Friday, 20 February 2009

Who Is A Red Tory?

This article of mine appears on the website of Prospect, although you need a subscription to read all of it over there:

Phillip Blond is right to call for more employee share ownership, workers’ buyouts, equity guilds and asset co-operatives, with ownership wedded to the earning of wages. To attack big business and its mass immigration. To excoriate the impact of the supermarkets on small business and agriculture. To denounce Marx as "just another dispossessor of the poor". And to laud Chesterton and Belloc.

But he is absolutely wrong to speak of "welfare serfdom", or to write off "the trade unions as institutions permanently wedded" thereto.

For one thing, of course, trade unions are specifically about jobs, not welfare. A movement "owing more to Methodism than to Marx", indeed owing nothing whatever to Marx, existed precisely when its party was bound up with these reviled organisations.

They were and are expressions of exactly the same spirit that produced and produces co-operatives, mutual guarantee societies, mutual building societies and friendly societies. Naturally in favour of the linking of ownership to wage-earning, with the widest possible diffusion of real property giving every household a bulwark both against over-mighty commercial interests and against an over-mighty State.

And the organisational base for working-class patriots, dedicated middle-class public servants, temperance Methodists, traditional Catholics and others, in alliance with social conscience toffs. But Labour parliamentary candidates are no longer chosen by unions full of Red Tories, if you will, using the Labour machine to fill safe seats with people as close as possible to their own views. In 2005, turnout in some traditional Labour heartlands was therefore as low as one in three.

If David Cameron really does want to reach out to this vast constituency, then he needs to look to the universal and comprehensive Welfare State (including, for example, farm subsidies). The strong statutory and other (including trade union) protection of workers, consumers and communities. The former paid for by progressive taxation. The whole underwritten by full employment. And all delivered by the partnership between a strong Parliament and strong local government.

These were to counteract the corrosion to nought by the "free" market of everything that conservatives exist in order to conserve. To resist both the decadent social libertinism of the 1960s and the decadent economic libertinism of the 1980s. Both the European Union’s erosion of our self-government and culture, and that erosion by global capital and by American hegemony. And both the unrestricted movement of people and that of goods, services and capital. The Sixties Swingers hated (and Roy Jenkins despised) Harold Wilson, and they went on to vote for Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Cameron would need to become the contemporary voice of the trade unionists and Labour activists who in the early twentieth century peremptorily dismissed an attempt to make the Labour Party anti-monarchist, and resisted schemes to abort, contracept and sterilise the working class out of existence.

Of the Attlee Government’s refusal to join the European Coal and Steel Community on the grounds that it was "the blueprint for a federal state" which "the Durham miners would never wear". Of Gaitskell’s rejection of European federalism as "the end of a thousand years of history" and liable to destroy the Commonwealth.

Of Bevan’s ridicule of the first parliamentary Welsh Day on the grounds that "Welsh coal is the same as English coal and Welsh sheep are the same as English sheep". Of those Labour MPs who in the 1970s successfully opposed Scottish and Welsh devolution not least because of its ruinous effects on the North of England. Of those Labour activists in the Scottish Highlands, Islands and Borders, and in North, Mid and West Wales, who accurately predicted that their areas would be balefully neglected under devolution.

Of the Parliamentary Labour Party that voted against the partition of the United Kingdom. Of the Attlee Government’s first ever acceptance of the principle of consent with regard to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Of the Wilson Government’s deployment of British troops to protect Northern Ireland’s grateful Catholics precisely as British subjects. Of the Callaghan Government’s administration of Northern Ireland exactly as if it were any other part of the United Kingdom.

Of the Catholic and other Labour MPs who fought tooth and nail against abortion and easier divorce. Of the Methodist and other Labour MPs who fought tooth and nail against deregulated drinking and gambling. Of those who successfully organised against Thatcher’s and Major’s attempts to destroy the special character of Sunday and of Christmas Day.

Of Attlee’s successful dissuasion of Truman from dropping an atom bomb on Korea. Of Wilson’s refusal to send British forces to Vietnam, but use of military force to safeguard the right of the people of Anguilla to be British. And of Callaghan’s successful prevention of an Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Red Tory? Whatever it is, it is not David Cameron. And it never will be.


  1. Who owns the copyright? Did they pay you for it?

  2. I'll take that as "They do" and "No", then, shall I?

  3. "I assume so" and "Not so far (and I'm not holding my breath)", yes.

  4. They probably wouldn't like you posting in full a piece which they own and which is otherwise available only to paying subscribers, then.

  5. I am not a subscriber, so, beyond the first couple of paragraphs, I have no idea whether or not they have published the article exactly as I submitted it.

    I have never had anything published exactly as I submitted it. No one ever does have. That is not how editing works.

    But this is exactly as I submitted it.

    Discussion is hereafter limited to the content.

  6. It's a bit repetitive.

  7. Not in itself, it isn't. A lot, though not all, of it has appeared on here before. But that is not the same things.

  8. David once reprinted in full a New York Times article that could not be accessed from British computers, its only publication in the UK -

  9. Discussion is hereafter limited to the content of this post.

  10. Marx was supportive of cooperative ownership, actually.