When The Devil Is In Your House: Charlottesville, The Alt Right And Conservatism

There is nothing conservative about the resurgent white identitarian movement taking root in America, and all decent conservatives must vehemently reject this toxic ideology – and its adherents – before we are further tarred by association

There seem to be two main responses from conservatives to the awful violence which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

One approach – and the correct one – is to forcefully condemn the rise in white nationalism and the specific act of domestic terror which one individual from that movement perpetrated on society, pointing out that no matter what these people call themselves (Alt Right, Far Right or anything else) there is no place for them in the conservative movement.

The other approach is to point angrily at the leftist counterprotesters, particularly the militant Antifa contingent, and point out that these thugs were also violent, punching people, wielding clubs and attacking journalists with very little intervention from the police. This is the “whataboutism” approach – pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own.

Sadly, we have seen too much of the second approach and not enough of the first in the days since violence came to Charlottesville.

The video above is a segment of the Andrew Klavan show. Klavan is a podcast host on Ben Shapiro’s conservative website The Daily Wire, and in this segment he demonstrates by example the way that conservatives should respond when racist, far right fanatics try to hijack our movement and sabotage our policy agenda in service of their own warped agenda.

Beginning at 6 minutes into the video, Klavan says:

Let us start among ourselves, because we’re all good conservatives here. Let us gather together and just remind ourselves – these clowns are in our house, okay? These evil, satanic clowns are in our house.

And it’s no good saying “well, they don’t believe what we believe”, of course they don’t believe what we believe. Of course they don’t. They don’t believe in the Constitution, they don’t believe in E Pluribus Unum, they don’t believe in the great American tradition of bringing people in, transforming them into America through our creed that we conservatives are fighting so hard to defend, they don’t believe in low taxes, they don’t believe in any of this stuff. They don’t believe in America, they don’t believe in the whole thing that makes America what it is.

But they’re in our house. They identify themselves as right wing, they vote for the people we vote for, they have their slogans “Unite the Right” and all this stuff. It’s no good – when the devil is in your house you gotta take care of that, it’s no good saying “well, the devil is in the other guy’s house too” – of course he is. But let’s not mince words about it.

Absolutely. And conservatives cannot afford to be hypocrites here. Whenever a terrorist atrocity is committed by a radical Islamist, many of us on the political Right correctly demand that the Muslim community do more to confront and defeat extremist Islamist ideology wherever it manifests in their mosques, their workplaces, their social circles or even their own homes. The state can not be fully responsible for making radical or violent interpretations of Islam unacceptable to susceptible people, and its attempts to do so (through the PREVENT programme in Britain, for example) will only ever be partially acceptable. The ultimate solution to Islamist extremism cannot be enforced from outside, it must be midwifed by responsible people within the community.

But if we make this demand of our Muslim compatriots, friends and neighbours, we conservatives must also be honest when a violent and extremist ideology is lurking in the fringes of our own movement. The domestic terrorist who killed one person and injured many more in Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday is no more representative of the conservative movement than the depraved Islamist terrorists who kill innocent people in London, Paris or Brussels is representative of all Muslims – possibly even less so. But still we have an obligation to stand up and vociferously object when our movement is hijacked by those who would seek to appropriate our language, policies and even our political parties for their own warped purposes. It is only fair to be morally consistent in this way.

In the face of resurgent (or at least emboldened) white nationalism it is not enough to do what some stalwarts of the American Right did, and loudly proclaim that Nazism is actually a far-left ideology, trying to pretend that the white nationalist identitarian resurgence is not a problem primarily of the Right:

This is just supremely unhelpful, not because he doesn’t have a point but because this “whataboutism” makes it look – quite reasonably – as though conservatives are deflecting. Yet Dinesh D’Souza seemed to spend most of the weekend labouring this angle of attack, which while technically true does nothing to purge conservatism of the parasites in our midst, or convince sceptical people that we have our house in order.

Right now I don’t think Republicans or many American conservatives realise just what a severe reputational issue they are facing at the hands of this president. Is the media always fair with its coverage? Of course not. Does the media lazily try to fit every story into their “conservatives are racist” framework much of the time? Yes. But that only makes it more important for us to be whiter than white at all times (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun).

Conservatives know that they will be attacked for racism if there is even the slightest possibility of malice, while leftists will be given a free pass. We know this, so there is absolutely no excuse for acts like Donald Trump’s latest press conference where he opened himself up to valid accusations by the media that he was drawing a moral equivalence between the violence of the neo-Nazi thugs and the actions of the counterprotesters (yes of course violence took place on both sides, but the ideologies in question are not morally equivalent, and only one side committed an act of domestic terrorism).

At this point we are rapidly running out of excuses and mitigating factors for Trump’s behaviour. No, scratch that – the reserve of excuses has long since been exhausted, and the barrel is now bare. And if this presidential behaviour continues largely unchallenged by mainstream conservatives then only one of two things can happen – either conservative and Republican elected officials face deserved electoral annihilation in the midterms and the next presidential election cycle, or they are propped up and kept in office not by genuine conservatives but by uber-motivated Alt Right types – at which point small-government, constitutional conservatives will have been definitively pushed out of their own party.

This is untenable. The white nationalist and white supremacist Alt Right is a cancer on conservatism because they choose to align themselves with conservatism and live in our house, and rather than administering a welcome dose of chemotherapy the President of the United States is allowing the tumour to grow unchecked – either for cynical political ends, or else for a much darker purpose.

Meanwhile, every hysterical criticism and slander of conservatism ever made by leftists becomes slightly more plausible when Donald Trump, face of the Republican Party, cannot bring himself to disavow gushing words of praise from white supremacists like David Duke.

