The Battle For British Conservatism: Are The Tories The Enemy Within?

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What if the current Tory Party represents a dangerous, long-ascendant fifth column within British conservatism?

In a blistering attack on the party of Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Cameron and George Osborne, Laura Perrins of The Conservative Woman declares that the Tories are now the “enemy within” and the single greatest threat to what remains of British conservatism.

Perrins’ dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party – like that of this blog and other malcontents of much longer pedigree such as Peter Hitchens – has clearly been building for some time, but finally reached boiling point when the Conservatives cooked up their  “presumed consent” scheme for organ donation, yet another policy which sounds fluffy and caring at first glance but which would effectively make one’s body the property of the state, merely on loan to you not from God or nature but from Her Majesty’s Government, to which it must be returned upon death unless one specifically requests an exemption.

Perrins thunders:

The last straw for me was the proposed ‘presumed consent’ organ donation scheme, more accurately described as the State organ appropriation scheme. This is small fry in the scheme of things but it sums up the whole rotten party. The concept that your body is yours, and remains yours and then under the control of your family after death, is so fundamental, so obvious, so visceral and so conservative that it should not need explaining.

Now Theresa May tells us that in fact your body belongs to the State, unless you have taken the time and trouble to tell the State otherwise. This is wrong in principle and in practice. I was on a radio show with a chap who was waiting for a kidney and he said that his surgeons told him there were not even the beds or doctors to take advantage of this scheme. So, the Conservatives are grabbing organs just, as usual, to look nice. See, neo-Statists.

I had a very similar reaction at the time, not because I am any less keen to see organ donation rates improve and waiting lists decrease, but because this way of going about it represents about as big a power grab by the state as it is possible to make:

But this is just one of the many ways which the impostor party which bears the name “Conservative” has made a mockery of the principles they supposedly stand for, and Perrins goes on to recount the full litany at length.

Let’s face it, the Conservative party are neo-Statists and have done more damage to conservatism in this country than Labour ever could. The current leader of the party believes actual conservatism – small government, strong families and the free market – is nasty. She actually said this, yet we are all to go merrily along backing this wretched party no matter what, as we did in the last election – much to my regret.

This is the party that believes an energy gap is a good idea, and that continued government guarantee of tuition fees is sensible. The Tories are as ideologically wedded to the socialised health system that is the NHS as the Labour party is, all because they think they will look mean if they point out that in fact the Emperor has no clothes.

The Tories have interfered with the childcare market, causing the costs to rise year in, year out. They want more mothers in work, whether they want to be there or not. They lecture us on what to eat and drink; no detail of our life is beyond government note-taking. Now they have instructed GPs to ask what your sexuality is. This is Nanny turned Nurse Ratched.

The Conservatives love big government. There has been no reduction in quangos – they have quangos lobbying their own government, for goodness’ sake. They use the school system to try to solve every social problem: FGM, toothbrushing, sex education, pornography, drugs, healthy eating, on and on it goes. The national debt could hit £2trillion in the next ten years.

And so it goes on – Perrins inevitably touches on the march of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, noting that the Tories have bent over backwards at every turn to accommodate increasingly avant-garde and unproven leftist orthodoxies around gender and family life. And to each accusation there is little which can be said in defence.

Of course, there are exceptions, and I do not agree with all the charges laid by Perrins at the foot of the Conservative Party. I would certainly argue that some of the concessions to modernity made by the Tories are good and entirely necessary, particularly the opening up of the stabilising, enriching influence of civil marriage to same-sex couples. But even where one agrees with the thrust of Tory policymaking on social issues there can be little denying that the fears, objections and liberties of dissenting individuals and religious organisations have been trampled in the process.

So what to do, given that the present-day Tory Party is at best ambivalent and at worst hostile to many conservative values and priorities? Must we really shrug our shoulders, be grateful that we don’t have Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn and put up with the dismal, directionless leadership we currently have?

Laura Perrins hints that maybe we do not have to put up with this Coke Zero Conservative government after all:

A Labour government would be grim, don’t get me wrong. But I wager that they won’t last long, they will split, and they will not get to do half the things they say they will do. They have already ditched the tuition fee promise and they are not even in power. In sum, they are not the long-term threat to this country.

