Conservatives Are Conceding The Battle Of Ideas Without A Fight

Jeremy Corbyn thumbs up

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is hard at work promoting their beguiling new left-wing vision for Britain while the Tories offer nothing but drudgery and incompetence

Every day now brings more ominous warning signs for the squabbling, directionless Tory government that the only people in Britain offering a clear, articulable vision for the country are those on the Corbynite hard-left wing of the Labour Party.

Four months after the general election, and all of the political energy and momentum is still on the Left. Jeremy Corbyn is more wily than he was in 2015, less prone to gaffes or accidentally handing his enemies the initiative. His centrist rivals have fallen into line, discredited and with no strong candidate to unite behind. Moreover, while most conservatives spent the summer licking their wounds far from the ideological field of battle, Momentum continued to organise and prepare for what they believe is one final push required topple the Tories and seize power.

And this newfound confidence is starting to creep into the rhetoric used by Labour politicians. Jon Trickett, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, writes this week in LabourList:

There was a time after the second world war when government saw its central role as creating a socially just Britain where full employment, adequate housing for all and free education was the right of the many.

In that time, there was always more to achieve but the national sense of purpose was clear.

It was a time when jobs were secure and for the long term. Policy was designed to make communities feel secure, when the past was a bad place of mass unemployment, slum housing and no hope. But the future was full of promise, where strangers were welcomed into communities because no one felt their jobs were under threat.

And in the time, it was not acceptable that the growing wealth of the country was only distributed to the wealthiest.

A coherent set of progressive values aimed at building a social contract in which we had a sense of duty to the community, and the country agreed to stand behind those who could not care for themselves.

Note what Trickett is doing here. He is building a narrative, talking about the kind of country we once were and citing the great endeavours from our past in order to build a link with the present and generate enthusiasm for future Labour policies.

President Lyndon B. Johnson did something very similar (albeit at a much more sophisticated level) when introducing the Great Society initiative in 1964, not merely proposing a raft of random new socialist programmes but making them collectively seem almost inevitable by deliberately linking them with the American founding, history and national destiny:

The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.

For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

In fact, this is a simple device which even mediocre politicians and rhetoricians were once capable of using before technocratic centrism sucked the soul and energy out of politics. It is the exact opposite of anything written or spoken by a Conservative minister in Theresa May’s administration, because great political rhetoric can only exist when there are great ideas to be expressed or arguments to be won.

Trickett goes on to give a perfunctory but devastating indictment of the state of Britain under the Conservatives:

But now you would struggle to discover a shared sense of national purpose. You could describe a sense of anomie in Britain where a sense of common values, duty to others and co-operation for shared ends are, to one extent or another, lacking.

Too often: post-industrial communities have been abandoned; young people have less hope than ever before of acquiring a home at reasonable cost; education has become a commodity rather than a public good; where that which was common is frequently private or suffering from severe spending cuts; and, where the wealth of the most privileged is growing exponentially at the expense of the rest.

How do we explain this shift in the national culture?  Or rather, how do we account its disintegration and fracturing? Is this a uniquely British problem? And can we begin to rebuild a renewed socialist project based on 21st century.

At this point a five-alarm fire warning should be sounding in CCHQ and inside the head of every single Tory or small-C conservative in Britain, because Jon Trickett has just eloquently and concisely diagnosed the ailments of modern Britain – the fact that we are effectively drifting as a nation with no core unifying purpose or attachment to one another and a diminishing sense of obligation to our fellow citizens. In other words, Trickett has created an itch, a burning discomfort with the status quo, and now stands ready to offer voters the calamine lotion of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist policies.

One does not have to agree that building “a renewed socialist project” is the answer. The point is that Trickett has clearly defined a problem and proposed a solution, all in the space of three short paragraphs. The Tories, meanwhile, are stuck defending a mediocre record with the huge distraction of Brexit, and seem to be loudly insisting that everything is great despite mounting evidence to the contrary (see Universal Credit). They have chosen to be cheerleaders for the status quo rather than agitators for change, even though the Conservative leadership election-that-wasn’t last year presented the perfect opportunity for unflinching self-assessment followed by an ideological reset.

That opportunity was squandered. And it has really come to something quite appalling when a Labour politician is responding to the priorities of this blog before the Tories pay proper attention. Jon Trickett is hardly known as Labour’s greatest thinker, but at least he understands that mandate-bestowing electoral victories are won on the back of selling the electorate an inspiring vision for the future.

Having a narrative is important. Good leaders and successful political movements understand this. The Attlee government alluded to by Jon Trickett certainly had a clear vision of the New Jerusalem they wanted to build out of the rubble of war. Margaret Thatcher had her urgent mission to save Britain from a failing post-war consensus and terminal national decline. Even David Cameron had his “Big Society”, an idea which might have been genuinely transformative if only it was bolstered with more thought and political courage.

In America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his “New Deal”. LBJ championed the “Great Society”. Ronald Reagan beguiled the nation with his promise of “Morning in America” after years of perceived stagnation under presidents Ford and Carter. And while President Obama’s soaring rhetoric often exceeded his relatively pedestrian governing agenda, his 2008 message of “hope and change” also strongly resonated with many Americans (including millions who deserted the Democrats to vote for Donald Trump in 2016 after no positive change appeared in their lives).

British politics has been stuck in such a dismal slump because for two decades an incredibly narrow, self-serving consensus was allowed to crowd out all other perspectives. And while this consensus served many people fairly well, its policy outcomes focused almost exclusively on funnelling material benefits (either wealth and career opportunities or literal welfare benefits) to certain specified groups of people rather than calling all of us together as a society united by a common bond, culture and purpose.

