The Conservative Party Fiddles While Momentum Aggressively Courts Tory Voters

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Momentum and other leftist groups supportive of Jeremy Corbyn are using new tactics to aggressively court Tory voters. Meanwhile, lacking a compelling vision of its own, the rootless and enfeebled Conservative Party has no response

We may be in the depths of summer silly season, but it is rapidly becoming evident that the forces of the Left are using their time productively while complacent Conservatives sun themselves on generally undeserved vacations.

This week in particular there has been a flurry of activity from the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party, with Owen Jones launching a “decapitation strategy” targeted at vulnerable (and in some cases very high profile) Tory ministers and MPs defending greatly reduced majorities. At the same time, the grassroots campaign group Momentum is trialling new voter outreach tactics lifted from the Bernie Sanders campaign, aimed at getting dissatisfied voters unimpressed with the performance of Theresa May’s government to give socialism a second look.

Emma Bean at LabourList crows:

Owen Jones is joining forces with pro-Corbyn campaigning group Momentum in a push to seize the seats of several current and former Tory cabinet ministers.

The new Unseat campaign will target Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, Justine Greening and Phillip Davies, all of whom saw their majorities slashed in the general election. Another MP, Stephen Crabb, who has been linked to an organisation which claims that homosexuality and bisexuality can be “cured”, will also face Momentum’s efforts on the doorstep.

The group seeks to create a series of “Portillo moments”, a reference to the unseating of the Tory defence secretary in the 1997 Labour landslide victory.

The Hastings seat of Rudd, the home secretary, was held by Labour as recently as 2010.

While Momentum are currently so swaggeringly confident in their shiny new US-style voter outreach strategy that they bragged about it to the New Statesman:

Momentum’s approach to canvassing, inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, attempts to create a deeper engagement between the activists and the members of the public they are speaking to. The message at the training session was ambitious – even the staunchest Tory can be convinced to vote for Labour.

Momentum’s approach to canvassing, inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, attempts to create a deeper engagement between the activists and the members of the public they are speaking to. The message at the training session was ambitious – even the staunchest Tory can be convinced to vote for Labour.

Canterbury’s swing to Labour this summer is a case in point. A previous Tory stronghold, the constituency swung to Labour by more than nine percentage points, and was won by Labour’s Rosie Duffield with 45 per cent of the vote.

One workshop attendee who canvassed in Canterbury believes this swing was because Momentum “went to every house” and that even those who seemed hostile to Momentum “still wanted to talk politics with them”.

After the result of the snap election, with Theresa May’s plans for Tory domination in tatters, Momentum announced plans to continue to campaign as though there was another snap election on the horizon. Activists and canvassers have descended on  Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat as recently as three weeks after the snap election, supported by notable Labour party figures such as Sir Keir Starmer MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. While May has clung onto power over the summer break, the continued political turbulence adds a sense of urgency to the training session.

Ambition. A sense of urgency. Most Conservatives have probably forgotten how those sensations feel. Apparently at the end of one Momentum activist training session in Euston, all of the attendees were added to a Slack group so that they could better coordinate through the instant messaging app – even the older Momentum members who were a bit dubious about technology. What we have here is a hard left socialist group given strategic rocket boosters through the accumulated lessons of the Howard Dean and Barack Obama campaigns.

Meanwhile, what do the Tories have to show for themselves? How has the party which carries the torch (or should that be the tree) for conservative politics been spending its downtime this summer?

One might have thought that having guided her party to such catastrophic near-defeat, Theresa May would be keen to make amends by cancelling any holiday plans and visibly knuckling down, devoting every spare moment to damage control, overseeing Brexit negotiations and coming up with a conservative strategy that doesn’t involve cross-dressing in Labour’s hand-me-down clothes.

But no – the prime minister has been off hiking in Italy, where the only headline she generated in the domestic press occurred when she led guests at her five-star hotel in a rousing rendition of the British national anthem.

Disaster is staring the Conservatives in the face, but they are either too busy sipping limoncello in Italy (the prime minister), plotting their pathetic and utterly indistinguishable future leadership bids (the MPs) or having Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face tattooed onto their left buttocks (the activists) to notice the peril. The shock general election result in June should have been a wake-up call, but instead the Tories have immediately lapsed back into complacency, apparently content to be in a minority government propped up by the DUP with Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-Left Labour Party breathing down their necks.