I am inclined to agree. As I have written numerous times before, at present small-C conservatives have the worst of all worlds. We are nominally in power, yet virtually none of our values and priorities are being addressed by the government. We are continually assailed by the Left for supposedly being heartless, callous and cruel towards the generically “vulnerable”, yet the budget deficit persists, the national debt grows and the idea of real fiscal conservatism remains as remote as ever. We are accused of seeking to destroy the “beloved” socialist edifices of post-war Britain like the welfare state and Our Blessed NHS, yet Universal Credit rollout by 2022 is apparently the best we can do.

As I once wrote:

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.

So given the near-futile hope of meaningful conservative ideological renewal while in power, how much worse could a Corbyn premiership actually be? Here, I again agree with Perrins. While Jeremy Corbyn himself would probably love to take the country galloping off to a hard leftist destination, in practice he is constrained by the centrists within his party. And as we are all currently witnessing with the Brexit debate, establishment centrists have a way of grinding down objections and diluting any idealism in order to get the self-serving stability which they want for themselves.

While at present this centrist handbrake serves to stymie Brexit and torpedo any possibility of real small-government conservative reform, in the event of a Jeremy Corbyn premiership the same centrist blob would also serve as a drogue parachute, arresting any sudden leftist moves attempted by Labour and limiting the damage that such a government could inflict. Therefore, revoking all support for the current Tory government need not be calamitous. After all, when we already have a government which is willing to decimate the armed forces, firehose foreign aid at countries in a manner totally unaligned with our foreign policy goals, trample civil liberties and spend taxpayer money like a sailor on shore leave then how much worse could it possibly be?

What Perrins’ article does not do, however, is spend much time looking at what kind of party the Conservatives should become if only they can be retaken. And here there is a genuine tension, not between the kind of social conservatism presumably favourable to The Conservative Woman and craven submission to the identity politics cult, but between social conservatism and free markets.

This is a battle for the soul of British conservatism which has been suppressed for far too long. A new balance must be struck between social conservatism and free markets which addresses the key challenges of our time – globalisation, automation, migration, national identity, defending Western values and defeating Islamist terror – in a way which attracts and inspires voters. The Conservative Party’s current policy mix isn’t turning any heads, and is actively alienating most people under fifty years of age. Our sole saving grace is that Labour haven’t yet come up with a compelling solution either.

There remains an opportunity for conservatives to answer these critical questions and arrive at a new balancing of priorities which works for the country, though doing so while still in office is a tall order. But if we are to have any chance of success we must begin by acknowledging that the contemporary Conservative Party is not and has not been a friend of small-C conservatism for many years.

 

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The Battle For British Conservatism: Stop Using Brexit As A Proxy War

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With Theresa May and the Tories technically in office but barely in power, it is more important than ever for conservatives to have a no-holds-barred debate about what they really stand for and what vision for Britain they want the Conservative Party to advance. In addition to my own past and future ruminations on this subject, Semi-Partisan Politics will seek to include the best thinking and writing on the subject from elsewhere, beginning with this incisive contribution from blogger The Sparrow.

The Daily Mail reports that judges may prevent Britain deporting immigrants sleeping rough on the streets of London. A legal challenge is being brought against a Home Office policy which deports immigrants sleeping rough, on the basis that by failing to support themselves after moving to the UK their rights under freedom of movement are forfeit.

Leaving aside the merits of either side of that argument, the story is emblematic of a schism within conservatism. On one side sit social conservatives, who believe that tradition, established cultural norms and a sense of continuity with the past are of value. On the other, free marketeers believe that the greatest good can be achieved by permitting the market to develop solutions to people’s needs, with minimal government interference.

To illustrate, consider a social conservative and a free market conservative take on this story. The free marketeer might say: let them sleep rough – winter will drive them into rentals, the market will find a solution at a suitable price point for them, and in the meantime who am I to criticise someone seeking to reduce his overheads while getting started in a new country?