Abraham Lincoln once said:

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation [..] We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility.

We are rapidly reaching the point where all conservatives of conscience who have not already done so – including elected officials at all levels – must take a public stand and declare whether they accept the White House’s inexplicable Entente Cordiale with the Alt Right, or whether they repudiate it as a matter of conscience.

Those people who choose the wrong side of this existential debate, or who shamefully sit on the fence, will be remembered in spite of themselves.  And one day they will have to answer for their cowardice.

 

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

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‘Compassionate Conservatism’ Plays Into The Left’s Hands

If any more evidence were needed (and at this point it really shouldn’t be) that embracing “compassionate conservatism” is not the answer to the Tories’ problems, then a new piece by Abi Wilkinson mocking their efforts at rebranding should make things clear.

Wilkinson writes in Total Politics:

Since the recent general election, there has been a noticeable upswing in the number of Conservatives fretting about inequality, material hardship and issues with the current economic system.

[..] At some level, it’s gratifying to see an increased willingness amongst right-wingers to admit that things are not currently alright. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be frustrated that these conversations are only happening now – when the left is in resurgence and appears a viable political force. If they’re capable of seeing these issues, why didn’t they say something sooner? Why have they been happy to cheerlead governments that have overseen massive increases in homelessness and child poverty, underfunding of public services, the erosion of employment rights and growing income inequality?

The biggest issue with this sudden surge of compassionate conservatism, however, is the failure to identify real solutions to the stated problems.

The moment that conservatives start waffling on about compassion is the moment that we start fighting on Labour’s terrain and lose the war. The parties of the Left have already convinced a huge swathe of the electorate that compassionate conservatism is an oxymoron:

Any time that conservatives try to frame their pitch to the electorate in terms of compassion or any of the other paternalistic buzzwords used by the Left, voters will simply ask why they should pick the Tories when Labour is offering the full-fat version of socialism.

If anything, conservatives should attack the Left’s lazy, self-serving definition of compassion, which largely consists of assuming that half the population belongs to a perpetual victim class in need of constant nourishment, assistance and succour from the state; that parking people on welfare and forgetting about them is somehow a sign of love and solidarity; that tearing down the wealthy through punitive taxation will do anything to improve the material circumstances of the poor; that interfering with free markets, the greatest engine of wealth creation available, will somehow protect consumers.

The term “virtue-signalling” is becoming quite overused (not least on this blog), but it really does apply to much left-wing policy-making, where what matters most is to be seen to be taking action against some social injustice or inequity rather than coming up with sustainable policies to attack those problems in the long-term. We need to start making this point more forcefully, pointing out that it is in fact evil to do what feels good and conscience-soothing today if it only perpetuates or exacerbates a problem further down the road (see the Left’s sanctimonious outrage when it was proposed that migrant boats heading to Europe be stopped and sent back – by thwarting this policy, hundreds if not thousands more people have drowned, just so that leftists could look compassionate on Twitter).

For too long, conservatives have been content to portray themselves as rational and dispassionate administrators of the machinery of state, making difficult but necessary decisions in the name of fiscal rectitude (not that this rhetoric ever carried through into action – see the persistent budget deficit and rising national debt). And in so doing, the Right has repeatedly ceded the language of morality, of right and wrong, to the parties of the Left, who are only too happy to run with it and paint themselves as having a monopoly on virtue.

This approach won’t cut it any more. To halt the advance of Jeremy Corbyn, a party leader who actually has principles (however misguided and odious some of them may be) and the courage to defend his beliefs in public, conservatives need to start talking in the same self-assured language of right and wrong. Pointing out the unworkability of socialist policies is insufficient – we need to make the moral case for why cranking up the size of the state and making more people dependent on the government is bad for everybody. We need to become more comfortable speaking in the language of good vs evil – which people understand and respond to – rather than the dry, technical language of financial feasibility.

But more than anything, we conservatives must stop apologising for our belief in smaller government and individual liberty. Our stance should not be that Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left policies would be wonderful if only the magic money tree actually existed. Rather, we should make the case that even if we could afford to implement the Labour manifesto it would have negative impacts on incentives to work, invest and be self-reliant. We have to fight fire with fire.

That’s not to say that the conservatives should not come up with compelling policies to offset the negative consequences of globalisation and automation, some of the most pressing medium term issues we face – of course we should. But we should also explain that the Left’s perpetual fallback of waving their magic wand and creating an expensive new government programme to solve every issue is the wrong way to go – that if we are actually to bind ourselves more closely together as a nation we need to reinvigorate civil society rather than continually undermining it with big government.

Will it be difficult to change our messaging? Absolutely. But as Theresa May can attest, our current method of engaging the electorate isn’t exactly delivering great returns (yes, you can argue that the Tories received their highest vote share in many years, but this doesn’t really matter when conservatives are effectively fighting against a coalition of all the parties of the Left and can’t muster a Commons majority on 42% of the vote).

Chasing after the Labour Party on a race to the Left will not work. If voters want socialism, they’ll choose the real thing. And waffling on about compassionate conservatism will only evoke scorn from commentators like Abi Wilkinson, and provide an easy opening for the Left to virtue-signal all over again.

If the Tories want to actually be in power rather than merely in office, a new approach is required. One which involves more courage and less appeasement.

 

My longer essay on why embracing compassionate conservatism will not make the Tories more popular is here.