That approach has been found wanting. When the bipartisan political consensus (favouring EU membership, social liberalisation, globalism and corporatism) goes unchallenged it feels no need to respond to the concerns of those who do not benefit from existing policy. That is why for all the material progress seen in Britain we are still blighted by low productivity, family breakdown, divisions over immigration and a lack of any meaningful government response to the negative side-effects of automation, outsourcing and globalisation.

By electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader, some within the Labour Party recognised that continuing to stand up for a failing political consensus was no way to address these problems or win a decisive mandate for left-wing government. As incumbents, the Tories were left as the only major party championing the status quo, and rather than develop a radical, inspirational right-wing message of their own they continued to double down on bland, uninspiring centrism under Theresa May.

What makes it especially galling that the Left rather than the Right have recognised the need for a positive, bold new narrative is that it is the Left who are most in thrall to the Cult of Identity Politics which does so much to atomise society and make people see themselves as members of persecuted identity groups first and foremost rather than fellow citizens of a united country. Somehow, despite this increasingly prevalent mindset within their ranks, some on the Left still managed to recognise the need for a coherent, inspiring national message, a message with the potential to unite a broad swathe of society behind it (though whether it succeeds is another matter).

As John Prescott boasted earlier this year:

Finally, we’re talking about ideas and policies – not splits and personalities. Twenty years ago next month, Labour won an ­election landslide because we were united, trusted and had policies people could understand. When we lost in 2010, I felt we lost our way. We didn’t want to defend our record in government and by 2015 we accepted Tory austerity.

At least Labour is now ­developing clear red water between us and May. Not with soundbites and brickbats, but with popular policies.

Ideas and policies over splits and personalities.

Meanwhile, what do the Tories offer? False promises of being “strong and stable”, a moronic slogan which described an unattainable state of being rather than a clear direction for the country. More dull, technocratic drudgery in which eliminating the budget deficit (painstakingly slowly) is considered an aspiration worth putting in neon lights and making the focus of their government. Division and incompetence on Brexit, with the only optimistic Tory voices now belonging to free trade fantasists who want Britain to unilaterally lower barriers to trade and who think that crashing out of the EU and defaulting to WTO trade terms is a smart decision. Barely concealed leadership rivalries between a cast of identikit Cabinet ministers who seem to be competing with one another based on personality rather than different visions for the country.

Yet even now, the Conservative Party has no idea of the terminal danger it is in. Despite a few plucky efforts to re-inject some proper thinking and ideas into the party, the prime minister and her Cabinet offer no real ideological leadership whatsoever. Consumed by Brexit (and doing a pretty poor job at that) they seem to have abdicated any responsibility for using government to lead the country to a better place. Everything they do is reactive and cynical, like Theresa May’s university tuition fee freeze and Chancellor Philip Hammond’s age-based tax proposals, transparently cynical attempts to court the youth vote which are laughable in their inadequacy.

A couple of days ago I mused about whether the Conservatives can renew themselves ideologically and spiritually while still in office. This already slim prospect looks less and less likely by the day, both because senior people within the Tory Party seem to be too busy lurching from crisis to crisis to see the bigger picture and because all of the ideological energy and political momentum is on the Left right now.

And where there is new conservative thinking, it tends to counsel more, not less, accommodation with the Left. Some MPs, like Sam Gyimah, talk the right language of purpose and ambition but then disappointingly default to predictable, Left-leaning “compassionate conservative” solutions. And even these efforts at conservative renewal tend to focus more on what the government could and should do for us rather than what we collectively might accomplish together as a people. Time and again, the present Conservative Party capitulates to the Left and apologises for its own principles.

This is frustrating because conservatives should be able to come up with a far more inspirational, compelling message than the one they have been peddling. The Left’s entire focus is fixed firmly on inequality. Yet even die-hard Social Justice warriors would surely admit that equality is a hygiene factor, the absolute baseline for which society should aim (though they might then go on to disagree about whether equality or opportunity or outcome should be the goal).

Therefore, as eloquent as Jon Trickett’s words are – and as much as they should scare conservatives who are yet to join the ideological battle – equality remains insufficient as an organising principle for society or a shared national ambition. We need more concrete goals toward which we can all strive and move together, while in the background we are working hard to achieve a just society (however we choose to define it).

And luckily for conservatives, this is what the Left still does not get. Though they have woken up to the need to talk in terms of vision and ambition while the Tories are still lost at sea, the Left still sees achieving equality as the ultimate goal. One gets the distinct impression that many on the hard Left would not much care if we never really accomplished anything great as a country and even regressed somewhat in terms of material comfort and economic development, so long as society was flattened and the gap between rich and poor reduced. To listen to many a Labour speech, one almost pictures a country with a state-of-the-art NHS hospital on every street corner but a population so busy marvelling at their wonderful state of equality that they forget to go out and change the world.

So there remains an opportunity for conservatives to sneak in with an improved narrative and national ambition, one which aspires to something more than mere equality. Something which actually seeks to organise and harness the best of our energies and skills as we strive to make our country and the world better, not just more equal. Such a vision, carefully crafted and persuasively argued, would beat the Left’s narrow-minded focus on equality any day of the week.

So who will step up to the challenge and help develop a worthy conservative response to the re-energised Left? Because right now they are the ones fizzing with energy and ideas, while conservatism seems content to trudge wearily to its grave, quite possibly dragging the country along with it.