The social conservative, though, might say: no, that’s not how we do things in this country. It’s not the done thing to save money on housing by creating a tent city in Central London. Mass rough sleeping is squalid, threatening, unhealthy and potentially dangerous. If they cannot live as we live, then they should not be permitted to stay here fouling up the city for people who are doing the right thing.

The social conservative is willing to use the power of social and moral pressure, and if necessary the state, to enforce social norms some of which may run counter to the needs or pressures of the market. From the free-market conservative point of view, the social conservative risks impeding the fluidity of the market, restraining its marvellous problem-solving powers, and does so in the name of social values that may be arbitrary, often seem to have little basis in reason, and yet are clung to with a devotion quite at odds with the free market view of man as a rational actor.

Conversely, the free-market conservative may consider disrupting established social norms or ways of life to be a price worth paying for allowing market forces to flow and find equilibrium. From the social conservative point of view, this might be viewed as a kind of crass vandalism, that reduces all of life to its commercial or economic value and remains wilfully blind to those aspects of life that cannot readily be assigned a number.

For the most part, in party political terms, the natural home of both social conservatives and free marketeers has for some time been the Conservative Party. But these two types of conservative are at odds with one another, or at least not obviously in alignment, on most of the hot-button issues currently in play: from globalisation, immigration, multiculturalism and housebuilding to social questions such as gender issues and the rise of Islam. I am not seeing any sort of intra-conservative debate that recognises the existence of such an ideological fault line. (If I just need a better reading list, I would be grateful to anyone who can improve mine.)

For a number of years, these two kinds of conservatives have maintained a truce and semblance of unity based on the fact that both sides can agree – for different and sometimes contradictory reasons – that state spending should be restrained and ideally reduced. The remainder of Tory policies have been hashed out between the two sides as various kinds of compromise  – or, as in the case of Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP versus George Osborne at the Treasury, an increasingly bitter turf war. But trying to sweep it under the carpet is not good enough any more. When one of the few clear positive points of agreement is ‘government should spend less on stuff’ is it any wonder the Conservatives are so easily caricatured by the Left as heartless stealers of the meagre crumbs from the tables of the poor?

Besides, if Osborne vs Duncan Smith was a minor skirmish in the ongoing tussle between social and free market conservatism, the Brexit vote has triggered conservative ideological Armageddon. Conservatives from both sides of the schism wanted to leave the European Union for profoundly different reasons, and in the narratives of – say – Daniel Hannan and Andrea Leadsom you can see the two sides, both passionate and both in search of entirely different and in many ways mutually contradictory outcomes.

Enough of this fudge. The Conservatives need to have it out. One might ask the free market conservatives: how much social and cultural disruption is acceptable in the name of opening up markets? If (say) robotisation decimates employment across entire sectors, are we cool with that? And if so, and you still call yourself a conservative, what precisely do you consider yourself to be conserving?

To the social conservatives, one might ask: to what extent is it important and necessary to restrain markets in order to preserve social goods? Is it worth – for example – deploying protectionist measures to shore up industries that are part of the fabric of the country and culture, even if in doing so we actually damp down innovation and growth overall? Or: you may talk about clamping down on immigration, out of a concern that the native culture is at risk of being overwhelmed. But the Tories have always been for pragmatism over woolly idealism; how then can you call yourself a Tory when you are pushing for a poorer and less dynamic country, all in the name of something nebulous called ‘a way of life’?

What is worth conserving? Do we care about traditions? Does that extend to traditional social or moral views? How much social disruption is acceptable in the name of the markets? When it happens, who bears it, and is that distribution of social cost politically sustainable? Conservatives need to be having these arguments out in the open. And don’t give me that guff about preserving unity while in government. Backstabbing one another over Brexit and cribbing policy from Ed Miliband is not preserving unity.

Social and free market conservatives have rubbed along well enough for some time, mostly by horse-trading or ignoring one another. But Brexit has ended that: there’s suddenly just too much at stake. The ideological fudge has become a bitter paralysis, and it is actively harming the national interest.

So for the Tories the choice is stark. Carry on treating our departure from the EU as party political psychodrama or, y’know, actually debate the principles informing your vision. Air the differences that have been swept under the rug for so long. A good healthy argument might even result in some fresh ideas, and God knows the Tories could do with a few of those.

