of an obstacle to their economic shock doctrine. They are not motivated by a basic belief that the nation state is the bedrock of meaningful democracy and essential to the communitarian wellbeing of a country.

As for the working class right which has in recent years drifted off to Ukip, there lies the genuine hostility to foreigners, namely Pakistani rape gangs. They would prefer to see radical mass deportations but again this is a symptom of a broader moral malaise, not least since the parents who don't know where their children are for days on end are central to this issue. We have children turning up to school without their parent having fed them. This is a consequence of that slovenly left wing governance paradigm that does not hold adults to account.

We could also say more of the police and social services where we increasingly see them becoming statistics gatherers and public relations functionaries. The professions of public service have been debased while we have eliminated the role of the citizen in public life. This is in part the managerial quangocracy culture the EU has transformed our local government into.

Brexiters are often accused of seeking a return to yesteryear having rose a tinted view, longing for a past that never existed. Nobody wants to return to the past. This is to misframe how people feel about their country. What people detect is a collapse of standards and a regression of values. When we look to the older generation we see that self-discipline, public service ethos, citizenship and self-reliance did exist, as did social mobility, community and a sense of basic security. It's not a sin to want that yet it is portrayed as gammonesque regression.

We cannot, though, expect the Conservative party to rediscover its moral centre largely because it is a walking corpse of an organisation. Being that the parties are largely for the functioning of politics conducted in London with largely alien values, living a wholly different experience to the rest of the country, it can never truly understand the sentiments expressed at the ballot box. They try their best to show us they have heard the message but they are tone deaf and self-interested. They won't give up the power and our politics will remain occupied by them until we demand change. We need to invert the power pyramid and "take back control".

For all that Brexiters have spoken of self-government according to our own values, they have proven myopic in believing that transferring power from Brussels to London makes any real difference. The only difference we will notice in the years to come is a marked decline in competence. The only way we can restore Britain's moral centre is to rebuild politics from the ground up, putting the power in the hands of the people where they live. For years councils have been instructed by Westminster when it should be the other way around. Only then will national politics resemble the authentic character of Britain.

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