There is a Modern Whig Party in the United States, founded by veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and seeking to organize what it sees as abandoned conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. It strikes me as too cautious both in challenging economic neoliberalism and in challenging social liberalism. But I am told that is growing quite rapidly, although it is not my main concern in this post.
The roots of the American Republic, of the campaign against the slave trade, of Radical and Tory action against social evils, of the extension of the franchise, of the creation of the Labour Movement, and of opposition to the Boer and First World Wars, all stretch back to Catholic, High Church (and thus first Methodist and then also Anglo-Catholic), Congregationalist, Baptist, Quaker and other disaffection with the Whig Revolution of 1688, such that within those communities, long after any hope of a Stuart restoration had died, there remained a sense that the Hanoverian State, its Empire, and that Empire’s capitalist ideology were less than fully legitimate, a sense which had startlingly radical consequences. Radical action for social justice and for peace derived from testing the State and its policies against theologically grounded criteria of legitimacy. It still does.
But the Conservative Party has been hoovering up Liberals for a very long time: Liberal Unionists, Liberal Imperialists, National Liberals, Alfred Roberts’s daughter, those around the Institute of Economic Affairs (although its founders and its founding backer, like Roberts, never actually joined), and now the Liberal Democrats. Among those last, the most blatantly obvious outrider or trailblazer is Elizabeth Truss, a veteran anti-monarchist campaigner within that party, and also possessed of most unorthodox opinions regarding the institution of marriage, but whom the Conservative hierarchy forced upon a safe Conservative seat in time for the 2010 General Election, since when it has promoted her vigorously in and through the media. The followers of David Owen, another who never formally signed up, were in a very similar position, although Owen himself is now close to Ed Miliband.
The Conservative Party is itself therefore two parties in one, which would be entirely separate in many other countries, competing hardly at all for the same votes and co-operating hardly at all on any issue of policy. The metropolitan, urban, capitalist, secular, libertarian, make-the-world-anew party has finally defeated and banished the provincial, rural, protectionist, church-based, conservative, mind-our-own-business party. The Whigs have finally defeated and banished the Tories.
Opposition to the privatisation of the Royal Mail echoes the Tory cry of “King and People” against the Whig magnates. It even expresses loyalty to the legacy of the Royal House of Stuart. Those who believe in publicly owned public services, in strong unions, and in rural communities must unite with those, very largely the same people, who believe in national sovereignty (both as against the EU and as against the foreign acquisition of a key national asset), in the monarchy’s direct link to every address, and in rural communities. Public ownership and strong unions are in fact safeguards of national sovereignty and of the countryside, and thus of that other such safeguard, the Crown. Together, we can save our Post Office.
However, Whiggery is also re-emerging in the form of Spencerism, the Whig Jacobitism. The Spencers were staunch Whigs, periodically emerging to run the country, and then disappearing back to their landed estates for another couple of generations. Yet, just as most Tories eventually balked at full on Jacobitism, so these Whigs seem to balk at what they see as a reigning house of lower-middle-class Germans. Ideology and identity are complicated things, after all.
The dim (or, for few, not so dim) memory of the Stuarts among the Tories has become the very bright memory of Diana among the Whigs, i.e., the economically neoliberal, socially liberal, and therefore geopolitically neoconservative ruling class now in control of all three political parties. They are all for the principle of parliamentary, which would now effectively mean popular, choice of the monarch. Just so long as that choice was in favour of a proper toff of unimpeachable Englishness, such as a member of the Noble House of Spencer. To them, the Throne’s legitimate occupant, at least once the present monarch dies, will be the legitimate heir of Diana as identified by popular acclaim, itself massively media-influenced. In other words, Prince William. Who will, of course, become King eventually, resolving the dispute.
But throughout his father’s reign, and indeed even before it begins, expect the Spencerists to bang on, and on, and on about its illegitimacy, and of course to form an entire subculture which will have as great, though nowhere near as subterranean, an influence as that of the Jacobites had. Indeed, both the emergence of that subculture, and that banging on itself, are already very well-advanced.