 

 

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Peter Hitchens Demands A Real Conservative Alternative To Jeremy Corbyn

Margaret Thatcher hologram

The current cast of characters jockeying to replace Theresa May are almost as underwhelming as the prime minister herself. British conservatives of all shades need to have a full and open debate about how best to move the Conservative Party and the country forward, and then find a future leader with the charisma to take on Jeremy Corbyn in the battle for hearts and minds

Exactly two years ago, I wrote a rather despairing piece asking “Where is the Conservative Party’s Jeremy Corbyn?” Now Peter Hitchens is rightly asking the same question, having long ago despaired at the direction of the Conservative Party and its accommodation with Blairite, centrist managerialism.

Back in August 2015 I wrote:

I want a standard bearer for the Right who actually makes me feel excited, not resigned, when I enter the polling booth. I don’t necessarily expect that person to be elected by a landslide on the first attempt, and to immediately implement their entire agenda in full. But neither do I expect – as presently happens – all of the soul-sapping compromising and watering-down of core principle to take place before the candidate even gets their name on the ballot paper.

Jeremy Corbyn has not done all of his compromising upfront – he is proud of his beliefs, and does not seek to apologise for them. And he doesn’t talk and answer questions as though he is responding to the twitches of a focus group’s instant polling dial. That’s why he is surging in the polls. That’s why previously dejected Labour activists who support Corbyn are suddenly walking a little taller again. That, I think, is why Owen Jones is walking round with such an infuriatingly wide smile on his face at the moment.

It cannot remain this way if we are to be successful in advancing the cause of smaller government and greater individual freedom and autonomy. We cannot allow the Left to monopolise inspiration and ambition, however far-fetched, while we conservatives occupy and embody the dull, managerial, technocratic and remote politics of austerity.

And conservatives will never win a real mandate for change so long as we are content to be the party of last resort, the failsafe option voters pick when all of the other choices are too wacky or offensive to contemplate.

I concluded by asking:

If David Cameron’s Conservative Party was voted out of office today, what will future historians and political commentators say about this government fifty years from now? What will be the Cameron / Osborne legacy? What edifices of stone, statute and policy will remain standing as testament to their time in office? Try to picture it clearly.

Are you happy with what you see?

Substitute Theresa May’s name for David Cameron’s, and pose the same question to yourself. Is the answer any clearer or more satisfactory than it was two years ago?

Clearly not. And now Peter Hitchens has arrived at the same conclusion, writing in the Mail on Sunday:

If (like me) you have attended any of Mr Corbyn’s overflowing campaign meetings, you will have seen the hunger – among the under-30s and the over-50s especially – for principled, grown-up politics instead of public relations pap.

Mr Corbyn reminds mature people of the days when the big parties really differed. He impresses the young because he doesn’t patronise them, and obviously believes what he says. This desire for real politics isn’t just confined to the Left. Ken Livingstone is right to call Mr Corbyn Labour’s Nigel Farage. Ukip appeals to a similar impulse.

Millions are weary of being smarmed and lied to by people who actually are not that competent or impressive, and who have been picked because they look good on TV rather than because they have ideas or character.

Indeed, ideas or character are a disadvantage. Anything resembling a clear opinion is seized upon by the media’s inquisitors, and turned in to a ‘gaffe’ or an outrage.

Actually, I dislike many of Mr Corbyn’s opinions – his belief in egalitarianism and high taxation, his enthusiasm for comprehensive schools, his readiness to talk to terrorists and his support for the EU. Oddly enough, these are all policies he shares with the Tory Party.

But I like the honest way he states them, compared with the Tories’ slippery pretence of being what they’re not.

I have indeed attended one of Jeremy Corbyn’s massive rallies, in which the Labour leader (then fighting to cling on to leadership of the party in the face of a challenge from the hapless Owen Smith) managed to pack out the vast Kilburn State theatre in North London with excited and motivated activists of every age. It was quite a remarkable sight to behold, with energy levels more like those you would see in a hard-fought US presidential primary than a dour Labour Party leadership contest.

Contrast this with the pathetically phony photo opportunities orchestrated by Theresa May’s hapless 2017 general election campaign, with a small huddle of telegenic young activists, clearly bussed in from London, holding up professionally printed placards in front of the Tory campaign bus while the prime minister grated her way through that godawful “strong and stable” stump speech. There was no authentic grassroots enthusiasm for May or her policies, to the extent that CCHQ was terrified to allow the prime minister to get into any kind of unscripted interaction with the public, let alone a televised debate.

Theresa May - conservatives - campaign rally crowd

 

There may well be an appropriate time for dull managerialism and “steady as she goes” leadership, but Britain in 2017 is not it. Obviously Brexit must be handled with skill and sensitivity (not that the government has shown either of these attributes), but in every other respect Britain requires radical solutions to deep-seated problems rather than Theresa May’s brand of denial and incompetence. Whether it’s low productivity, education, the housing crisis, a failing nationalised healthcare system, dangerously pared-down national defence or a society fractured by toxic identity politics, this is a time for bold and unapologetically conservative solutions. But instead we have a weak prime minister at the head of an incoherent government, terrified of proclaiming conservative principles and desperate to move closer to the Labour Party on nearly every issue.

Hitchens goes on to describe what he sees as the ideal future Conservative leader:

My hope, most unlikely to be realised, is that a patriotic, conservative and Christian equivalent of Mr Corbyn will emerge to take him on, and will demonstrate, by his or her strength of conviction, that there is an even greater demand for that cause than there is for old-fashioned leftism. In any case, I think any thoughtful British person should be at least a little pleased to see the PR men and the special advisers and the backstairs-crawlers of British politics so wonderfully wrong-footed by a bearded old bicyclist.

Patriotic and conservative would be a good start, but I don’t think that this is specific enough. Theresa May, for example, ticks all three of Peter Hitchens’ boxes (one can make a valid argument that May represents a serious thread of conservative thought) yet is completely and utterly unequal to the role of prime minister, ideologically and temperamentally.

