Thursday 20 April 2006

One Nation Labour

Should a Labourite call himself a One Nation politician, as I do, considering that that term was coined by Benjamin Disraeli, father of the modern Conservative Party? Yes, because British politics is still split between Gladstonians and Disraelians, a split within the parties rather than among them. All three parties struggle constantly to hold together these competing aspects of their respective heritages, if Gladstonianism can really be described as part of Labour's heritage at all, rather than as merely the position of the alien faction that has taken over much of our organisation.
The Gladstonians favour unregulated markets and the use of armed force to secure this global state of affairs, which they see as necessary for the emergence and defence of democratic institutions. By contrast, we Disraelians see such economic arrangements as corrosive both of those institutions and of the values which, among other good things, sustain them; accordingly, we are immensely cautious about adventures abroad.
The Conservative Party has been hoovering up disaffected Gladstonians for a very long time: Liberal Unionists, Liberal Imperialists, National Liberals, and so on. Alderman Alfred Roberts, Margaret Thatcher's father and the pre-eminent influence on such political philosophy as she ever had, was a text-book case of a Gladstonian Liberal shopkeeper and Methodist preacher who sat as an Independent Councillor while his party collapsed around him, and who never joined the Tories to his dying day, but whose offspring went on to be active in the Conservative Party. The late Arhur Selsdon, of the proto-"Thatcherite" Institute for Economic Affairs, always regarded himself as a Gladstonian Liberal, for so he was; while his co-founder of that Institute, Lord (Ralph) Harris of High Cross, although he eventually stood as a Conservative candidate in 1955, originally put up, even as late as 1951, as a Liberal Unionist, and has always sat as a Crossbencher since being ennobled in 1979.
Those who left the Liberals to help found the Labour Party were firmly in the Disraelian mould (whether or not they would have liked to have been told so), and in any case much of the new Party's base of support had previously been attached to the working-class Toryism invented by the combination of Disraeli's social reforms and his doubling of the electorate through the extension of the franchise.
It was a section of Labour's Disraelians, plus a very few Gladstonians (such as David Owen) who had somehow wandered into the Labour Party, who set off for the SDP; and this accounts for the difference in approach between the warmongering Gladstonian Paddy Ashdown (late of the Liberal Party) and the anti-war Disraelian Charles Kennnedy (late of the SDP), who had to overrule his very Liberal Foreign Affairs Spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, in order to oppose the war in Iraq.
In the world of the Blairites, the Cameroons, the Henry Jackson Society, and the like, there seem to be some people who want to be Disraelians at home and Gladstonians abroad. Well, they can't be. This simply isn't possible or even desirable, just as the reverse would not be possible or even desirable.

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