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Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican
particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
Peter Kellow, DRP Leader, writes
On BBCs Newsnight on the 3rd December 2014, the government deficit was being discussed and journalist and key Tory thinker, Tim Montgomery, made the following statement
“I agree that Chancellor George Osborn has missed deficit target after deficit target and his is going to miss them all through the next parliament. There will be cuts but not deficit reduction. We will be talking about four or five years before the deficit has been eliminated. But the key thing is that he has paid no political price for missing these deficits. There aren’t people marching, protesting ...“
It is rare that a Tory lets the mask slip like this. It is often said that the primary goal of the Tory is not political, social or economic but simply to be in government and to achieve this they will do whatever it takes, but the Tory rarely discloses this so blatantly. Deficit reduction in this case was not the important thing. The health of the economy did not matter. What did matter was the politics of remaining in government. The price to the nation is irrelevant. It is the political price to the Tory that matters.
But who are these people called Tories? What do they do? What is the point of them? Today the Tories are no longer coterminous with the Conservative Party as now the leading figures of the Labour Party and the Lebdems are Tories as well, as they constantly confirm by their policies and their presentation.
We are all in it together
but some are more in it than others
The Tories started out in the 1660s, three and a half centuries ago. It was far from a promising start and I doubt that many at the time would have predicted their longevity. They were originally born out of a battle with the Whigs about the nature and position of the monarch. They sided with King James II who wanted to imitate the most authoritarian model of monarchy at that time – that of King Louis XIV of France.
The Whigs wanted a “constitutional monarch” with limited powers and correspondingly more power given to parliament and so the battle lines were drawn up that lead to one of the most important events in British history – the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Since then the Tories have variously been the political adversaries of the later eighteenth century Whigs of government, the Liberal Party of the late nineteenth century, socialism, the Labour Party for much of the twentieth century and then the New Labour of Tony Blair. They have seen all of them off and remain a potent force in British politics.
In order to survive this long you might suppose that the Tories adapted their political philosophy according to the circumstances of the day? Well, this is not quite so. The Tory of King Charles II’s day is really much the same beast as of today. The reason is that Toryism is not a political philosophy but a strategy. It does not adhere to any particular set of values or morality. Its aim is always to stay in power, stay in government. Policy and principles can come and go.
To understand the mind of the Tory you must look to the strategy that forms them, not any illusionary political ideal he or she might be imagined to sign up to. The closest the Tory gets to a principle is to always look backwards, take whatever they view as a permanent feature of politics and then present themselves as staunch defenders of it. The fact that they opposed this feature at the time of its introduction is of course excluded from the Tory narrative.
For example, the constitutional changes of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the creation of the Bank of England in 1694, American independence, Trade Union rights, repeal of the Corn Laws, the great Reform Bill, universal education, universal suffrage, the National Health Service, the minimum wage, were all bitterly opposed by Tories but now they are staunch defenders. This makes the term “reactionary” especially appropriate for the Tory, for his or her ideas are always reactions to things having no inherent creative imagination of their own.
The fundamentally reactionary nature of the Tory means that he or she lacks any creative ability. None of the key elements that make up the core of British society come from his clan. Where they do make “innovations” their ideas are always simple reversals of what had been established before.
Take the numerous Thatcher “innovations” which I have described in some detail here. The deregulation of the banks, selling state assets like water and gas companies, erosion of union power, for instance, were not fundamentally creative but involved unpicking something that had existed for some time. That does not automatically mean that it is wrong but it does demonstrate why it is right to say the Tory does not contribute anything positive to the construction of society, only a negative dismantling, a going back.
One of the great founders of modern Toryism, Edmund Burke, was famous for his assertion that the constitutional monarchy, established a hundred years before he wrote, was quintessentially British in its nature and should never be changed. But this same constitutional monarchy as I have said was vehemently contested by the Tories at the time of its inception. This shows how the Tory mind works. While others seek to move on from the status quo, the Tory seeks retrenchment as a political message
This conservatism combines with the Tory being very selective in what he or she takes on as an object to pull apart. Once he or she has decided that something is fixed and unalterable he becomes a bastion of conservation of it. This is the “conservative” element of the Tory but as always the elements to be preserved are included, not out of conviction, but out of concern for the survival of the Tory party. This conservative element can change with the wind as when the “Royal Mail” could in the 1980s never be privatised, in the 2010s it could be duly flogged off.