And as far as being Christian is concerned, Theresa May is a practicing Christian and famously the daughter of a vicar, and yet she has shown no real impulse to halt the suppression of legitimate religious expression where it comes into conflict with the free speech-averse forces of social justice and identity politics, for example. What, then, is the point of cheerleading for a Christian prime minister when they fail to defend religious freedom when in office? I would much rather have a prime minister who is secular-liberal when it comes to religion, eager to separate church (and faith) from state as far as possible while simultaneously protecting the right of British citizens to worship freely.

When it comes to choosing the ideal future Conservative prime minister, I maintain that the Tories could do far worse than select somebody who fits the profile I set out shortly before the disastrous general election back in June:

Ex armed forces (of either gender), mid to senior rank, with an illustrious overseas deployment history. Someone who exudes unapologetic patriotism yet never lapses into cheap jingoism, and whose commitment to defence, national security and veterans affairs is beyond question.

Followed up by a successful later career, possibly in the third sector or the arts but better still in the private sector, having founded a stonking great big corporation that also gives back to the community by employing ex-offenders or partnering with charities to do meaningful work in society.

A solid and consistent record (at least dating to the start of the EU referendum campaign) on Brexit, able to tell a compelling story about how Brexit – properly done – can be good for our democracy and at least neutral on the economic front.

A person who believes that until somebody comes up with a viable alternative to (or augmentation of) the democratic nation state, this institution remains the best method yet devised of ordering human affairs, and that consequently we should not needlessly undermine and vandalise it by vesting power in antidemocratic supranational organisations or pretending that we can sidle our way into a post-patriotic world by stealth rather than with the consent of the people.

Somebody who will not bargain away our civil liberties chasing the chimera of absolute security from terrorists and madmen – particularly while refusing to face down radical Islamism as an ideology to be confronted and defeated – but who will also stand up to expansionist, nonsensical definitions of human rights and an identity politics / political correctness agenda that values hurt feelings more than freedom of expression.

Somebody with the articulateness, gravitas, sincerity and quickness of thought capable of doing the near impossible in 2017: single-handedly turning the tide away from the vapid, broken politics of me, me, me. Somebody willing to ask – as John F. Kennedy once did – not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Somebody who dares to call us to a higher purpose than merely living in a country with “good public services”, deifying “Our NHS” and having the goddamn trains run on time.

Somebody who chooses for us to go to the moon (or rather its current day equivalent in terms of spectacular human achievement) “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills” (John F Kennedy).

Doubtless my idea of the ideal conservative prime minister and Peter Hitchens’ conception will differ somewhat – Hitchens is more socially conservative than I, while I see myself as more of a conservatarian with pragmatic, tempered libertarian instincts.

But these differences of opinion only make it all the more important that we have a full and open debate about the future of conservatism, and what kind of leader would be best placed to move the conservative movement and the country forward. And far better that this conversation first take place in the abstract, as a discussion of principles and ideology, so it does not immediately descend into personality-based infighting and jockeying for position among Theresa May’s likely successors.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is also vitally important that conservatives (I deliberately speak of small-C conservatives rather than the often toxic and inept Conservative Party) find a way to re-engage with a youth vote that the Tories have been shamefully quick to write off and cede to the parties of the Left. This abandonment of the youth vote is absolutely untenable going forward, and is yet another reason why the next Tory leader needs to have sufficient charisma and authenticity to cut through anti-conservative prejudices among young people that have often been baked into their consciences since they first became politically aware.

Until the Conservatives figure out who and what they actually want to be, both Peter Hitchens and I are likely to remain underwhelmed and disappointed. An urgent reckoning needs to take place in order to answer this question: Has seven years of Cameron/Osborne/May-style accommodation with centrist Blairism delivered any real tangible improvement to the trajectory of Britain, or are we largely treading water? And if the latter, is the solution to move even further to the left, as Theresa May and her political spirit animal Nick Timothy seem to want, or is it wiser and better to bring real conservative values to bear on 21st century problems?

As far as I am concerned, the choice is self-evidently clear. The Tories can stubbornly cling to their current philosophy and hope at best to remain in office but not in power for a few more years as they desperately scamper after the Labour Party in their march to the hard left, or they can renew themselves, stop apologising for their conservatism and start enacting it instead.

But in the meantime, let’s start the debate.

 

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Carnage

Donald Trump - American Carnage - first inaugural address

Abandon all hope?

Rudyard Kipling once wrote:

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools…”

Well, I can’t quite say that I have given my life to the causes for which this blog stands – particularly as I only started blogging after the 2010 general election, and my views on some issues have matured and evolved over that time – but I have been doing this for over five years now, sometimes publishing multiple times a day, and I think that I hold my own when it comes to putting my time, money and effort into being an engaged citizen.

And so I think I certainly know what Kipling was driving at when he alluded to the disappointment of seeing a long-cherished and hard-sought goal turn to dust in one’s hand the moment it is finally reached. That feeling pervades politics right now, at least for pro-Brexit, pro-nation state conservatarians such as myself.

2016-2017 has been a period of one step forward, two steps back in many regards. The British people voted for Brexit and freedom from that decaying, antidemocratic political conglomerate known as the European Union, but they did so on the back of a tawdry and deceitful campaign led by proud ignoramuses who wore their lack of a Brexit plan as a badge of honour – and now the hubris of the Westminster Brexit aristocracy threatens to ruin the entire endeavour.