 

UPDATE – 17 October

Evgeny Pudovkin makes some good points over at Comment Central, specifically around how the Tories can potentially keep Theresa May in place as a “bad bank” repository for public dissatisfaction with the status quo while developing new ideas and new talent in parallel:

Some argue for replacing May with a fresh candidate who could offer the Tories a new vision. Yet May is still at Number 10 due to the very reason of her being a fulfiller and not a prophet. Her main role entails overseeing already introduced reforms – Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, the house building programme and, indeed, Brexit. That doesn’t leave much time for blue-sky thinking, at least not until future relations with the EU are at least broadly defined. Just what exactly will toppling May achieve, apart from spawning new rivalries?

Any vision for post-Brexit Britain must be cultivated in parallel with May’s premiership. First of all, prospective candidates should establish a stronger presence on social media. The time when David Cameron could simply dismiss digital communication with his “Britain is not Twitter” jibe is over. As historian Niall Ferguson explained (here and here), the successes of both Donald Trump and the Leave campaign can be explained at least partially by their presence on social media. Secondly, the next leadership candidate might want to spend more time with the grassroots. Finally, a prospective challenger could create a new platform for developing policy. The Centre for Policy Studies served an important vehicle for Thatcher’s revolution, while Policy Exchange helped to inject a more coherent vision into Cameron’s project.

The dichotomy between May’s stable rule and the need to reinvigorate the Tory party is false. You can do both at the same time.

I agree in principle. Of course, this approach depends entirely on the public retaining patience with the Tories long enough for them to come through the other side of Brexit with an attractive new philosophy of government ready to go and an equally attractive leadership candidate to pick up the torch.

Right now, I struggle to see where the seeds of a new 21st century conservatism are germinating. Certainly the think tanks are nothing like the humming centres of creative energy that they were back when they propelled Margaret Thatcher to power with a copy of the Stepping Stones report in her pocket.

On paper, what Evgeny Pudovkin proposes makes perfect sense. In practice, I don’t see where the new ideas or the leadership talent are going to come from. I sincerely hope that this is due to my political myopia rather than a genuine dearth of new ideas within the British conservative movement, but I am not hopeful.

 

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The Centrist Persecution Complex

Tony Blair

Discredited centrists, locked out of power and influence for the first time in decades, mount a crisis PR campaign to salvage their reputation

It reached a peak immediately after the surprise victory for Team Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum, with weepy centrists tearfully quoting W. B. Yeats to each other (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world“) and huddling in fear of the oncoming fascist terror, as though Britain had been suddenly stripped of all decency and reason overnight.

But truthfully, the Lamentation of the Centrists began the moment that Jeremy Corbyn’s unlikely bid for the Labour Party leadership started picking up steam in the summer of 2015. It began when a cohort of bland, unremarkable political nothings (to call them technocrats would bestow an undeserved suggestion of expertise and competence) suddenly realised that the comfortable, predictable career progression and access to power they took for granted was in jeopardy, and all because some obscure, dusty old backbencher with these strange things called “principles” and “political convictions” was generating widespread grassroots enthusiasm.

Since these events, any suggestion or development which threatens to marginally expand the narrow Overton Window of British politics has been greeted by the centrists of both parties as a disaster waiting to happen. Back when Ed Miliband proposed energy price to limit consumer utility bill increases, the Tories treated it like a 1970s-style demand for socialist renationalisation of industry, which was made all the more ironic since Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party then actually proposed the renationalisation of industry in their 2017 manifesto while Theresa May’s Tories now think that price controls are a wonderful idea.

The window of political possibilities has thus been expanding, but primarily in a leftward direction, since the present-day Conservative Party lacks anybody willing or able to make a robust, inspiring and unapologetic argument for right-wing policies. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has single-handedly proved to a sceptical political and media establishment that having a coherent political ideology and policies which naturally flow from it can still be attractive to voters, particularly when communicated clearly and unapologetically.

And this has the centrists scared. What once looked like a temporary, aberrant blip on the horizon and was later nervously dismissed as a brief interruption to their natural right to rule is now starting to look like a permanent, existential threat. And predictably enough, something of a desperate fightback is now underway.

Of course, being centrists, they cannot help but belittle and condescend to the millions of people who grew tired of their self-serving shtick and started looking elsewhere for political inspiration, even as they seek to win back their favour. Thus we are told over and over again that the centrists are the wise adults in the room, the mature grownups who see the world as it is rather than as they wish it were and choose their dismal policies accordingly, while we partisan hotheads on the left and right are being immature and unrealistic by daring to “dream of things that never were, and ask why not”.

The centrists sometimes go on to argue that theirs is also a coherent political ideology, and that their political “beliefs” should not be dismissed simply because they do not hew towards one extreme or another. This is most often brought up in response to my remarking that a leftist sees a river and demands that a bridge be built across it at any cost, the conservative sees the same river and says that a new bridge would be expensive and unnecessary, but a centrist compromises and builds half a bridge halfway across the river and congratulates himself on his pragmatism.

Their defence against this charge is false – true centrism is absolutely not an ideology or worldview of its own, since in a strict sense it merely defines the midpoint between two more polarised political worldviews. When one side manages to push the centre of political gravity left or right, the centre will move with it, maintaining an equidistant position. This is the definition of reactionary opportunism, not principle.

But in another sense, the whining “centrists” are absolutely right. They do indeed have a unique and defined worldview, it just happens to be more of an establishment worldview than a truly centrist one. For a long time, the two terms were interchangeable since Labour and the Conservatives had staked out very predictable and largely static positions since the dawn of the New Labour government. Today’s so-called “centrist” politicians therefore tend to be those people who personally benefit (and/or advocate for those who benefit) from the current status quo, the pathetic tug of war between a not-very-conservative Tory Party and what was until recently a Blairite “sons of Thatcher” Labour Party.