The Sparrow is a former left-winger who let the side down badly by voting for David Cameron and Brexit and is now politically on the lam. She blogs about identity politics and the crisis in contemporary political culture at sparrowsandnightingales.wordpress.com.

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Free Speech And Hypocrisy

 

Cristina Odone’s latest piece for The Telegraph really takes the biscuit. Today she uses her platform to  distort the words of an actual principled libertarian and a thinking man, the Education Secretary Michael Gove, who recently made the fairly benign statement that we really shouldn’t be using the word “gay” as an insult anymore. Given, y’know, the fact that it is now the year 2013.

Naturally, Odone sees this as an attack on her and her values.

The original Telegraph article reporting Gove’s words, by Rosa Silverman, states:

“It’s utterly outrageous and medieval to think that to use the word gay as an insult is somehow acceptable,” he told Stonewall’s Education for All conference in London. “If it’s Chris Moyles or anyone, they should be called out.”

Mr Moyles, the DJ who previously hosted BBC Radio 1’s Breakfast Show, was accused of homophobia in 2006 after describing a phone ring tone as gay.

Mr Gove said: “If you’re growing up wrestling with your sexuality…the last thing you need to feel at school is any sense that the difficulties with which you’re wrestling or the path on which you wish to embark are in any way a legitimate subject for humour, ostracising or prejudice.”

He said he belonged to a generation that felt attitudes towards homosexuality “that still persist in part or many parts of our country” should be actively challenged to make society fairer.

So far, so uncontroversial. Or so you might think.

Odone, extrapolating wildly from Gove’s words and playing the victim card with as much drama as she could muster (which is a lot), took this to mean that the word “gay” should be banned, and that anyone who disagreed with homosexuality is guilty of hate crime, thought crime, or is in some other way a bigoted monster who should henceforth be shunned by society.

From where does she derive these fevered imaginations? Nobody knows. Certainly not from Michael Gove himself. To my recollection, Gove never endorsed the idea of imprisonment for people who make “gay” jokes, or advocated re-education camps for those who disapprove of homosexuality. He just said that, since we no longer live in the 19th century, while people are free to remain set in their ways and to say bad things about gay people, others have the right to call them out on it and register their disapproval.

But Cristina Odone has to transform this into a persecution story where she and others like her are somehow being suppressed. So let us tackle Odone’s ludicrous straw-man plea for tolerance of bigotry line by line. From the top:

Michael Gove, the impressive Secretary of State for Education, has just decreed that the term “gay” cannot be used as an insult. It’s “outrageous and medieval” to do so.

No, he didn’t. That is an outright falsehood. Michael Gove said that the word “gay” should not – as opposed to can not – be used as an insult, for the obvious reason that it is hurtful to people who are gay. At no point, however, did he propose infringing on anyone’s right to free speech if they wish to do be obnoxious and do so, however.

And Odone should know this, given Michael Gove’s spirited defence of free speech at the recent Leveson enquiry into the practices and standards of the media. But she continues:

I wonder what he’d have done at the fabulous wedding we attended, last Saturday. A young guest in morning suit used his iPhone to snap a friend in similar attire. He peered at the result: “Oooooooh you look sooooooo gay!” The word, clearly, was interchangeable with “naff” and “chav”: but henceforth, if Mr Gove gets his way, would it land the boy on a sinister register of “hate speakers” – disqualifying him as an applicant for just about any job?

Again, the modus operandi of those fighting the rearguard campaign against gay rights: Take a quote from someone you disagree with. Add ten pounds of outrage, a pinch of wounded pride and a splash of resentment. And hey presto, you are social crusader Cristina Odone. Where and how did you make the jump from Michael Gove’s words to people who use the word “gay” in a juvenile and irresponsible way being presented with criminal charges and convicted?

Oh, I know it happens in today’s dystopian Britain, for all sorts of reasons. The police knocking on your door if you put up a poster saying anything slightly controversial, or arresting people for saying things that might “hurt the feelings of others”. But surely it would be better to campaign for a PROPER right to free speech in Britain across the board, and against the politically correct thought police who censor us for expressing all manner of opinions, rather than focusing specifically on the gay topic? Not if you are the hypocrite Cristina Odone.