Meanwhile, the Coke Zero Conservative Party managed by a whisper to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s marauding socialists out of office, but only at the expense of turning themselves into a limp, centre-left version of the Labour Party themselves. And now conservatives face the dual indignities of being accused of being heartless haters of the poor and persecutors of the weak despite having ceded most of the intellectual arguments to the Left, and being completely unable to move the needle of British politics in a remotely satisfactorily right-wing direction.

If I’m going to be accused of callously taking a jackhammer to the welfare state I at least want to see a little bit of rubble as my reward. But there is no rubble, only the stench of craven capitulation to the leftist forces of perpetual dependency.

And things are little better across the Atlantic. Whatever pleasure one may have otherwise taken from the humbling of Hillary Clinton in her second presidential campaign – and there were many reasons to want to see a borderline corrupt establishment candidate in hoc to global elites punished at the ballot box – any such joy quickly turned to ashes when faced with the alternative of President Donald J. Trump, who vastly matches and exceeds Clinton’s flaws in every conceivable way.

The real tragedy of the Trump presidency – at least in my view, as I previously discussed on this blog – is that even those few policies and initiatives of the Trump administration which are positive and laudable are actively being rendered toxic and untenable by their association with a man so patently unfit to serve in the highest civilian office.

As with Brexit and the limping British conservative government, I fear that the Trump presidency will shift the Overton window of American politics further and further to the Left the longer it persists – either because Trump himself embraces many protectionist and left-wing ideas, because the Republican Party’s brand is being tarnished through their utter inability to transition from a party of strident protest to a party of responsible government, or because the American Left has been driven to such blind, seething fury at Trump’s personal flaws that any daft socialist or redistributive policy starts to seem appealing to people simply because it is a rebuke to the president.

Almost across the board, applying the normal metrics, this should be a time for celebration. But instead, each victory appears increasingly Pyrrhic. To defend Brexit now is to open oneself to ceaseless mockery and hatred by a cast of bien-pensant know-nothings who think that taking their opinions from the Guardian website makes them high-information voters when in fact they are some of the very, very lowest in the land.

And now even those of us who had nothing to do with the major Brexit campaigns – the increasingly ridiculous Leave.EU or the establishment Vote Leave – are accused of unleashing a tide of hatred and xenophobia, and of “dividing the country”. Of course, our accusers didn’t mind when the country was equally divided prior to the referendum, because the people who disagreed with them were not given a proper voice in power. Only when the machinery of state finally swung into action on behalf of the majority did these pant-wetting histrionics about “divisiveness” begin.

And that is to say nothing of the fact that our political class are mismanaging Brexit to such a jaw-droppingly colossal extent that many Remainers are effectively being proved correct, a fact which they do not hesitate to crow about on television, in the newspapers and in social media. Of course, this is why Brexit needed to happen in the first place – our ability to self-govern has atrophied over decades of relentless integration with a remote and unaccountable supranational government in Brussels.

Bringing power back closer to the people and undoing 40 years of political integration was always going to be an Hurculean, traumatic process (not a singular event), but even if the most dire Brexit predictions come true it is surely better to go through the painful correction rather than simply throw our hands up in the air, admit that we are not able to govern ourselves adequately as a people, and submit permanently to remote technocracy.

But it is increasingly clear that the promise of Brexit will not be realised, at least not by the current crop of politicians, or realistically within at least a couple of decades. Brexit was always going to be a process, not an event. And Brexit itself was never the thing that would deliver the beneficial payload in terms of bringing power and accountability closer to the British people. Brexit merely makes these things remotely possible, by extricating us from treaties and frameworks which give us no opt-out or right of reservation if a particular policy, regulation or initiative is against our national interest.

But our political class are so superficial and intellectually uncurious, and the quality of our political discourse so weak, that this richer conversation has played out only on the independent blogosphere, while prestige news outlets, journalists and politicians present Brexit as a zero-sum game in which – depending on their perspective – either buccaneering Britain defeats the evil continentals, or the Virtuous Europeans give us the “punishment beating” we were so richly warned about during the referendum.

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Effectively overruling the establishment’s carefully laid out plan for our lives was always going to generate a huge backlash, from powerful and well-connected people with the ability to make traditional grassroots anti-establishment backlashes look like a cake sale at the Women’s Institute. Perhaps we forgot this fact because we Brexiteers and defenders of nation state democracy were so used to being part of a backlash ourselves – the backlash against the establishment – that we didn’t give enough credence to the fact that globalists, disinterested “citizens of the world” and other assorted types are equally as invested in their worldview as we are in ours, and in a far stronger position to defend it from attack.

And now that they have experienced repudiation at the ballot box, the establishment’s ability to turn howls of outrage into a full-on filibuster of democratically-made decisions is stronger than many of us planned for. We have Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and the like jabbering away like idiots, totally unmoored from reality, tarnishing the dream of Brexit with every garbled statement. Meanwhile, they – the pro-EU establishment – still control the bulk of the machinery of state, dominate Parliament, the worlds of art, science and commerce. And they would rather see Britain fail so that they can scream an hysterical “I told you so!” at the 52% than muck in and help to amplify the voices of sane Brexiteers (they happy few) who understand what they are talking about.

Neither is the concept of the nation state faring much better in America, where Donald Trump’s presidency has caused American leftists to increasingly embrace a position in which no illegal immigrant should face deportation, or even the slightest hindrance as they attempt to subvert the law and settle in the United States without permission. Never mind that a nation which cannot control its own borders can hardly still count itself a nation – to even question the idea of mass amnesty, sanctuary cities and a fully open door is to be racist towards “undocumented” people, for whom our hearts should brim over with sympathy, while hardening against America’s native-born huddled masses.