And nobody can say that the United Kingdom as a whole has not prospered, materially at least, under the aegis of the centrists, particularly to look at London or the regeneration of other major British cities. But at the same time, other places have been hollowed out. Regional cities, market towns and suburban commuterville have often become scruffy, more deprived and less pleasant, characterised by vacated high street shop units rather than vegan hipster taco bars.

My own hometown of Harlow, Essex has been very hard hit in recent years, with nearly all the large employers either moving out or significantly downscaling, and the opening of a new retail area only causing businesses to migrate from the other end of the town centre, leaving it a wasteland of charity shops, second hand stores and a few Eastern European mini-marts. Meanwhile, firms which once offered entry-level office work and the possibility of advancement have been replaced by vast distribution centres which offer minimum wage warehouse work and no career progression.

If the centrists even noticed the hollowing out of large parts of the country on their watch, they had over a decade to show that they cared by coming up with new policy prescriptions to make Britain better equipped to face the challenges of globalisation, automation, outsourcing and localised mass immigration. But no sympathy was forthcoming, let alone concrete solutions. And now, with Brexit and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, the establishment is being forced to pay in a lump for pretending to care about the entire country while looking out only for very specific segments of society.

Naturally, the centrists do not see it this way. In their alternative narrative, they are the victims. The likes of Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Sir Nicholas Soames and Anna Soubry probably imagine themselves as Cicero banished from Rome, stellar public servants unfairly cast from favour by an unreasonable mob whose passions will eventually cool and allow them to resume their rightful position in charge of the nation’s affairs.

A new piece by Helen Lewis in the New Statesman perfectly encapsulates this sense of self-entitled grievance, beginning with the headline “Are you now, or have you ever been, a centrist?”, actually likening their plight to the victims of the communist witch-hunts of the 1950s (modesty and a sense of perspective are not the centrist’s forte).

Lewis writes:

Yes, we’ve been here before. The word “neoliberal” migrated from describing a particular kind of political ideology to a catch-all for anything vaguely capitalist the speaker didn’t like.

[..] “Centrist” is now doing a similar job. In the way it is used by the Labour left, the world is divided into three categories: them, Actual Nazis, and everyone else, who is a centrist.

Boo hoo. How sad that the denizens of centristland, who for years maintained their vice-like grip on power by smearing everybody else as a dangerous extremist, now find themselves being criticised, sometimes unfairly. I can’t possibly imagine what that must feel like.

None of this is to say that there is not a time for more centrist, technocratic leadership. There undoubtedly is. When times are good, threats are few and both society and the economy are in a reasonably satisfactory steady-state then choosing politicians and leaders without much of an ideological compass but the pragmatic ability to get things done can be absolutely the right choice. The problem only comes when the centrists and technocrats outstay their welcome, lingering on with their cautious and unambitious  approach in the face of impending danger or disruption.

One could certainly argue that early New Labour acquitted this “steady state” management job fairly well, inheriting the Thatcher economic transformation and reaping its benefits through studious inaction rather than torpedoing Britain with an immediate return to 90 percent top tax rates. But it is also clear that Blairite and Brownite Labour then went wrong by maintaining their cautious, plodding approach in the face of globalisation, spiking immigration from the new accession EU countries and the 2008 crash and recession.

It should now be clear to all that this is no longer a time for centrist, technocratic leadership. The challenges we face on the domestic, foreign and national security fronts – reviving the economy and ensuring that more Brits are equipped to prosper in it, asserting British influence on the world stage and tackling the evil ideology of Islamist terror – will not be solved by tweaking the dials or turning the tiller half a degree in a particular direction. Far more radical and ambitious government is required to meet these challenges.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I do not have a ready-made answer for what this new governing agenda should be. Conservatives in particular have a real challenge to come up with a policy mix which does not simply ape Labour’s go-to solution of waving a magic wand and creating a new government programme to deal with every single social or economic ill. But just as the need for the Thatcher government’s monetarism and supply-side policies was realised by only a few people in the 1960s and 70s, so the answer to our present difficulties may presently be seen as equally marginal and controversial. As Lincoln once said, the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.

I am often gently mocked or criticised by friends and readers for being too negative about contemporary politicians, as though by objecting to the various shades of beige offered by Labour and the Conservatives I am somehow setting my standards unreasonably high. I strenuously disagree. Would somebody in the early 1970s have been unreasonable to be disillusioned with both Labour and the Conservatives? Hardly. The Heath, Wilson and Callaghan governments were all wedded to the same failing post-war consensus which was slowly dragging Britain toward terminal national decline. Rejecting the statist politics of the 1970s was absolutely the right thing to do – the dogmas of the immediate post-war years were inadequate to the stormy seventies. And so it is now, when the dogmas which served some people so well in the nineties and early 21st century are being rejected by a majority of the country.

And this is what the centrists just don’t get. They seem to think that everything was ticking along just fine until this awful populist revolution came and ruined their perfect existence. They hold this belief because from their perspective everything was fine – a continual upward trajectory in terms of wealth, living standards, career and leisure opportunities. Though they furiously deny the charge, many centrists possess the ability to simply forget about the parts of the country and all the people who have been hurting, stagnating and not seeing their concerns reflected in our electoral politics, and having thus exempted themselves from the need to show empathy they view both Corbynism and Brexit as movements based on pure irrationality.

One might have hoped that a brief period in the political wilderness – two years in the case of the Labour centrists and now just over one year in terms of the pro-EU establishment – might have taught the centrists some humility or instilled a modicum of respect for those people who are now finally beginning to make their voices heard. But of course we have seen the exact opposite – disbelief that these people dare to seek to influence the politics of their own country followed by a dismissal of their ideas and often a seething hatred of what they stand for. And still the centrists might have gotten away with this elitism, were it not for the fact that they are incapable of keeping their contempt for the people to themselves. On the contrary, they feel compelled to continually remind the rest of the country just how backward, stupid, communist, racist or evil they consider us to be.