If British conservatism (and the UK’s political system) were healthy right now, as opposed to being on life support, then this summer would have seen a wellspring of new ideas bubbling up from all quarters – promising backbench MPs, radical think tanks, grassroots conservative movements unwilling to allow the captain who already crashed the ship once to continue to set the course. But conservatism, like our political system as a whole, is not healthy, and we have seen no such ideas, no such developments.

The Conservative Party still cannot decide what it wants to be. “But wait for the party conference!”, I hear you shout. Don’t get your hopes up. Do you really think that anything positive, anything remotely useful in the small government conservative mould is going to emerge out of the Tory autumn conference in Manchester? This conference will be devoted to two things: trying to shore up Theresa May’s failed premiership, and providing a platform for a lot of chest-thumping idiocy about Brexit. There will be no bold new vision for British conservatism in the 21st century because there are no bold new thinkers. There are barely any thinkers at all, and what few there are remain consigned to the backbenches (Kwasi Kwarteng, James Cleverly) while mediocrities continue to hog the limelight.

And what of the Conservative Party’s hopeless performance with the youth vote? Has any action been taken to learn the lessons from the 2016 general election, or counter-strategies developed to rebut Jeremy Corbyn’s ludicrous false promises? Does any action look likely to be taken?

Immediately after the general election disaster I wrote:

In some ways, Jeremy Corbyn seems like a most implausible politician to court the youth vote – an old, grey haired career politician with absolutely zero interest in doing anything fashionable, sartorially or politically. But my god, he is an authentic conviction politician. And if your average voter hates overgroomed, telegenic bland politico-bots then young people clearly hate them even more. Canned soundbites don’t work on social media-savvy young people, if they work on anyone. And yet the Conservatives went into battle – largely thanks to the “genius” Lynton Crosby – with an arsenal made up almost exclusively of glib, canned soundbites in place of anything remotely authentic.

Not that authenticity alone is enough. Right wing politics are clearly hugely toxic to many young people, who would sooner die than consider voting Conservative, let alone admitting any conservative leanings to their social circle. The Tories are too closely associated with grey, uninspiring “austerity”, even though austerity is largely a myth. The Tory brand, fair or unfair, is still toxic to many people. And the parties of the left have perfectly tapped into the consumerist politics of Me Me Me by promising to firehose endless sums of money into the gaping, insatiable mouth of Britain’s public services.

It seems painfully apparent to me that we need a prominent, national vessel for the development and promotion conservative policies (and personalities) separate from the Conservative Party, which simply can no longer be trusted to make the case for its own worldview.

And as I emphasised in another piece, the same point applies to policy:

Theresa May’s team seemingly forgot that people don’t become more conservative as they get older automatically or without some prompting, and that if the Tories continually screw somebody over through their formative years, young adulthood and early middle age then they won’t magically become Tory voters when they get their first grey hair. People become more conservative as they get older because historically, sensible government policy has allowed them to become greater and greater stakeholders in society, largely through property and equity ownership. Cut off millions of young people from this ladder to prosperity and security, and the conveyor belt which gradually moves people from political Left to Right as they age will come grinding to a halt.

And on strategy:

We particularly need to work closely with conservative organisations in the United States, which face a similar uphill struggle in overcoming a historic disinterest in the youth vote but which are now starting to have some success, generated in part by their opposition to the illiberal Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics sweeping American university campuses, with its disregard for freedom of speech and toxic obsession with the politics of victimhood.

We should be sharing best practice back and forth with American conservative organisations as to how to build strong redoubts for conservatism in overwhelmingly leftist places, so that conservatism isn’t washed away altogether. Frankly, British conservatism is in such a parlous state that we need their help. And then, once things have stabilised, we can look to reclaim some of the ground we have lost among young voters.

It looks like Momentum and the Left took this idea and ran with it, and are already benefiting from adopting their new strategy. What a pity that the message has been so roundly ignored by its actual intended audience.

Conservatism decline and a slide toward irrelevance is not inevitable, but preventing it will take hard work and a capacity for self-criticism. We all dropped the ball in 2016; we all need to do better. But it is no good pushing harder in precisely the same direction, or shouting the same slogans even louder than before. “Strong and stable” doesn’t work when much of the population is dissatisfied and wants change. And at a time when many voters responded warmly to Jeremy Corbyn’s conviction politics of the Left, confounding all expectations, the Conservatives must regrow some convictions of their own.