But to support the nation state, or its greatest expression through Western Civilization, is becoming increasingly gauche and passe for many in the political elite. Donald Trump recently visited Warsaw and made what was actually a rather decent speech (obviously not of his own creation) about defending Western values from military, terrorism and cultural threats. But of course Donald Trump was the worst possible person to make such a speech, and so now even more hearts will be turned against the idea of taking pride in liberal Western values. The president of the United States actively sets back the causes which he (or the people in his administration who pull the strings) seek to promote, purely by virtue of his ignorance and inestimably deficient personality.

One Australian news anchor put it rather well, remarking that “there’s a tendency among some hopeful souls to confuse the speeches written for Trump with the thoughts of the man himself”. A dangerous tendency indeed. Even when Trump says something broadly positive – such as about supporting the nation state and defending Western values – one cannot rejoice, first because the man who delivers the words renders them toxic and consequently less likely to happen, but also because there will likely be no attempted follow-through anyway. These are just words put into his mouth by a speechwriter or an administration ideologue like Steve Bannon.

The Trump-Bannon or Trump-Miller partnerships are not remotely like that between John F. Kennedy and his brilliant speechwriter Ted Sorensen, where the wise counsellor Sorensen merely refined JFK’s own fairly sophisticated thoughts and words. No, the incumbent of the Oval Office is a shallow, egotistical and unlettered man who just wants to be seen to be winning, and who can be manipulated into doing pretty much anything so long as it makes for a good TV visual.

That’s why one can’t even rejoice when Trump says something vaguely encouraging in a speech – because at the best of times, Trump is effectively little more than a sock puppet for the cleverer, more manipulative people jostling for influence within his administration.

The future of conservatism also presently hangs in the balance, on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, the Republican Party – having sold their soul to Donald Trump – seems determined to prove that they cannot be trusted as a responsible party of government. If you want angry tri-cornered hatted protests about freedom and liberty, the GOP is probably still just about the party for you. But if you expect mature governance and the diligent application of conservative policies in government then look elsewhere.

Eight years of whining about the evils of ObamaCare and the Republicans have no realistic plan for repeal. All of their proposals get dreadful scores from the Congressional Budget Office because they are forecasted to simultaneously throw people back onto the uninsured scrapheap while simultaneously costing more money. “Repeal and replace” is rapidly becoming the Republican Party’s version of Vote Leave’s “£350 million for the NHS” pledge. And if the GOP cannot deliver some kind of conservative reform that meaningfully benefits people’s lives by the time of the 2018 midterms, they will be punished far worse than Theresa May’s limp Tories.

Speaking of which, British conservatism is in complete and utter crisis. As I have extensively written on this blog over several years now, failing to robustly defend small-government conservative values comes with a price attached. And now we know what that price is – Jeremy Corbyn on the verge of entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister, all because Theresa May’s cowardly and incompetent election campaign failed to make a bold and compelling case for conservative solutions.

But truthfully this is not all Theresa May’s fault. The rot goes deep, even back beyond the Cameron and Osborne years. If you do not defend conservative principles as an inherently good thing rather than a necessary virtue, eventually you will lose. And for years now the British public has been fed a poisonous diet of the idea that the only “good” conservatism is that sop to the Left known as “compassionate conservatism”, while any attempt to preach the virtues of self-reliance, individualism and civil society over the state is seen as somehow evil.

Then look at the remorseless advances made by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, who have broken free from the university campus and started to inflict their dogmatic regressive illiberalism across whole swathes of society. At one point I attempted to document daily occurrences of overreach and infringement on civil liberties by the social justice brigade – my “Tales from the Safe Space” series – but by about the sixtieth entry it started getting a little bit repetitive basically issuing the same dire warning week after week.

If the warning was heard, it certainly has not been heeded. Political leaders, corporations, media outlets, journalists, commentators and virtue-signalling private citizens have all been falling over themselves to jump on the social justice bandwagon.

Even once-venerable institutions like America’s Southern Poverty Law Centre would rather spend their time hounding brave reformist Muslims and ex-Muslims who speak out against extremism, accusing people like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali of being Islamophobic extremists themselves, than stick to their core mission of shining a spotlight on genuine racism and discrimination, particularly in the Islamic world. The ACLU has additionally given itself over completely to punishing anybody who doesn’t buy into radical new gender theory, while the UK’s Liberty organisation has long favoured leftist agitation over the single-minded defence of true civil liberties.

In short, there is little to celebrate and even less to give cause for hope. Having snatched power, those few forces which could have potentially been an agent for change have instead been stymied by their own incompetence, while the forces of the globalist Left fortify themselves in temporary opposition.

I wish it were otherwise, but at present I do not see how. Compare these two extracts from the Obama second inaugural speech in 2013 and Trump’s first (and hopefully last) inaugural in 2017. First the Obama:

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. (Applause.) An economic recovery has begun. (Applause.) America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together. (Applause.)

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. (Applause.) We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. (Applause.)

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

And then the Trump:

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now.

You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.

These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

The two speeches are truly not that different, in basic message if not in style. Or at least, the difference lies in what is not said rather than in what is said.

Both make the same essential (and valid) point – that there is an “American Carnage” or Western Carnage in progress. But while former President Obama did little to arrest this trend and is now happy to go off yachting with Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen in his retirement, current President Trump would rather rage against his critics at 5AM on Twitter than do anything about it.

And waiting eagerly in the wings, like hungry jackals, are the same cast of incompetent, self-serving clowns who gave us Donald Trump and Theresa May in the first place.

For conservatives and supporters of the nation state as the greatest bulwark against threats to our liberty, optimism is vanishingly hard to find in politics right now. And there it is.

 

Apologies for the recent lack of blogging, due to health issues. Hopefully normal service will commence soon.