The centrists may win some victories yet. The almighty mess being made of the Brexit negotiations by the UK government may, if things go badly, allow the centrists to prance around screeching “I told you so!” as though flawed execution and lack of planning somehow discredit Brexit as an idea. And Jeremy Corbyn may yet be turfed out of the Labour leadership if the centrists get their act together and rally around a single candidate, particularly if they can find a Emmanuel Macron-type character, an empty suit who can stalk around on stage roaring empty platitudes to get people fired up.

But the centrists have now been exposed. Rather than the wise, measured and pragmatic types who chart an intellectual course between two political extremes that they pretend to be, they have been revealed as unimaginative and thoroughly self-interested defenders of the status quo.

And all their overwrought and exaggerated complaints about evil populists, “things falling apart”, having their opportunity to “live, work and love in Europe” cruelly ripped away or being the supposed victims of a McCarthyite purge will not save them from the judgment of the people.

 

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Don’t Mistake Labour’s Party Conference Triumphalism For Complacency

The World Transformed - Labour Party Conference - Momentum - Brighton - 3

Don’t waste time laughing at over-enthusiastic Labour activists who claim that their party “won” the 2017 general election despite falling 56 seats short of the Conservatives. Labour will soon be celebrating for real unless the Tories can close the enthusiasm deficit with Corbyn’s motivated activists

Abi Wilkinson makes an important point in Total Politics today, refuting the growing accusations that the ebullient and positive Labour Party conference in Brighton is somehow a sign of derangement or complacency on the part of left-wing activists:

To dismiss the jubilance on display at the party’s recent conference as hubris is to misunderstand what’s going on. The MPs who claimed, at fringe events and on the main conference stage, that they believe Labour will win the next election were not, on the whole, complacent about what such a victory might require. Nor were any of the smiling, energetic young activists I met at Momentum’s The World Transformed parties and panel discussions naive about the challenge the party faces.

These are individuals who’ve spent the past couple of years campaigning and persuading, as the majority of the mainstream media and parts of their own party screamed that they were idiots, wreckers and dangerous hardliners. They’re people who were determined enough to drag themselves out door-knocking even when the polling gap appeared uncloseable. They built apps, organised car pools and slept on sofas to ensure that key marginals were flooded with volunteers. Many of them donated their time and skills to outmatch Tory efforts on a fraction of the budget.

This is absolutely true. Politics is an expectations game just as much as it is a net results game. Surpassing expectations can inject unstoppable momentum into a political party or movement, while failing to meet expectations can drain energy and enthusiasm faster than air escapes a burst balloon. That’s why Theresa May’s Conservative Party has the unmistakable pallor of death about it; grey-skinned, dead-eyed and utterly bereft of purpose, it shuffles forward to its party conference in Manchester like a zombie.

But even more than expectations, politics is about narratives and ideas. This was seemingly forgotten in the centrist, technocratic age ushered in under Tony Blair and growing to full fruition under David Cameron. For a long time, political elites have professed bland managerialism, aiming to do just enough to keep the population quiet with “good enough” public services and not much more. There was certainly no soaring national ambition or optimism for a different future preached the whole time that I grew up under Tony Blair and came of age under Brown, Cameron and Clegg. And the people miss it. You can explain Brexit and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn a million different ways, but one absolutely irrefutable component is the fact that people responded to politicians who offered something more than to hire a few more nurses and make the trains run on time.

Jeremy Corbyn has a compelling narrative because he actually believes in something, and people know he believes in something because he has been banging on about the same things for thirty-odd years, and doesn’t have to consult a focus group before he opens his mouth to respond to a question. So Labour’s confidence comes from a combination of new-found charisma at the top (say what you will about any of Corbyn’s centrist leadership competitors, but none of them could be described as charismatic) and huge energy and enthusiasm within the base. This is a potent combination, not to be sniffed at by cynical journalists and arrogant Tories who utterly failed to predict the 2017 general election result.

Wilkinson continues:

Enthusiasm is one of the most important resources Labour has. A party pursuing an agenda of increased tax and redistribution, regulation and nationalisation is never going to have a cosy relationship with media barons and big business in general (though it’s worth noting that the corporate lobbyists who stayed away from last year’s conference came flooding back this time) but it can reach people in other ways. Keeping activists’ spirits up ensures they’ll keep doing the work that’s necessary to maximise the likelihood of a Labour win.

Maybe it’s possible the current mood could tip over into slack triumphalism, but I’ve seen little sign of it yet. Many of the conference fringe events I attended involved smart discussions about what the party’s strategy going forward should consist of. Is it realistic to think that youth turnout could be increased further? Are the Tories capable of coming up with a decent answer to the housing crisis, and if they do so how will that impact our vote? What can we do to win over pensioners? What about self-employed tradespeople, a demographic we performed comparatively poorly with?

Does this sound like complacency? Hell no – it is determination. Labour might not be measuring the curtains in 10 Downing Street, but they have certainly tapped the address into their GPS and turned towards Whitehall.

This should be enormously worrying for conservatives, not least because the Conservative Party conference in Manchester promises to be a constant parade of recriminations and mediocrity, with Theresa May’s vacuous Labour Lite conference speech the rotting cherry on a very stale cake. The only enthusiasm on display will be among the cheerleaders and acolytes for the various potential Tory leadership challengers, waiting in the wings lest the prime minister make one more fatal error of judgment or messaging.