Yet a plurality of Tories either don’t care about the crisis we face, or are simply deny its existence. They think that slapping a new coat of paint on the same rusty old banger will convince voters already tiring of seven years of Conservative government that they are buying a shiny new Tesla rather than a wobbly old Reliant Robbin. They bizarrely think that Moggmentum is the cure, or simply sticking with a failed prime minister who should never have ascended to the top job in the first place.

No, no, no. The Conservative Party needs to stop squabbling about personalities and which interchangeable Cabinet nonentity is best placed to succeed Theresa May, and decide what it actually stands for. And any conservative groups, think tanks and private individuals with an ounce of vision and charisma need to step up and push the party in the right direction, just as John Hoskyns and Norman Strauss did with their Stepping Stones Report in 1977, planting the seed of the Thatcherite recovery.

The Tories cannot make an informed decision about who should be their next leader without first deciding what kind of party they want to be – a limp and apologetic outfit which grovels and apologises for its limited principles, trying to make itself look as much like the Labour Party as possible, or a virile and ambitious party with transformative instincts, belief in individual liberty and the zeal to roll back the administrative state.

The Conservative Party conference opens in Manchester on Sunday 1st October. And rather than painting a false picture of unity, let’s actually have it out once and for all. And if a few unremarkable political careers end up getting caught up in the crossfire, so much the better. We need to clean house in terms of leadership, but more importantly in terms of ideology and basic principles.

At present, Theresa May and her rootless Tories are effectively in office but not in power. And if they do not take swift and dramatic action in the face of a resurgent leftist movement, the power could also slip away sooner than they think.

 

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‘Compassionate Conservatism’ Plays Into The Left’s Hands

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

Wilkinson writes in Total Politics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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Calls For A 100% Inheritance Tax Reveal The Far Left’s Evil Heart

Abi Wilkinson - 100 percent inheritance tax

Renewed calls by leftists for a 100% inheritance tax force us to have the argument all over again – does the state exist to serve us, or do we exist to serve the state?

I’m sure that many others have already published their own incredulous reactions, but I cannot let my return to blogging commence without comment on Abi Wilkinson’s “brave” idea (filed under the Guardian’s “Utopian Thinking” category) for a 100 percent inheritance tax, levied in order to fund Our Precious Public Services.

In case you haven’t already encountered it, Saint Wilkinson appreciates our public services so much, and cares about the downtrodden in society just so darn much, that she thinks that a 100 percent confiscatory raid on assets upon every person’s death is both meritorious and desirable as a tribute to the all-powerful state, as well as being totally economically feasible.

The article reads like an earnest sixth-form essay, untainted by familiarity with much political theory and penned by somebody who sincerely believes that they are making this proposition for the very first time, and that it is therefore deserving of serious consideration and public debate.

Of course, the complete opposite is true – people have loudly clamoured for the expropriation of wealth from the dead and the living for centuries, with the idea of a 100% inheritance tax proving sufficiently odious that it is not enforced in any successful advanced economy.

Nevertheless, Wilkinson boldly writes:

The idea that we should be able to pass on our life’s accumulated wealth to descendants is deeply embedded. It appeals to the fundamental biological urge to protect your offspring and propagate your genes. Though only a small minority of estates are subject to inheritance tax in Britain as it currently stands, opinion polls consistently find that the majority of people oppose it. Instinct seems to override common sense. VAT falls disproportionately on people with low incomes, but it’s far less hated.

Understandable sensitivity around issues relating to death make it difficult to discuss, but it’s time this conventional wisdom was held up to proper scrutiny. Yes, the desire to pass on property to your descendants may be natural – but why should we be slaves to our biology? Social progress has frequently depended on our ability to transcend individualistic urges and work together for the common good.

A leftist may well ask why we should be slaves to biology (at least now that most of them have stopped promoting eugenics). Half the time prominent voices on the left can be found deliberately trying to negate, undermine or deny basic biology across a whole host of areas, because feelings and virtue-signalling must now trump science (which, after all, is very oppressive).

And as for “instinct overrid[ing] common sense”, it is far more likely that most people, being more perceptive than Abi Wilkinson, can perceive the ruinous implications of implementing a 100 percent inheritance tax policy – not least a vast and unprecedented brain drain of wealth and talent from this country, together with hugely adverse incentives for those who remain behind. Would I vote for a policy which benefited me by stealing from my neighbour, while also knowing that the same policy would lead to the ruin of the country? Unsurprisingly, probably not.