 

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Embracing ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ Will Not Make The Rootless Tories More Popular

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Compassionate conservatism barely won David Cameron a majority government in 2015, even against the hapless Ed Miliband. Rebooting the flawed concept, especially against Jeremy Corbyn’s turbo-charged ultra-compassionate socialism, means fighting the Left on their own terms and is doomed to failure

Despite its complete and utter failure to deliver a solid electoral victory for the conservatives, or to meaningfully detoxify the Conservative Party’s “nasty party” image, the woolly, nebulous and thoroughly unhelpful concept of “compassionate conservatism” refuses to die.

Following Theresa May’s abject failure in the 2017 general election – losing the Conservative Party their majority by failing to counter the appeal of a marauding socialist who actually has principles, stands for them unapologetically and convinces more and more people of their value – all manner of ideologically limp Wet Tories are now coming out of the woodwork to proclaim that the only way for conservatism to survive is to meet Jeremy Corbyn half way.

These appeasers of the Left (I won’t call them pragmatists because that kinder term suggests a kind of nobility and wisdom for which there is very little evidence) seem to sincerely believe that staying in power means accepting vast swathes of the Left’s argument about the welfare state, wealth redistribution and fiscal restraint. They would have the rest of us believe that conservatives face inevitable defeat unless the Tories compete with Labour to be the loudest cheerleaders of the bloated public sector.

Charlie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover, is only the latest to advance this defeatist theory, writing in Conservative Home:

Step one to victory is to conquer the idea that the Conservatives are on the side of the rich. Every Conservative I know is in politics because we care about the vulnerable and the least well off. At the election, we failed to explain to people how our values offer the best for people and their families.

Conservatism is at its best when we communicate a vision of Britain as a land of opportunity, aspiration and success. A place where anyone, whatever their background, can achieve and succeed. Where they can climb the ladder of life. A country where people can get jobs, a home to call their own and achieve their full potential. Where Government gives people a hand-up, not handouts – and hard work brings rewards.

Our caring conservative tradition is also central to all that we are. This is why we must showcase our values as the party of compassion. The conservatism that seeks to protect people from the worst excesses of the system.

Protecting people, and being the party of compassion, matters every bit as the land of opportunity. This means standing up against rogue landlords, overcharging utility companies, loan sharks, tax dodgers, and unscrupulous employers.

And yet rather than proposing that the Conservatives do what Margaret Thatcher did to the hard left in the 1980s – namely, steamrollering over their socialist squeals, failed dogmas and entrenched special interests to speak directly to the people and sell them an alternative vision of Britain’s future – Charlie Elphicke proposes instead that we prance around humming The Red Flag and hoping to convince enough wavering voters that we are little more than the Labour Party with a brain and a calculator.

Elphicke proposes capitulation to the false leftist narrative that it is in any way “compassionate” to redistribute wealth and income from those who earned it in order to better fund a welfare machine which encourages dependency and helplessness more than self-sufficiency. Elphicke – though he would never say so out loud – effectively accepts the idea that we should give a man a fish, and then another fish, and then another one until the barrel is empty, rather than teaching people to fish for themselves.

Elphicke continues:

I’ve spoken to colleagues from across the country who were asked by people on the doorstep what our manifesto offered for them. They struggled to find positive things to say.

Now I’ve heard people say we didn’t have a “retail offer.” But, you know, we’re not selling soap powder here. We are about caring for people and changing lives. We failed to explain how we would do that – and so people didn’t know.

It’s not difficult to think how we could have done so much more to support traditionally Conservative motorists, aspirant home owners, small business people, and the elderly. Or how we could have reached out to families and younger people with lifelong learning, greater help for carers, and more support to get on the housing ladder.

We should have showcased our record of action, too, because it is pretty incredible. We brought Britain back from the brink. We have delivered record employment, a strong economy, a powerful recovery from Labour’s crash, along with pumping vast amounts of cash into the NHS. Our failure to highlight our record cost us heavily.

Many of these observations are correct, but the conclusion which Elphicke draws from them are depressingly wide of the mark.

Yes, the Tories did an abysmal job of standing up for their record. At a time when the Labour Party manifesto offered an series of calculated bribes catering even to firmly middle class voters, the Tories went to battle with their mindless slogan of “strong and stable”, and a deafening silence when it came to defending their limited efforts at fiscal restraint since 2010.

But Charlie Elphicke’s vision of “caring conservatism” is not the solution. Rather than standing up to the politics of Me Me Me or turning away from the notion of bribing voters with cynical manifesto pledges, Elphicke merely proposes that the Tories start using the same playbook. Even the term “caring conservatism” should raise the hackles of any self-respecting conservative, suggesting as it does the idea of government as an omnipresent, watchful auxiliary parent, charged with wiping our noses and keeping us safe at the expense of our freedom and individuality.

Worse still, to even talk of “compassionate” or “caring” conservatism is to concede that ordinary, vanilla conservatism is somehow cruel or lacking in compassion. It suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with our worldview and our politics, and that only by being born again and accepting the “compassionate” modifier do we become semi-respectable people with whom it is just about acceptable to associate in public.

This is incredibly counterproductive. Economically speaking, conservatism at its best means government getting out of the way so that people can succeed according to their merits, and providing a limited but dependable safety net for those in real need by not lavishing unnecessary benefits on over half of the population who are arbitrarily declared “vulnerable” and in dubious need of government assistance. The point that conservatives should be screaming from the rafters is that real conservatism would do more for the truly needy, by rolling back a benefits culture which sees as much as 50% of taxpayers becoming net dependants on the state and compensating for that rollback by lowering general taxation and restructuring the welfare state so as to provide something more than grim subsistence for those who need to use it.