And if the government falls or the country otherwise gets dragged to the polls again before the Tories have had a chance to get their act together, what then? Corbyn is already on the brink of becoming prime minister, and increasing numbers of Britons are swallowing his story. The Conservatives, meanwhile are organisationally, intellectually and ideologically exhausted after seven years of being in office, but never really in power.

This blog has already warned how Labour’s hard left wing spent their summer busily plotting and organising for the next election to get them over the finish line, not licking their wounds, sunning themselves in Italy or plotting future leadership challenges. Momentum has been actively learning from the surprisingly viable presidential primary campaign of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who fought Hillary Clinton nearly all the way to the Democratic convention. And now groups of Momentum activists from sixteen to sixty years old are gathering in meeting rooms to learn how to make better use of online campaigning coordination and voter turnout software, while others are learning how to run a viral video campaign on social media even more successful than the 2017 effort.

Unfortunately, aside from last week’s Big Tent Ideas Festival and a series of articles in Conservative Home, the Tories have been engaged in no introspection and no reorganising of any kind.

As I recently fumed:

Meanwhile, what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us.

Abi Wilkinson and I obviously come at this from opposite angles – she does not want Labour complacency and is reassured because she sees the frenetic organisation efforts taking place on the ground, while I would love to see a bit more Labour complacency and am disheartened by the fact that left-wing activism and organisation so utterly outstrips any efforts on the Right.

I campaigned for the Tories in 2010. God only knows why, in retrospect, but I pounded the pavements in my hometown of Harlow, Essex to help unseat Labour incumbent MP and minister Bill Rammell and elect Tory Rob Halfon in his place. But today you couldn’t pay me enough money to slap on a blue rosette and stump for Theresa May’s Conservative Party, which has somehow managed to blend barking authoritarianism, a statist, centre-left approach to the economy and the general incompetence of Frank Spencer. And if the Tories can no longer get enthusiastic conservatives like me to actively support them at the constituency level, then there’s a real problem.

Abi Wilkinson is right – there is no general complacency within the Labour Party, only a frightening seriousness of purpose. The only complacency for the past seven years has been on the Right, and specifically within the Conservative Party.

And now that complacency is metastasising into something even more deadly and hard to eradicate – resignation and defeatism.

 

Theresa May - General Election 2017 - vote count - Elmo

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Women-Only Train Carriages: Identity Politics Leads To Calls For Segregation, Once Again

Women only train carriages

Is there any contemporary problem that the identity politics Left will not propose solving through the introduction of segregation?

I see that the recurring debate about whether or not to introduce female-only train carriages has bubbled up again from the swamp of leftist thinking.

Charlotte England tries to make the best case she can for theocratic-style gender segregation over at Left Foot Forward:

There is a pragmatic argument for women-only carriages as an interim measure, which is being largely buried by simplistic rhetoric and a disingenous framing of the original proposal. Arguing against the policy on ideological grounds ignores the experience of many women and young girls who are assaulted and become afraid of travelling alone on public transport. It ignores the fact that they feel forced to alter their behaviour already.

When he first proposed the policy two years ago Corbyn made it clear the aim was to give women more freedom than they currently have, not less.

“It is unacceptable that many women and girls adapt their daily lives in order to avoid being harassed on the street, public transport, and in other public places from the park to the supermarket,” he said. “This could include taking longer routes to work, having self-imposed curfews or avoiding certain means of transport.”

He also did not suggest the measure in isolation, floating the idea of a 24-hour hotline for women to report harassment, along with broader measures to tackle assault in society such as tougher rules for licence holders on reporting incidents on their premises and cabinet members for women’s safety on local councils.

A 24-hour hotline for women to report harassment? Perhaps somebody should inform Charlotte England that such a line already exists, and that you can reach it 24/7 by dialling 999.

At some point the Left will have to confront the fact that they have devalued terms such as racism, white supremacy, sexual assault and “rape culture” to such a degree that if we are now to take them literally, the police would have to be called to millions of incidents which qualify as crimes every single day. Blurring the line between socially inappropriate behaviour (including microaggressions) and criminal behaviour has helped the Left to point to rapidly rising reported statistics and claim that an epidemic is underway – of racism, Islamophobia, other generic hate crime, you name it. But it is also creating undue alarm and making it harder to focus resources and policy on the most pressing issues.

If sexual harassment on trains is a serious and growing issue – and I’m not arguing otherwise – then the correct response by train companies (and the Office of Rail and Road) to their customers frequently being bothered and assaulted onboard rail services is to dramatically improve security. That means ensuring that CCTV is installed and functional on all trains, placing more passenger alarms in carriages and hiring more guards. Or perhaps the train companies could deploy the private militias they have hired to zealously crack down on fare-dodging to also protect passengers from unprovoked attack. And when ticket fares rise by 20% or 30% to cover the additional cost, we can all pay the extra money knowing that we are helping to clamp down on sexual harassment.

Alternatively, perhaps the citizenry should be legally permitted the means to defend themselves, if not with firearms then at least with tasers and pepper spray, rather than being forced by government to remain at the mercy of thugs, hooligans, sexual harassers and terrorists.

But the Left don’t want to do any of this. They don’t like it when people are given the right to defend themselves, and they certainly don’t like it when private companies take independent action to tackle issues. They want government to step in with a heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all mandate instead, because then leftist politicians (rather than the private sector) can claim credit for the results. And if those policies ride roughshod over civil liberties or equality then who cares?

In no way do I mean to diminish the experiences and suffering of those who have experienced sexual harassment. But when the Left defines the term downward so far that it now includes clumsy flirtation, it does a disservice to those who are verbally threatened or physically groped, stalked, flashed or assaulted – and counter-intuitively makes it harder to focus on eradicating criminal behaviour rather than behaviour which merely causes social offence.