Wilkinson continues:

Some may argue that leaving inheritance is a moral right. It’s not about whether the recipients deserve or need it, nor whether having the ability to do so results in productivity gains. The point is that the deceased earned that money and it should be up to them where it goes.

This is where it gets a little murky. We tend to honour the wishes of the dead – at least to some extent. Those of us who are religious may believe their souls live on and they can witness what’s happening. Even committed atheists recognise the value of respect in this context, even if their primary concern is the emotional impact on those left behind. If someone wanted a certain sort of funeral, for example, it seems right to try and fulfil that. But what if the desires of the dead directly damage the wellbeing of the living? Is there any situation in which the previous instructions of someone no longer actually present in the mortal realm should be prioritised over the needs, interests and opinions of those who are still alive and kicking?

How gracious that we are still to be allowed funerals and other religious rites in Abi Wilkinson’s brave new world. Perhaps we should be grateful for this small dispensation and humbly surrender our accumulated life’s work on our deathbeds without any further complaint.

More:

In the UK, official statistics suggest around £77bn is passed on in inheritance each year (tax avoidance means the real amount could be even higher). That’s money that no living being has a moral claim to, according to standard justifications of wealth inequality and private property. Were that money redistributed by the state, it would cover the cost of adult social care several times over. It could plug gaps in NHS, education and police funding. It could provide the kind of comprehensive welfare state that meant nobody had to worry about their family after they passed away – because there would always be a safety net.

Cultural norms teach us that the inheritance of private property is the default and any expropriation of this wealth must be justified. It should be the other way round. There’s some value in respecting the wishes of the dead, yes, but why is that more important than social housing, healthcare or any number of other possible uses for the money? It’s natural to want to protect and care for your family, but what about people who don’t stand to inherit a penny? Is there any reason their needs should matter less? We have to fund our state somehow – what makes inheritance tax more objectionable than income tax or VAT charged on essential consumer goods?

And what when that £77bn is spent in Year 1 of this nightmare programme, and Britain’s public services come back ravenous for more in Year 2, when the brain drain and disincentives to save or invest reduce next year’s haul by over half? What about Year 3, when the biological urge to defer gratification, save and build for subsequent generations is overridden by benevolent leftist policy, and the tax revenue is even smaller? What about Year 5, when Our Blessed NHS is still in perpetual crisis but inheritance tax revenues now bring in less money than would be required to power a street light?

The perpetual problem with the Left is that they insist on working against, rather than with, human nature. Market capitalism remains by far the best way of allocating scarce resources for the good of the most people because rather than going against the grain of embedded human instinct it works with that instinct, incentivising people to provide value in return for other needed items of value.

But the Left cannot accept this, because inequality. Never mind that this inequality is often less than they contend, and that any inequality takes place in the context of rising living standards for all – no, this is not enough. A functioning system and a great engine of prosperity must be sabotaged and brought down because it does not conform with certain Utopian political theories – theories which Abi Wilkinson might do well to better acquaint herself.

But more than all of this, the great question which not only Abi Wilkinson but the entire Corbynite, Utopian Left must answer is this: does the state exist to serve us, or do we exist to serve the state? Are we entitled to the product of our own labour with the state performing certain acts and services by our permission, or does the state ultimately have a claim to everything that we are, everything that we create and everything that we do, in life and in death?

Of course, we already know the answer to that question. The answer shines through brightly with every weepy new article about how we the people are failing “Our NHS” by not protecting it from the Evil Tories and by failing to firehose sufficient taxpayer money into its gawping, insatiable mouth. The answer shines through with every inane tweet misquoting Aneurin Bevan about how the NHS will continue to exist “as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it”, and with every false assertion that cutting taxes is somehow “giving money away” to the wealthy.

In short, it simply could not be more clear that the ideologues within the Corbynite Labour Party – as well as the journalists and commentators who support them – believe that we exist at the pleasure of the state, to serve the state. Sure, they might not put it quite like that. Instead, they waffle on endlessly about society and community, or piously lecture the rest of us on our responsibilities to one another – responsibilities which human beings are perfectly capable of managing through individual charity and civic society, but which the Left insist on funnelling through the state.