You don’t see Labour MPs or activists describing themselves as “sane Labour” or “grown-up Labour”, effectively conceding that the more statist, big-government policies of their party base are somehow insane or childish (even though they are). They own their left-wingery and proclaim it proudly, not apologetically. Centrist Tories or “compassionate conservatives”, meanwhile, come across as ashamed of their own party and apologetic for their own beliefs, and seem determined to tack as closely to Corbyn’s party as possible before the cognitive dissonance becomes too unbearable.

This is a contest that conservatives can never win. In the race to be more paternalistic, more restrictive of behaviour and more redistributive of wealth, the Tories will lose to Labour every day of the week. And with Jeremy Corbyn in charge of the Labour Party it won’t even be close.

Look, I get the superficial appeal of Charlie Elphicke’s proposal. It offers a quick and easy route to staying in power, where rather than having to do the hard work of challenging voter assumptions and telling the electorate difficult but authentic truths, instead we can just act a bit more like the Labour Party and stay in government forever. But it won’t work.

If the 2017 general election taught us anything, it is that an entire generation of young voters have grown up experiencing all of the wealth, liberty and opportunity which Thatcherism helped secure for them before they were even born, but that these same people have been taught to despise the very things – capitalism, free markets, a less activist state – which made our material wealth possible in the first place.

Corbyn’s cohort of young admirers literally share memes on social media using smartphones and personal computers which were only put in reach of ordinary people thanks to the free market they are busy disparaging, and they do so without a shred of irony because throughout their young lives, nobody has dared to forcefully defend Margaret Thatcher’s legacy or to suggest that real “compassion” means more than blindly firehosing taxpayer money at every social problem and expecting positive results.

An entire generation has grown up (and older voters gone over two decades) without really hearing a stirring argument in favour of smaller-government, pro-market policies from any senior politician. Even most Conservative MPs have preferred to talk about mitigating the “damage” done by the market, or as Elphicke puts it, “protect[ing] people from the worst excesses of the system” rather than explaining how “the system” is a good thing, not to mention a hell of a lot better than socialism.

Neither has there been an adequate effort on the part of Conservatives to rebut the Left’s cynical and dishonest attempt to portray every failure of regulation, every act of crony corporatism as a failure of capitalism itself. Here, Charlie Elphicke’s idea of a “rapid rebuttal” unit actually has real merit. Too often we cower and equivocate whenever the Left trot out their Capitalist Bogeyman of the Day – be it Philip Green or “the bankers” – rather than pushing back and explaining that criminal acts or regulatory failure does not discredit the economic system which has delivered more wealth and prosperity to more people than any other in human history.

But all of this needs to be done under the overall aegis of a vision of conservatism as a force which liberates people and sets them free rather than one which coddles them.

Sure, the Conservative Party might eke out another few general election victories (or at least 2017-style non-defeats) by playing up the “caring conservatism” angle and chasing Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party ever further to the left. But any such battles won will come at the expense of losing the wider war. If the Conservative Party is to be nothing more than the Labour Party with a modicum more economic sense then really, what’s the point in even bothering? A succession of such Conservative prime ministers, having totally forsaken their own raison d’être, could be in office for years yet never really in power. Theresa May in perpetuity.

The Thatcherite revolution was made possible partly because years of stultifying, socialist post-war consensus led Britain to a crisis point, teetering on the brink of irreversible national decline. In 1979, the Conservative Party took advantage of that crisis to discredit the status quo and present their alternative offering as both beneficial, necessary and inevitable, shifting the Overton Window of British politics firmly to the right. And while there were negative side effects which should not be overlooked or minimised – particularly outside the southeast – the Thatcherite medicine worked.

We are at another such crisis point today, this time brought about through the confluence of Brexit, the unmitigated side-effects of globalisation, an economic recovery which has been intangible for too many people, an over-centralised Westminster government and a terminally unreformed public sector. Labour are already moving to take advantage of this crisis and shift the Overton Window back to the left. And they are succeeding – ideas which were fringe absurdities twenty years ago, like wage councils and the renationalisation of industry, are now stunningly back on the agenda, while the man who promotes them is a few false moves by Theresa May away from 10 Downing Street.

Conservatives cannot afford to squander this opportunity, to allow the current political crisis (or state of flux) to be used by Labour to drag Britain further to the left without even putting up a fight for the small-government, conservative values which once saved this country. And breathing life back into the corpse of compassionate conservatism will only aid the Left in their endeavour. It will be a huge signal to our ideological foes that we accept the premise of their argument (compassion = a bigger state and more redistribution) and only encourage them to expand their demands move further and further to the left themselves.

It is ludicrous that we even find ourselves in this position. Jeremy Corbyn was twenty points down in the opinion polls until Theresa May launched her disastrous and thoroughly un-conservative general election campaign, and now he is within striking distance of 10 Downing Street. Red Conservatism or Blue Labour, a la Nick Timothy and his disciples, doesn’t work. If people want swivel-eyed socialism they’ll pick the real deal over the off-brand equivalent, every single time.

Corbynites believe that conservatives are evil, heartless, amoral “Tory Scum”. We will not suddenly win their friendship, or their respect, by deferring to them on a few specific issues or taking the sharp edge off our message of economic freedom, individual liberty and a smaller, more efficient state. No appeasement is possible or desirable. The only thing to be done is to get out and win the argument in public, to have a million difficult conversations with people who are currently quite sympathetic to the Corbyn worldview because of our shameful failure to adequately preach our own values.

The alternative – if we insist on reanimating the corpse of compassionate conservatism – is to doom ourselves to more centrist malaise at best, and a truly frightening Jeremy Corbyn socialist government at worst.

 

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