Whether you agree or not with the major opponents of the Tories in history, the Whigs and then later the Labour movement, these have always tried to refashion society and the economy in some way for the general good as they saw it. They are driven by vision. In this sense they can be described as “progressive” or “creative”.
The Tory is an astute observer of this progress, but his concern is much less about forming an intellectual response to it than about how he can “game” the system to his own advantage.
The lack of creative vision in the Tory is reflected in the fact that it is very difficult to find a Tory who is also a creative artist or writer. The Tory mind is just not built that way. This leads to the general suspicion that the Tory has towards people working in the arts, the media and the universities. The Tory does not like intellectuals and can count few amongst his number. Try to name a Tory artist or writer and you will find it difficult. Try to name a Tory philistine – well, that is altogether easier.
The Tory’s claim to defend tradition is fraudulent but to try to give it substance, he uses an idea, explicitly or implicitly, that is all his own – preordainment. Once something is classified as preordained then it carries with it its own justification. It just naturally has to be. Nothing you or I, or even god, can do about it. This has the great advantage that applying the concept of preordainment to an ill excuses you from doing anything about it.
During their history Tories have argued, for instance, that you cannot do anything about poverty as it is preordained that there will always be poor, you cannot give everyone the vote as some people are preordained to not have a say in society. Today the Tory does nothing to diminish inequality or curb our corrupt banks for those too are preordained, although he does not say so in as many words, of course.
The progressive politician, on the other hand, would argue that nothing is preordained, nothing is “written”. We fight for our ideals whatever the conditions we find in place
Ed Milliband, one of the recent band of Tory Labour leaders, recently took up the idea of “one nation” invented by the nineteenth century Tory Leader, Benjamin Disraeli, as a slogan to cover himself with its glory but it is doubtful if he understood what Disraeli meant. Disraeli’s "one nation" contained two ideas.
One, the nation consists of a number of classes into which each person has a pre-assigned place. There is no point in their expecting anything different, but for exceptional cases, as the whole class system is preordained as is everyone's place in it. Through all members of all classes accepting this and pulling together we can achieve the “one nation”.
Two, Britain is “one nation” amongst many. In Disraeli’s day Britain was the premier nation of course, and for him Britain was surely preordained in this role, but this pre-eminence is not intrinsic to the idea. What is intrinsic to it is the creation of a distance between the people and their nation objectifying it in the world arena and denying it as being special.
If Ed had actually studied Disraeli he would no doubt never have adopted his slogan, but his raising it reminds us that these two elements of Toryism - this preordainment of social position plus distancing from the interests of the nation as a whole have become ingrained in the mind of the Tory and there is plenty of evidence for this today.
Let us pursue this idea of the “one nation” amongst many. The Tory presents himself as a bastion of the nation and a quintessential part of Britain. In reality he disassociates himself from the interests of the people of his nation extending preferment to foreigners both economically and politically. This is not giving anything away to others because he sees himself as part of this international community and this community is cemented not by nationality but by class interests and money - lots of it. This immediately brings to mind the Tory subscription to the global financial oligarchy of today but in truth this turning to the outside for allegiances has been a fact of the Tory mind from the beginning.
The Tory might be educated at a British public school and serve in the British parliament but these are all just clubs to him - clubs to which his entry was preordained. And the Tory is nothing if not a clubbable animal. His Tory club membership is what matters to him more than his nationality - the latter being is just a technical detail. This disloyalty to the nation was there right from the start of the Tory story. And as we are about to see, it is part and parcel of his ardent monarchism.
Many battles of British politics are won
on the playing fields of Eton
I mentioned before the unpromising start for the Tory in the 1670s when he defined himself by siding with James II against the Whigs. His associating with the king displays how his allegiance to the nation is very tenuous and can be quite easily stretched to the point that he is capable of betraying the interests of its people.
The Tory, as I have said, adopts what he or she sees as a permanent fact of our political life – after the event of its creation – as part of the Tory strategy of survival and being in government. The first Tories enthusiastically supported James II who was an imported king. He reigned as king of England but he was Scottish (the Union had not yet been formed). James's weak allegiance to England was underlined by his closenes to the French king to the point of his accepting money from the latter to use to make himself a stronger political force in England – and this meant above all stronger in the face of the elected parliament.
As Steve Pincus describes in his recent book, 1688, James consistently followed a policy of exporting British capital to foreign countries with the intention of making him and his coterie rich and without developing the internal economy. The Whigs of the day were bitterly opposed to this foreign orientation and the pursuing of policies to prevent home economic development. The Tories supported the King in accepting foreign interference from Louis XIV in Britain and the exporting of British capital.
