Conservatism used to be about upholding traditional values. This generally means
- a strong work ethic
- respect for religion
- respect for authority
- respect for tradition
- respect for community
- personal responsibility
- self control
- ethical behaviour
- truthfulness/a sense of honour/word as bond, etc.
- dislike/distrust of change
- sober/orderly conduct/law-abiding
- maintaining status quo
- maintaining social norms
- upholding moral principles
All of these things are true about me, for the most part. Which I daresay makes you wonder why I'm a Pirate. The fact is, I've grown up and discovered that the older grownups are often Very Naughty, and let's face it, colossal hypocrites. Conservatives are all about Being Respectable, which means no tottering about in the city centre on a Saturday night in stiletto heels, drunk out of your mind. I don't think I'm missing much, to be honest. Now here's the fun part: many of the left-wingers I'm friendly with are at least a little bit socially conservative and share the work ethic, self-reliance, thrift, and other qualities in the list above. We tend to differ over how we implement the above principles and which traditions and authorities we defer to, and while we often argue over the details, I've never felt the need to outright demonise the Left for the pure and simple reason that they're doing a better job of implementing the above list than the Right is right now. And that's a problem. Can we at least discuss this?
Conservative is becoming a dirty word
I'm your sane-and-sober designated driver type, and generally speaking I stay out of trouble. But in David Cameron's Britain, neoliberalism is the order of the day and this means debt-loading, austerity measures, the dismantling of the welfare state, and divving up the nation's property among the buddies of Our Glorious Leaders. Far from balancing the books as promised, they've driven us deeper into debt and are set to use this to justify more austerity. Whether or not scroungers exist to live like leeches off the rest of us, there is no excuse for this. And they wonder why Jeremy Corbyn is so damn popular! They themselves are making it happen one homeless person at a time.
Neoliberalism is antithetical to conservatism
Let's look again at the list of the attributes conservatives claim in the light of neoliberalism:
- a strong work ethic - exploitation on workfare, apprenticeships, and zero hours contracts
- self-reliance - you're on your own
- individualism - selfishness
- competition - race to the bottom
- respect for religion - authoritarianism
- respect for authority - abuse of authority
- respect for tradition - selected traditions
- respect for community - fragmentation of community
- nationalism - jingoism
- personal responsibility - personal regulation/abandonment of duty of care
- self control - debauchery
- ethical behaviour - look the other way when their chums behave badly
- truthfulness/a sense of honour/word as bond, etc. - selectively applied
- reliability - whatever they say, they do the opposite
- dislike/distrust of change - ripping out the fabric of our society
- sober/orderly conduct/law-abiding - Bullingdon Club, Piers Gaveston Society...
- maintaining status quo - entrenching monied interests
- thrifty - wasting our taxes, loving money more than people
- maintaining social norms - encouraging cruelty via fear and loathing
- upholding moral principles - realpolitik
Fear and loathing of the other side
People I know who voted Tory in the last election didn't do it because they liked David Cameron but because they disliked Ed Miliband's Labour Party more — and because they couldn't see much of a difference between that and the Tories anyway. Whenever the Tories begin the promotions for an election, they generally use fear and loathing as a tactic. From Peter Griffiths' 1965 racist campaign to New Labour, New Danger, fear and loathing have been used to sell the Tory agenda for decades. It's worse in America, where anyone who deviates from the right wing party line is immediately designated a socialist, and if that fails, a terrorist enabler or sympathiser. It doesn't matter how much evidence you show them that they're wrong, they cling to their opinions like grim death. And the more things go wrong, the more they demonise, blame the other side, and double down on failed policies because the logical endgame is either See or Saw. There is no room for anything else in such a narrow viewpoint.
We need to redefine conservatism
In governance conservatism is meant to be rational stewardship using evidence-based policy, trialing new ideas and testing them thoroughly before implementing them, then ironing out the wrinkles as you go. As I've written before:
Basically, we need to address the issues as they are and work from a solution-oriented perspective rather than dredging up the same tired old ideologies and repackaging them for a new generation every thirty years or so. Conservatism needs to be based on serving the needs of the people and the state; maintaining the balance between rights and responsibilities of each instead of pitting people and the state against each other. Coupled with a fact-based approach to policy-making, this new attitude of rational stewardship would rejuvenate conservatism and hopefully sweep away the hard-headed cold-hearted authoritarianism that pervades it now. On t'Internet, A New Direction For Conservatism
Now how can we get from institutionalised selfishness to rational stewardship for the public benefit? We will always have a free rider problem but that is an opportunity to better manage the situation and demonstrate superior management skills. As it is, the see-saw politics we have right now just means that history will keep repeating itself until someone hits the brakes.
Neoliberalism must be left behind
Neoliberalism is a misnomer. There is nothing new about a policy set that kills people by neglecting them or abandoning them to the vagiaries of the market. Like the flat cap socialism I often rail against, it too is dinosaur politics. We desperately need to either get off the damn see-saw we're on or get a new one.
At the moment the Right has nothing to offer. Jeremy Corbyn's revitalised Labour Party is highly likely to win the next election not because they're planning a revolution but because they appeal to the people. They listen to the people. They read their questions out on Prime Minister's Question Time. They are interested in the people. Does the Right do that? Do they heck! THAT is the problem.
There is work to be done
The Right is becoming irrelevant, except as a byword for moral and political corruption. Their policies are based on the myth of the free market (that is a fraud since they all know it's true) and the promise that light touch regulation will bring forth prosperity. If they want to have a hope in hell of actually winning the next election without rigging the game I propose they sit down and think about their policy set not in terms of how well it conforms to the principles laid out by Margaret Thatcher but how well it actually benefits the country. And by "country" I mean "the land and the people who live upon it."
If they're not going to engage in rational stewardship for the good of the nation, they're not conservative enough for my liking. And until they take an interest in the well-being of the British people they have no business being in government.