Only the day before, as he faced UK immigration officials, Mr Tony Miano had been afraid of precisely that: was his name on a secret register, and would he be stopped from leaving the country? The American street preacher had been arrested outside Centre Court shopping centre in Wimbledon on July 1. He had been reading from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which condemns homosexuality. A passer-by called the police. Three officers arrived and arrested Mr Miano, a retired deputy sheriff from California, for disorderly conduct.

The irony of being marched to the Wimbledon nick after having spent 20 years as a law enforcer was not lost on Mr Miano. He told me over the phone: “The booking process held no surprises.” He had his DNA and fingerprints taken (and was relieved of his wedding ring) and was then locked up in a small cell for seven hours.

In the police station, he was granted his request for a Bible and for a lawyer from Christian Concern, a group that fights cases involving religious freedom. Then the police asked if he’d ever feed a homosexual, or do them a favour.

“I said yes, of course: the Bible taught that I should love my neighbour as myself,” Mr Miano told me. “The policeman asked if I believed homosexuality was a sin and I realised that I was not only being interrogated about what had happened but about what I believed.”

This is unacceptable, but is indicative of a wider problem in Britain – the fact that the police can come and arrest you for saying things that might be hurtful to the feelings of others. No longer do you have to incite violence or utter libelous comments – today, ruffling feathers is enough to put you inside a police cell. If Cristina Odone really cared about this, she would campaign against restrictions on free speech across the whole spectrum – and yet she is peculiarly hung up on the topic of speech about gay people.

Mr Miano could have pointed out that, while preaching at the shopping centre, he had condemned pornography and slushy novels, too; but it was clear to him that the police were only interested in one “thought crime”, just as Mr Gove seems only interested in one kind of insult. You can believe that homeopathy cures ailments but not that homosexuality is a sin.

You can call someone a bigot, but not say something’s “gay”.

If anyone is being hypocritical here, it is Odone, not Gove. If Cristina Odone had watched Gove’s testimony at the Leveson hearings, or paid any attention to him at all, she would know that he is a stalwart defender of free speech across the board. But she didn’t take the time to do her research. A national columnist for the Daily Telegraph couldn’t be bothered to check her facts, but just sat down at her laptop in high dudgeon and penned a polemic about how Gove wants to put her in prison.

Homophobia deserves to be condemned. But muzzling freedom of speech is the wrong way about it. When the Government decided last January to drop Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which criminalised “insulting language”, the move was hailed rightly as a victory for free speech. But if Mr Gove now says that he supports free expression only if it doesn’t offend gays, he undermines the gains made in ditching Section 5.

Michael Gove did no such thing. Odone should ho back and read his comments again if she is in any doubt. Michael Gove said in his Leveson testimony that “free speech, by definition, will offend some of the people some of the time”, and took a lot of flak from the egotistical Leveson for doing so. There is no muzzling of free speech going on. If you honestly cannot discern the difference between encouraging children not to use the word “gay” as a playground insult (but not banning them from doing so), and making disagreement with homosexuality a thought-crime then you really need to have your brain re-wired.

He also sets an alarming precedent. Tolerance will come with caveats, freedom with clauses. Today, Mr Gove and his Government prioritise the gay lobby; tomorrow, it could be the fat lobby to persuade the authorities that discrimination against their members damages pudgy youngsters growing up in a climate of hostility. We’ll inhabit a world where people cannot say “fatty” or “fatso” for fear of ending up on a secret register or in the Wimbledon nick.

There is no precedent, because nothing is being banned. If you want to be the dumbass who thinks that it is cool to insult people by calling them “gay”, then good for you, keep doing it and see how far it gets you in life. Gove was simply saying that it is not a nice thing to do. Where is the FEMA re-education camp that Odone seems to fear so much? If you want to insult people for being fat, or ginger, or gay, or black, then you can keep doing it (within the already over-draconian limits set by the previous government). Gove proposes no enhancements to our already restrictive laws, and in fact he would love nothing more than to roll them back. He just wants people to be nice to each other. Not under threat of criminal penalty. Just because that is how adults should behave.

