Thursday 26 November 2009

A Red Tory marriage of convenience?

Perhaps one way to deal with any concern that Red Toryism could lead to a backsliding on social liberalism was that the launch of ResPublica at the Royal Horseguards Hotel rather resembled a swanky civil partnership ceremony.

The dark suits filling the wedding-style chairs were not asked 'red' or 'blue' on the way in.

But we were all kept waiting for at least half an hour before David Cameron and Phillip Blond walked together up the central aisle.

With his Blond standing alongside, in gazing adoration, the party leader vowed to engage with the ideas of the new think-tank - in government as well as in opposition (he would hope) and (he was at pains to make clear) in disagreement as well as in agreement.

"He wouldn't agree with everything Phillip Blond has said, or will go on to say" but that he was confident the think-tank would produce interesting ideas.

The familar reprise of Cameron's 'conservative means to progressive ends' refrain in the hope of the happy thought of 'not just a rich economy but also a rich society' was a reminder that his was a renewal of vows, after 10 months rather than 10 years in these speeded up times, as Cameron had said much the same thing at Blond's Demos progressive conservativism launch in January.

Having bestowed his blessing, while keeping his distance, the leading man scarpered sharpish, leaving Blond to muse abstractly on the nature of conservatism.

Onlookers are concerned at potential tensions from there being three people in the marriage.

The think-tanker was rather more muted in his critique of Thatcherism than media briefing suggested, with The Times among those to report.

In an attack on Thatcherism he will say that the “loadsamoney” ideology of the 1980s “quashed the last vestiges of public morality and, in turn, fed the growth of the State, since society was so out of control that government had to grow even more intrusive”.

That particular Blond on blonde heresy was missing from the speech. Still, to fully commit to Red Toryism would may require a Tory leader prepared to put through a decree nisi with Thatcherism.

And Cameron isn't quite ready to choose between Blond and the blonde. Rather, the current Tory leader likes to point out that his argument about the strong society draws on Thatcherism.

But there's the rub. Thatcher was for the free economy and the conservative society, never acknowledging how the one disrupted the other. She too talked about spreading
opportunities to own - yet wealth became more concentrated. Ultimately, markets were trumps.

I put a question from the floor to Blond: it seemed to me likely that modern Conservatives will find the associative society language warm and attractive mood music, yet would shy away from his economic agenda to localise the economy for fear it was too protectionist and interventionist. Did he agree that it had to be taken as a package, if it was to have any serious account of what had happened in the 1980s, or a contemporary agenda to strengthen social bonds?

Blond said he agreed with the thrust of the question.

"We do have to have that radical localised political economy", said, arguing that the way we value the macro-economy and finance "prices out the local economy".

He emphasised that he was prepared to talk about the recent history, and offer a constructive critique of what he thought the Conservatives got right and wrong in the 1980s. (However, what he didn't say is that the Tory frontbench seems unable or unwilling to offer any substantive account of Thatcher's legacy).

The Red Tory thesis often seems to talk left on economics and right on society.

Yet the economics seems the least likely part of the argument to be taken up by the Conservatives, often sounding more similar to the arguments of the New Economics Foundation or the Compassite left of the Labour party.

If the market critique is stripped out of Red Toryism, it may no longer offer a critique of Thatcherism but a rather rhetorical restatement of it.

For richer or poorer? We may have to disagree about that.


UPDATE: Fellow wedding guest James Crabtree makes a similar observation for Prospect.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I love the idea of his blond sitting next to him, did he ask her to introduce her like Brown does with his wife.

But the fact we have a new labour party which is looking more and more like a Thatchgerite party, one which has about as much direction as a fright train thats come off the tracks.

I'm leaning to protesting by voting BNP at the next election, because my god I've lost all interested in brown and his party because after 47 years in labour I'm totally confused.

I'm disabled after an accident at work, and slowly I'm watching my benefits being ripped away, now with the DLA for over 65's a target it's time to say who and where is Labour going, why not ask Thatcher to become party chairperson.

What a waste of 47 years.