But this is only one of the ways that the leftist identity politics argument for segregated train carriages comes unstuck. To use the language of the Left, there is apparently a growing problem of sexually aggressive behaviour in the male population of this country – behaviour which makes some female citizens feel concerned for their safety. And the Left’s answer to this problem is to offer gender-segregated seating on public transport for those who feel unsafe sitting in unrestricted areas because of the heinous actions of a small subgroup of the male population.

Now try applying the same logic to – oh, I don’t know – let’s say the British Muslim population. The vast majority of British Muslims are upstanding, patriotic citizens whose behaviour is generally above reproach, yet there is a small minority within this population who plot and carry out heinous terrorist attacks for religiously motivated reasons. And this spike in Islamist terror attacks has arguably caused some people to “adapt their daily lives” (as Charlotte England puts it) to reduce their exposure to risk, or at least to constantly be thinking and worrying about the possibility of a terror attack as they go about their day.

Is it reasonable, then, given that Islamist terrorists have historically targeted public transport, that train companies offer segregated carriages for non-Muslims in order that other travellers might feel safer? Of course not. Is it more unreasonable for someone to feel nervous standing next to a Muslim on the tube than it is for a woman to feel nervous sitting in the same train carriage as a man? I would argue that both are equally unreasonable.

But the Left do love to pick and choose their favoured victim groups, and “people who are legitimately afraid of Islamist terror” generally don’t get much sympathy from the identity politics brigade, while women in fear of sexual harassment are deemed worthy of protection by extraordinary means.

Segregating men from women and Muslims from non-Muslims would infringe on the natural rights of both groups, reduce them to second class citizens, provide them with a lesser service (fewer available seats per train) and stigmatise both groups as being inherently dangerous. And yet while the Left would be up in arms if such a proposal were targeted at Muslims – and rightly so – they advance exactly the same argument for male/female segregation without seeing the contradiction.

But assuming that the Left were able to implement their scheme (over what I’m sure would be the strenuous objection of train companies, who would have to fund and enforce the policy) how long would this gender segregation last? Jeremy Corbyn, Charlotte England and other fellow travellers of the hard Left may claim that they only propose female-only train carriages as a stop-gap measure while other actions are taken to tackle the supposed sexual assault epidemic. But this only begs the question of what actions they propose. Mandatory anti-rape classes for boys at school? Re-education of adult males?

If you are going to propose introducing segregation into British society in the 21st century – to place Britain in the happy company of theocratic states such as Saudi Arabia, who similarly keep their females locked away lest they arouse the lust of helpless men – I think you have a duty to be straightforward and explain why the same identical logic does not apply when it comes to protecting people who don’t make the cut for inclusion in the Left’s hierarchy of victimhood. And given that temporary laws have a pesky habit of becoming permanent, anyone proposing such a draconian, authoritarian policy should also clearly outline how it will be time-limited, and how the underlying root issue will be addressed by other means.

Jeremy Corbyn, Charlotte England and others on the Left promoting this divisive and discriminatory policy have no answers to any these questions and have no intention of providing such answers, because this isn’t actually about making women safer at all. It is about gaining political support by being seen to be on the side of minorities, oppressed peoples or perceived victimhood groups, gaining their support and then failing to meaningfully help said groups once in office.

Just as affirmative action hasn’t done a damn thing to increase representation of black and Hispanic students at American universities (because it papers over the cracks rather than tackling the deep underlying issues), so forcibly segregating men from women on public transport will neither tackle the root causes of male sexual harassment nor protect women from danger for the vast majority of the time when they are not travelling on trains. (After all, why stop at trains? Why not introduce gender segregated cinemas, swimming pools, workplaces, nightclubs, stadiums, universities?). Proposing gender segregated train carriages may not be effective, but it sure will make certain leftist politicians and commentators look good to their base.

This isn’t compassion. This isn’t applying creative thinking to an entrenched social problem. This is cheap virtue-signalling at the expense of threatening fundamental civil liberties and rights, while promising to place Britain in the unfortunate company of some of the most backward and oppressive theocratic regimes in the world.

Slow hand clap, leftists (or should that be slow jazz hands?). You’ve really outdone yourselves this time.

 

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Winter Is Coming For Conservatives Unless We Wake Up To The Socialist Threat

Momentum - socialist - online campaigning - videos social media

The hard Left is on the march, and all the anti-Corbyn negative ads in the world will not save an ideologically bankrupt Conservative Party which cannot clearly articulate an appealing and realistic vision for Britain

Look at this email, which pinged into the inboxes of Momentum members and supporters today.

The socialists are on manoeuvres. They haven’t wasted their summer sipping limoncello on the Amalfi Coast or plotting Oxford Union-style leadership coups with their Cabinet chums. No, having drawn blood from the Conservative Party and reduced the British prime minister to a laughing stock in the June general election, Momentum and other hard-left elements of the Labour Party sense that their long-awaited victory is nearly at hand. And they are training for the battle to come.

I wrote the other day about how the Conservative Party is fiddling while the country burns and Momentum creeps up behind them. This isn’t a laughing matter. Momentum are organising, deploying the latest in voter outreach strategies imported from the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in America, and – shock, horror – daring to have conversations with traditionally Tory voters rather than engaging in fruitless navel-gazing introspection as the Conservative Party is currently doing.

Much was written during the election campaign about how much slicker and better financed the Tory online campaign was than its Labour counterpart. The Conservatives spent over £1 million on negative ads on Facebook alone. But it was not an effective campaign. It was soulless, clinical and relentlessly negative. All of which might have been forgivable if it had been properly targeted. But it wasn’t. Instead, CCHQ-produced messages designed to energise the existing Tory base were thrown relentlessly in the faces of swing voters, who did not respond to shrill warnings about Corbyn’s impending socialist takeover.