And if you are of this mindset, then why indeed not propose a 100% inheritance tax on everybody (save a few “objects of sentimental value” as graciously conceded by Wilkinson)? Abi Wilkinson presumably believes that she too is just a small cog in the machine of the British state; that if it were deemed to be better for society that she stacked shelves in a Tesco distribution centre rather than writing socialist twaddle for a living she would gladly switch occupations in a heartbeat, before giving up her meagre possessions to the taxman upon her deathbed. And she is fully entitled to believe in a totalitarian, dystopian state where the mere words “for the good of society” can be used to compel us to do anything.

But know, when these cherub-faced young socialists get on their soapboxes, eyes aflame with passion and fervour, what they really mean when they talk about “the good of society”. Know the warped moral framework through which these left-wing, self-appointed Defenders of our Public Services see the world – the individual utterly subordinate to the state in every way that counts, save a few highly revocable “rights” given as a distraction.

Because this same black-hearted evil informs nearly every policy that the Corbynite Left proposes, including many which are far more likely to come to pass than Abi Wilkinson’s totally original 100% inheritance tax brainwave.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elphicke continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Top Image: The Spectator

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Are We Finally Witnessing The End Of Bland, Centrist Politics?

Jeremy Corbyn - Glastonbury crowds

Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit… People want meaning in their lives and a purpose in their politics that dry, centrist managerialism cannot hope to provide

This, by Ted Yarbrough, is very perceptive:

Man does not live by bread alone. Though a religious statement by Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew I think that statement has never been more true- especially seen in geopolitics.

We humans have never been materially wealthier.  Yes, some people still live in abject poverty and many people don’t like that others have more money than them, but by historical standards we should be thanking our lucky stars each day for our blessings. We live longer than ever before and can communicate with people throughout the world at an instant. Yet, as especially seen in politics, many people are angry. Populists are rising on both right and left. Those in positions of power ie “establishment” people in the media, government etc are extremely perplexed. How could, for example, the people not want to send that nasty man Trump a message with some bright young man who checks all the boxes like Jon Ossoff? [referring to the Democrats’ failed attempt to take Georgia’s sixth congressional district in the recent special election]

I think the people shocked by the return of ideology miss one big point about humans. We are not animals, we don’t just like to be fed and wag our tail. We believe in justice, we dream dreams, we are not content because, yes often we are spoiled, but we want to believe in something. We want to be something bigger than ourselves- it’s why humans suffer enormously to go to Mt. Everest and the south pole and the moon- we want to do things because they are great. It is why people are constantly searching for the meaning of life and worshipping God (or gods). We want to change the world because we recognize the imperfections in it. We will not be content.

In politics, that means people are growing sick of “centrists” ie technocrats who don’t inspire the people but expect to govern because they are supposedly the best qualified for the job. Centrists are shocked to see the rise of nationalists and free-marketers and socialists and Islamists, but really they shouldn’t be. Those ideologies offer people something to believe in, a better world to dream of and fight for, rather than a shallow world of pop music, materials possessions and politics made occasionally spicy with some virtue signalling identity politics thrown in. People now, like our ancestors of old, want to battle over ideas. To work towards finding truth.

This blog has been screaming for years now that centrist politics is leading us nowhere good, entrenching privileges for those set up to gain from the current system while doing nothing to help those – particularly those at the sharp end of globalisation – who do not benefit from the post-patriotic, post nation state world that the elites are building without meaningful democratic consent.

But even I did not predict the degree to which the establishment’s insistence on clinging on to their bland, centrist model of governance would lead to disruptions to the political order on the level of Donald Trump, Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party (and nearly the country).

Some of these disruptions are welcome – Brexit is a great achievement, even if many of the benefits end up being lost through abysmal execution by the political class, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Jeckyll and Hyde leadership of the Labour Party reminds us both how ideology can reinvigorate a political movement but also just how far the party has drifted from the interests of working people. And others of these disruptions – cough, Donald Trump – are unwelcome and have almost zero upside.

But more such populist disruptions are almost inevitable until the political class realises that people want more from their politics than a ruling class of bland, superficial technocrats who promise nothing more than the smooth administration of the status quo. Jeremy Corbyn, for all of his faults, at least promises a radical reordering of society – one made all the more appealing by the fact that the Conservatives long ago ceased to make a bold, unapologetic case for free markets, individual freedom and a less suffocating state.