In the end, Mr Miano was released without charge. He asked if he could keep the Gideon Bible that he’d received in prison. When it turned out to be the only copy, he asked if he could provide a few more. The following day, he dropped off 10 copies of the Good Book at Wimbledon police station.

That’s tolerance for you.

Well done, Cristina Odone, what an ending to your excellent piece of writing. You win The Argument. I am very glad that Mr. Miano was so magnanimous following his ordeal at the hands of the heavy-handed British police state. I am ashamed of my country that such a thing would happen to him, simply for proclaiming his beliefs on the street. But why do you not broaden your argument? Why take a plea for adults to teach their children not to use the word “gay” as an insult, expand it in your mind to include people who respectfully and politely disagree with homosexuality, and then falsely sound the alarm bells that both sets of people are now considered thought criminals?

I suppose my concluding point is this: If Cristina Odone genuinely believes in free speech and civil liberties then she should join with people like Michael Gove, who are passionate defenders of the very rights to freedom of expression that she claims to love, regardless of the subject or people at hand. But when she attacks Michael Gove, and falsely accuses him of attempting to clamp down on free speech when he did no such thing – he simply wanted people to teach children that using the word “gay” as an insult could be hurtful, because it can be – she reveals her true priorities.

And aren’t those priorities rather insidious and ugly? Cristina Odone doesn’t care a fig about free speech per se – but she is willing to forge an alliance between people who morally disapprove of homosexuality and people who use the word “gay” as a childish slur in order to advance her regressive, socially conservative agenda.

What a true, principled moral crusader she is.

Santorum Lurks

Rick Santorum

In case anyone was worried that Rick Santorum had taken his Republican primary election loss, or the GOP’s presidential election blow-out too much to heart, they need fear no longer.

RealClearPolitics reports that, undeterred by the now undeniable shift away from his socially regressive, paternalistic, authoritarian positions on just about all social issues, he is laying the groundwork to run for the Republican nomination once again in 2016.

Scott Conroy from RealClearPolitics writes:

The main event during Santorum’s impending return to Iowa will be his keynote speech in Urbandale at the annual spring fundraising dinner for the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a Christian conservative group that holds deep influence among evangelical caucus-goers in the state. He also is slated to participate in a Des Moines luncheon on behalf of a pro-life medical research group.

In both appearances, Santorum is expected to defend what he has called the “soul of the Republican Party” against forces within it that are increasingly eager to downplay or reconsider longstanding aspects of its platform.

His eagerness to remain on the front lines of this intra-party fight comes after Santorum spent much of the 2012 campaign defending his hard-line positions on social issues while also aiming to expand his appeal by touting his blue-collar credentials and economic populism.

Apparently, Rick Santorum is particularly eager to ensure that the GOP does not follow in the footsteps of Senator Rob Portman and others, and continue to “evolve” on those social issues where they are increasingly at odds with public sentiment:

But well before the 2016 GOP field begins to take shape, Santorum’s paramount political priority is to push back against the winds of change within the party. In particular, he’s focused on a de-emphasis — and in some cases an evolution — of stances on social issues in order to attract more moderate voters in general elections and acknowledge shifts in the broader electorate’s views.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register this week that set the stage for his upcoming visit, Santorum was asked about the recent avowals of support for gay marriage made by Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Santorum dismissed the growing notion that further movement within the GOP on the issue is inevitable, given polls showing a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

“The Republican Party’s not going to change on this issue,” he said. “In my opinion, it would be suicidal if it did.”

I suppose one must admire Santorum’s consistency. He doesn’t believe that the GOP should evolve politically in terms of their stance on gay marriage, just as he rejects the notion of biological evolution in nature.

Two universal truths of politics in the United States of America – Iowa will continue to play a disproportionately large role in vetting and selecting presidential candidates given it’s sparse population and lack of relative real importance in the union; and Rick Santorum will remain thoroughly uncompromising on all matters social and “moral”.