The execrable Toby Young is giving Laurence Fox his full support for the toff-actor’s new political party Reclaim. With Andrew Neil setting up the UK’s own Fox News called GB News, the UK is lurching further and further to the right. For a country that has led the way with neoliberal capitalism since 1979, voted for Brexit, elected Boris Johnson just a few months ago and in which ‘the left’ has had no real political power or even influence since the mid 80’s, moving further to the right might seem impossible!
Yet the emergence of Reclaim, or at least the possibility of a Reclaim type party, is encouraging if you think, like I do, that a realignment of the British party system is urgently needed.
The new alt-right party seeks to reclaim the “core values of the Conservative Part” but Fox and his new right party are not concerned primarily with class, capitalism or the economy, which are in my view the only values of the Tory elite, no, Fox et al are concerned with what the alt-right called ‘the culture wars’. And this can be summed up in the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’. The core values of Fox and his allies are freedom from government interference, freedom of speech, preservation of tradition, self-reliance, family and above all patriotism.
They despise the UK left’s constant knocking of what they see as the achievements of the British Empire. They are appalled that expressions of traditional family values, patriotism and loyalty to Queen and Country are so often portrayed as being some sort of moral evil and as a result they regard identity-politics, liberalism as being a form of tyranny.
And the problem for the facing the traditional anti-capitalist, anti-establishment left is that the definition of ‘left wing’ has shifted to meaning ‘being liberal’… and primarily as being a liberal, identity-politics, tyrants!
As I have argued elsewhere I believe the reason for this is that in the 80’s the centre-left abandoned class politics and became effectively liberals, and I mean ideologically not just culturally.
Liberalism is a political philosophy that believes in free-market capitalism as the only ‘natural’ force for good in human societies that can guarantee the liberty of the individual and bring about social and technological progress. They believe that free markets are the only and ultimate expression of the democratic will of the people; that free individuals, in free markets, making free choices, IS democracy in action and ALL efforts by governments to interfere in markets will corrupt a perfect system. They also believe that capitalism works most effectively as a meritocracy in which ‘the best’ are free to fulfil their potential regardless of race, creed, sexuality or religion. Thus for capitalism to work equality of opportunity must be imposed regardless of local or national traditions, regardless of the interests of local or regional groups, of inherited privilege, especially the aristocracy and monarchy, and even regardless of the interests of nations. (Capitalist globalisation after all purposefully seeks to replace the power of nations with the power of international free markets.)
Liberals were ‘the lefties’ of the 19th C because they opposed the inherited privilege of the aristocracy and the rural gentry but these Liberals and the ‘Neo’ liberals that followed in the modern era, were not left-wing in the 20th century sense, because the key left v right battle of the 20th C was, and in my view, still is, about the efficacy of capitalism itself.
You will no doubt notice that these liberal values are completely at odds with ‘traditional Tory values’ based in tradition, family and patriotism. Indeed, free-market capitalism will inevitably completely destroy the world of traditional values that ‘conservatives’ like Fox wish to ‘reclaim’.
But you will also notice that liberalism is completely at odds with 20th C anti-capitalist left wing views. The 20th C left believed that unrestrained, free-market, capitalism would inevitably exploit everyone and serves only the interests of a tiny capitalist class. Yet to be of the left now appears to mean being a liberal. So bizarrely being ‘left wing’ has come to mean being pro-capitalist, and thus pro the capitalist, establishment elite, and their liberal cultural tyranny.
Because much as it pains me to say it, I agree with Young, Fox, et al that in the US and the UK we are living through a sort of liberal cultural tyranny based in identity politics. For at least 20 years liberals have believed that if you disagree with them not only are you wrong but you are also evil. That in itself is just an opinion and in my view in and of itself as harmless as any other opinion, but the problem is this liberal worldview shifted beyond opinion into action and today liberals regularly seek to destroy the reputations and careers of anyone they disagree with… and often succeed!
Disagreeing is now seen by many liberals as bullying. Expressing opinions they find uncomfortable is now seen as an act of oppression. To be ‘privileged’ or an ‘oppressor’ you no longer have to actually have any privilege or actually oppress anyone, you just need to express opinions that upset someone. One of the core values of liberalism in my youth was tolerance, but in the last 20 years liberals have become at least as intolerant as the far-right.
This liberal cultural tyranny is even viciously turning on itself as the trans movement and feminists battle over what it is to be a woman and the BLM movement and some Jews battle over whether the Palestinians are oppressed victims or evil terrorists!
So many people now see being ‘right wing’ as defending liberty against corrupt, ‘liberal’ institutions of power, and seeking to radically transform society. Whereas ‘the left’, which is not ‘the left’ at all, is seen as defending the establishment status quo and the liberal cultural tyranny that denies free speech by threatening reputational and economic ruin on anyone who speaks outside the allowed limits. This is a reversal of post WW2 politics in which ‘the left’ sought to transform and ‘the right’ to defend the status quo.
I have discussed before the incoherence of the current UK political party landscape with the Tories being split between nationalist traditionalists and free marketeers and the LP between liberals and left social democrats.
Interestingly, I think Young’s opinion piece suggests a way forward, even in our highly dysfunctional first-past-the-post electoral system, Young states that “Reclaim doesn’t have to win anywhere in order to make a difference. Ukip only managed to win a single parliamentary seat, yet it achieved its main political objective. All Laurence needs to do is persuade the Conservative party that if it doesn’t become more robust on culture war issues it will lose votes to him in Red Wall seats. Not enough for Reclaim to win, but enough for Labour to come up through the middle.”
This is exactly my argument about a new democratic socialist party – it doesn’t have to win overall majorities and govern, it only needs to take enough votes from Labour to push the LP to the left. New Labour orthodoxy claims that the LP can only ever win a GE by appealing to Tory voters, it assumes leftist voters will always vote Labour because there is no alternative. This was never true and in fact led to millions not voting at all because none of the three mainstream parties reflected their views. But a new left social democratic party, a UKIP of the left, could change that dynamic and mean that in order to win elections the LP would need to appeal to leftist voters.
Thus the forming of Reclaim could actually give credence to a new left party and a profound realignment of UK politics leading to at least 4 national parties fighting general elections that more accurately represent the UK electorate:
Nationalist Conservative Party – This would be Fox’s Reclaim party or something like it; a party of ‘proper’ conservatives i.e. resisting change. Founded in a respect for social position and inherited privilege. Supporters of the political Union of the United Kingdoms of England, Scotland, Wales & N. Ireland. Proud of the history of the British Empire, nervous about immigration.
Capitalist Tory Party – The Tory party of David Cameron. ‘Small State’ neoliberal capitalists. Rhetorical support for meritocracy (although cynically disingenuous). Pro-EU, socially liberal and committed to ‘progress’ through neoliberal free-markets and the privatisation of everything the state does that can be privatised… and in their view that is everything.
Centrist Liberal Party – New Labour merged with LibDems. Actual belief in meritocracy. Pro-EU. Fiscally conservative and pro-capitalist but socially liberal and with the vestiges of a commitment to a Welfare State… if sometimes provided by private, commercial service providers.
Democratic Socialist Party – Old Labour & The Greens. Belief in equal rights. Belief in reciprocal social responsibility. Critical of capitalism. Environmentalists and socialists committed to a neo-Keynsian challenge to free-market capitalism and to widening democratic accountability.
The parties of government would probably remain either the Capitalist Tories or Centrist Liberals but in either formal or informal alliances or coalitions with the Nationalist Tories and Democratic Socialists.
This would much more accurately reflect political opinion in the UK and allow for a more open politics where parties didn’t have to try and hold together such incoherent alliances within just 2 parties.