As with literally everything else about the Conservative Party, the online and voter outreach campaigns were hideously overcentralised and clearly managed by some of the same gormless nepotism beneficiaries who infested Theresa May’s pre-election Cabinet.

And still this might have been survivable if the Labour Party was as terminally dysfunctional as nearly every Westminster-based journalist was confidently reporting prior to the release of the exit poll. But it wasn’t, and still isn’t. Centrist doubters sat on much of their criticism for the duration of the campaign, and following the stronger-than-expected result came crawling meekly back to the leader they once openly undermined.

A vindicated Jeremy Corbyn is bolstered in his position. And the socialist hard-left of the Labour Party has benefited from this injection of confidence, immediately pivoting toward the next general election, where they believe they can dislodge this tired and pointless Tory government and turn the clock back to 1979.

I wrote the other day about how Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s praetorian guard, are holding group training sessions to teach their activists the latest in voter engagement techniques, with even doddery old folk less familiar with the latest technology being inducted into the organisation’s Slack group so that they can communicate in real-time on their smartphones. And now, today’s Momentum bulletin shows that the organisation also intends to revolutionise its social media campaign activities, potentially turning each of their members into a YouTuber capable of creating viral internet videos in support of the Labour Party.

Bear in mind: while the Tories vastly outspent Labour in the online campaign war, their dismal content failed to articulate any positive vision of conservatism and probably alienated half the people who viewed it. Meanwhile, Momentum’s videos were viewed 50 million times, and by a third of all the Facebook users in Britain. That level of penetration and engagement, on a shoestring budget, is incredible.

But you can’t just put it down to a superior grasp of online campaigning by the hard Left. People watched Momentum videos and kept coming back for more because they liked what they were seeing and hearing, or were at least open to the message. They did not respond warmly to the Conservatives, who engaged nearly exclusively in fearmongering and robotic negative messaging about their opponents, but many of them did respond to the side who took enough pride in their political values and had sufficient confidence and faith in those values to make a bold public case for More Socialism. And still Momentum is not satisfied. Still they seek to improve their messaging and hone their campaigning ability.

Meanwhile, what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us.

Fellow conservatives, you need to wake up and hear this message while there is still time:

The hard, Corbynite Left are gunning for us. Hard.

Unlike conservatives, they have worked out exactly what their values are.

They are not ashamed of those values, and do not apologise for them.

They are hard at work translating those values into policy.

They are proud to proclaim those values and policies in messaging which appeals to the electorate, while we sound defensive and almost ashamed of our own policies and record.

They are convinced that they are on the right side of history, while we seem to have lost faith in the principles of free market capitalism and individual liberty.

They make an unashamedly moral case for their worldview while we seem content to sit at the back and pick holes in their sums, looking like soulless technocratic bean-counters.

They have a thriving youth movement. Ours was disbanded because of a bullying scandal, and because it was basically a giant Ponzi scheme with risible promises of future candidacies dangled in front of naive young activists.

Their activists dominate university campuses, their leftist dogma reigning supreme in the lecture hall and students’ union alike, while conservatives are an endangered minority who often face ostracisation or even official censure for speaking out.

They have a national party with strong and growing constituency branches, while we have a decaying national party with withering constituency branches, ruled from Westminster by proven mediocrities.

They have a party leader who can pack a 3000-seat theatre with excited and motivated activists, while we have a party leader who was too cowardly to even debate during the election campaign, and who is so robotic that she short-circuits if she goes out in the rain without an umbrella.

But here’s the good news – this is a fight that we can win.

Regressive leftist policies of redistribution and nationalisation have brought poverty and misery in their wake everywhere that they have been tried, while the free market that we support has lifted more people out of poverty, subsistence and despair than any other economic system devised by man. There is a reason that the Left has gone very quiet about Venezuela, once their favourite case study of socialism in action.

The traditional Left/Right political divide is being augmented (if not replaced) by the Anywheres vs Somewheres dichotomy (or “open vs closed”, to use the more patronising terms). The Labour Party is marching away from its working class base of Somewheres because their self-serving parliamentary caucus is in thrall to the self-entitled demands of other Anywheres like themselves. This gives us conservatives a huge opportunity to steal their votes – after all, we stand for country, community and patriotism, the very values that the metro-left openly despises.

But we will only win this fight if we get our heads out of the sand, stop manoeuvring for status or creating stupid memes on Facebook and learn instead to boldly and unapologetically articulate conservative principles in the public sphere, without apology. Not the craven, Labour-copying principles of Theresa May’s authoritarian government. Not the paternalistic statism of Nick Timothy and the Joseph Chamberlain afficionados. Rather, we need to re-embrace the timeless principles of individual liberty, patriotism, respect for institutions, strong national defence and flourishing civic society over paternalist statism, which always come through for us when we actually have the confidence to articulate them.

And we don’t have much time. In this unpredictable age, with no majority and a number of difficult things to push through Parliament, Theresa May’s government could conceivably be toppled at any moment. Momentum and the hard Left is ready for the fight. We are not.

To use a topical Game of Thrones analogy, when the White Walkers are massing and threatening to breach the wall, it’s no good squabbling over which lacklustre, uncharismatic Cabinet minister should next occupy the Iron Throne. Now is the time to find some ideological dragonglass and fashion it into a viable electoral weapon before we are swept away by the Army of the Socialist Undead and Britain succumbs to another long winter of discontent.

Momentum have given us fair warning. They are not being secretive about their strategy and tactics. So we conservatives will have only ourselves to blame if we find ourselves undone by them.

 

White Walkers - Game of Thrones

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