The fact that the Tories were on the losing end of the argument concerning the future of the constitution and had backed a king who who betrayed British interests meant that they were in disgrace for much of the next hundred years –so much so that the name “Tory” was considered too toxic to be adopted, when the heir to the Tories, the Conservative Party, was formed in 1834. They disassociated themselves from the name as far as they could.
Continuing the theme of the Tory orientation away from their country, in the late eighteenth century, the Tory economist Adam Smith brought intellectual justification to this by constructing an economic theory that dispensed with economics as a branch of political philosophy so divorcing it from any sense of nation. Smith developed a view of economic forces operating in what the German economist, Friedrich List, and critic of Smith, called a “universal economic republic”. Smith’s vision denied the importance of the nation as an economic unit and sought to reduce the state to the minimum necessary to allow economic forces to operate.
The anti-nation economics of Smith of course still dominates today and Smith’s alignment with the Tory mind is total. Today it goes under the name of globalisation for which the Tory is one of the most enthusiastic supporters.
In this the Tories of today have been consistent. Today they still sacrifice British interests to American and EU interests and allow British capital to be zapped out to Her Majesty’s tax havens where it can provide absolutely no benefit to the nation at large and steals tax revenues from the Exchequer. The Tories, the City of London and the Monarch are truly “all in this together” – if few of the rest of us are.
The Tory and the monarch are natural bedfellows in their lack of alignment with the nation for blue blood, like than royal blood, has only a tangential connection with nation. The present royal blood issues but mainly Germany and Russia, albeit with a recent injection of some mostly English blood from Diana. This the royals found difficult to accept.
The Tory is not just an opportunist. He is a ruthless opportunist, so much so that, he or she can be as ruthless towards their own as much as towards others as a string of “assassinated” Tory leaders testify – Lord Home, Thatcher, Hague, Duncan Smith. This utter ruthlessness is what makes him such a formidable foe. George Osborn has been quite prepared to throw the country into economic turmoil so that a few good economic figures can be shown to the electorate for the forthcoming general election. Attacking the poor and vulnerable is meat and drink to the Tory. After all it is preordained that the poor should be that way
The lack of principle in the Tory combines with his skill and orientation in gaming the system. The Tory does not function to augment and evolve the body politic. The Tory is at heart a "political hygienist". That is to say, he believes that the world would be a better place if everyone thought like him.
Magaret Thatcher, incidentally was the arch political hygienist and engaged in social engineering (such as council house sales, and killing British industry) to achieve her aim of ridding the world of all but Tories.
Because the Tory is only reactive he has no eye on the future except the immediate future leading up to the next election. Beyond that he relies on his ability to outplay and out game the others using his advantage of having no commitments to ideas as they do. Whereas as the rest of us only try a little gaming of the political agenda from time to time for the Tory it is full time. It is what politics is for him
The Tory is like a virus that constantly mutates according to the state of its host. That might sound like a criticism but, by the way, it is not. I mean it in the nicest possible way
The state of the Tory virus will depend on the quality of its host and so in the post-war period the Labour host being at its zenith the Tory evolved with it to its best form. This was the period of “good Tories” like Ian Gilmour. But these were sent into political exile with the arrival of Thatcher and dismissed as “wets”.
The present day polity represents a very poor enfeebled host and so the current Tory has assumed his most strident, destructive form
Unlike the Tories, democrat republicans are not political hygienists and we recognise that we need the Tory just as the body needs to be constantly tested by viruses to remain strong. And the Tory, such as Ian Gilmour, who is formed in a relatively benign body politic is a far better than the Tory like Osborn who is formed in an environment where there virtually are only Tories. The virus gets out of control
The body politic having fewer anti-bodies succumbs to profound sickness and distress. The Tory is a reactive animal and the better the subject of reaction the better the Tory and the more interesting and credible. We don’t want to get rid of Tories. We want a better Tory. The current lot are as bad as Tories get.
In a hundred years time when the British republic has been long established the Tories will still be there but this time they will be saying how the republic was always preordained. Their post-revolution period of arguing for a restoration will long be a closed book.
They will still be trying to backslide and if they get anywhere near office will pick away at the republican institutions and try to promote external interests against those of the British people. But they will have to contend with a robust republican constitution so it will not be so easy.
They will adapt as they always have and always will. Never write them off.