There is some delicacy surrounding this issue because if there is one thing that seemed clear about Red Toryism its this: it repudiates 'liberalism'. Indeed, in one of Next Left's first looks at Red Toryism, I examined Phillip Blond's critique of liberalism in some depth. I argued that his characterisation of liberalism is a misleading caricature.
One of Blond's recurring claims is that liberalism has no place in its philosophy for groups intermediate between the individual and the state. We'll come back to this shortly.
Aside from being its being inaccurate, I have been puzzled as to why Blond finds it necessary to ground his Red Toryism in this anti-liberal positioning. The policy programme of Red Toryism - the emphases on greater asset equality, localism and empowerment of civil society - could rest quite firmly on liberal philosophical foundations. So why make such a fuss of having a go at liberalism?
Now run the clock forward to Wednesday May 12, the first full day of a new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government. Phillip Blond is on the BBC's Newsnight. Kirsty Wark asks him whether the Tory-Lib Dem coalition isn't just a marriage of convenience with little philosophical underpinning. (The relevant bit of the interview starts at about 36: 24 minutes into the program.)What happens next?
A tirade against liberalism as a philosophy of morally nihilistic, spiritually vapid hedonism?
Phillip Blond is positively lyrical on the affinity between liberalism and Cameron's brand of Conservatism. Both share a vision of a 'new agency for social change' based on that much maligned notion of the 'big society'.
This idea, Blond tells the viewer, is the 'decisive political move' since it has nothing less than 'genuine resonance with the Liberals'. Consider Jo Grimond, the great post-war Liberal leader. Grimond was, according to Blond, 'the first big society thinker'. Indeed - and keep in mind here Blond's earlier claims about liberalism - Grimond always said that 'individuals could only express themselves through groups - civic groups'.
Warming to his theme, Blond tells us that 'oddly if you back to the liberal tradition, what's really transformative and liberating about them, you find parallels with what David [Cameron] is doing...'
So Red Toryism turns out be fully consistent with liberalism after all.
Presumably we can look forward to a second edition of Blond's book, Red Tory, one which appropriately revises the overwhelmingly negative commentary on liberalism in the present edition.