Nearly two years ago, this blog asked where is the Conservative Party’s own Jeremy Corbyn? Where is the small-C conservative version of the politician who dares to proclaim an unrepentantly neo-Thatcherite worldview, instead of pretending (a la Cameron, Osborne, Hammond and May) that “austerity” and fiscal restraint are a sad necessity brought about by recession rather than an innately good thing in and of themselves?

Theresa May led the Conservative Party to near-defeat in the general election this month because she never even attempted to take on Jeremy Corbyn in the battle of ideologies. And while conservatives were never likely to walk away with the lion’s share of the youth vote, shamefully allowing Jeremy Corbyn to be the only one to present the emerging generation of new voters with anything like a positive inspirational message made damn certain that the majority of them voted Labour.

Yarbrough’s conclusion is stark:

With that being said, if the centrist parties do not start treating people as humans who dream dreams, and offer a compelling hope for people, the people of the world will continue to be more polarized and radicalized. And if there is no hope more and more false prophets will emerge to fill the vacuum.

One of my favourite television shows is the twelve-part HBO series “From The Earth To The Moon”, executive produced by Tom Hanks, recounting the complete history of NASA’s Apollo Program which culminated in six manned missions to the surface of the moon. I like it because it represents, to me, a time when humanity stood for more than “reducing inequality”, deifying public services and promising to make the trains run on time. A time when our desire for achievement, like our plans for human spaceflight, aspired to something more than low-earth orbit.

The theme music at the start of each episode begins with JFK’s speech at Rice University in which Kennedy says “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Of course the 1960s and 70s were tumultuous decades with many of their own very real challenges – the very real threat posed by Soviet Communism, for one, and the ongoing struggle for civil rights. But how much worse would this era have been if there were no unifying objectives around which people could come together?

In our increasingly secular age, religion is no longer a unifying force within nations. Art stepped up briefly as a replacement, but our art and culture has become increasingly debased too. And so people, being spiritual beings, increasingly vest their faith in their political worldview, which has had two principle effects – toxifying our political discourse and making people more susceptible to the “false prophets” of which Yarbrough warns.

Professor David Hillel Gelernter once said in an interview:

The readiest replacement nowadays for lost traditional religion is political ideology. But a citizen with faith in a political position, instead of rational belief, is a potential disaster for democracy. A religious believer can rarely be argued out of his faith in any ordinary conversational give-and-take. His personality is more likely to be wrapped up with his religion than with any mere political program. When a person’s religion is attacked, he’s more likely to take it personally and dislike (or even hate) the attacker than he is in the case of mere political attacks or arguments. Thus, the collapse of traditional religion within important parts of the population is one cause of our increasingly poisoned politics.

We see this all the time in our political discourse. This is the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics writ large. This is the result of our ridiculous, overwrought obsession with inequality, even as living standards for nearly everybody continue to improve and we all benefit from technologies and inventions which were unthinkable half a century ago.

And if failed centrism really is leading to “radicalisation” by unscrupulous false prophets (and I don’t much like the use of that word outside of its applicability to terrorism, particularly because the Left is now eagerly using it to smear conservatives on any pretext, suggesting that newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail are somehow “radicalising” the ignorant white working classes) then it becomes all the more important for our main political parties offer visions of their own which amount to more than technocracy and navel-gazing obsession with public services.

For a long time I thought that people actually liked the politics of Me Me Me, and that our craven politicians were simply responding to public demand with their endless manifesto bribes. But perhaps I was wrong. Though Jeremy Corbyn certainly offered a record-breaking basket of electoral bribes in the Labour Party manifesto, people also seem to have responded to him because of what he represents. In other words, Corbyn’s increasing viability amounts to more than the sum of the various bribes in the 2017 manifesto, even the student loans pledge.

The Conservatives, therefore, cannot afford to leave the ideological field open for Jeremy Corbyn to occupy on his own. The Tories need to do much better than mount their usual snivelling defence of fiscal restraint, couched in the craven acceptance of leftist frames of reference, and actually come up with an alternative vision of Britain worth voting for.

Theresa May isn’t going to do that, and neither are any of the dismal individuals tipped by the Westminster media as being most likely to replace her. So, who will come and save the Conservative Party from themselves, and save the country from Corbynism in the process?

 

Jeremy Corbyn - Glastonbury stage

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