Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Labour and Conservatives - The Irreconcilable Differences of Four parties in Two



"It is perhaps worth recalling for the benefit of those whose knowledge of recent history is limited that it was this adhesive of support from the very core of Liberalism which had such a profound effect on the Conservative Party."  - Harold Macmillan ("The Past Masters," 1975)


Harold Macmillan was a one-nation Tory much in the manner of Disraeli. He greatly admired Liberal Lloyd George of whom he described in his book "The Past Masters" as being the greatest of British orators. Better even than Winston Churchill. That Macmillan held Lloyd George in such high regard doesn't surprise me. The tone of parliamentarians during the first half of the twentieth century was cordial, polite, sociable. Members of the house conducted themselves as gentlemen. They often dined together and even though they held opposing views were able to call many of their parliamentary colleagues, friends. 

Lloyd George was a progressive. It was he who laid the foundations for future Labour governments to build the welfare state on. Being allied with a progressive democrat seems slightly at odds with what we now think of as being Conservative. Yet, even so, with all the tradition associated with that party Macmillan was both centrist and a superb builder of bridges. He was also, if mildly so, a progressive in his own right. 

It was he who healed the rift between the United States and Britain over Suez. It was he who championed decolonisation working hard to grant Ghana independence but also The Federation of Malaya. Yes, he was almost Confucian in his beliefs that there was a ruling class who sat beneath the law and above those ruled. He thought the law should be just and should apply to all; that the ruling elite should be benevolent and that the lower orders be respectful yet deserving of rights. Not for me, it has to be said. I don't see why one set of society should know its place when there are no places to be known. I never have.

Macmillan oversaw an era of affluence that saw low unemployment and high growth. In many ways his premiership, its course steered centre of right, was the scourge of the Labour Party. How the left must have welcomed the 'Profumo Affair' and the subsequent fallout that led to Macmillan's resignation followed by the utterly hopeless Sir Alex Douglas Home.

There have been six, so called, Conservative Prime Ministers in my lifetime. Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron. Spot the odd one out.

Margaret Thatcher turned her back on 'one-nation Toryism' and, much to the dismay of Harold Macmillan who wrote her many letters of warning not to pursue the monetarist policies she was set on, defied all wisdom's, including jettisoning the long-held belief of Keynesian Economics adopting instead the polar opposite theories of Frederick Hayek.

MrsThatcher took a rapid rather than a gradual change as favoured by classic one nation conservativism. With a brutal dedication to having a free market rather than mixed. She disliked interventionism and was happy to limit its application to a minimum. This was the first stage in her reforming, if only in part, a large part it has to be said, the Conservative Party.

Of greater concern perhaps, which might appear hypocritical of me to some bearing in mind my green libertarian leanings, was her desire to delete the paternalistic inclinations of old conservatism by replacing it with self-motivated individualism. Her views on welfare were that it was no longer a universal right, as in the days of Macmillan and other true blue Tories, but was nothing more than a safety net to catch the less well off before they shattered on the heartless stones of capitalism.

The unemployed were not to blame anyone but themselves for the situation they found themselves in. It was up to them, not the state, to gain work. All they had to do was get on their bikes and find work. Effectively, Margaret Thatcher, not really a Tory at all but a neocon pursuing neo-liberal policies,, was rolling back state involvement which meant abandoning all and any form of social democracy.

"There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." - Margaret Thatcher

As for the working man's right to belong to a union which had not been a major concern to old style Tories, Mrs Thatcher saw them as being wholly responsible for the UK's financial problems. They were too demanding and capable of striking at the drop of a hat. They were seen by her as filled with bone-idle wastrels keen to be paid for doing anything but a full day's work. Their repeated strikes were damaging the nation.

Margaret Thatcher was, as she stated, an old-fashioned liberal. She believed in classic liberalism. She was liberal in the mould of William Gladstone. She was radical, a neocon, someone who drew together two classic principles then added her own right wing views. She was also in my view the supreme manipulator.

Why did she sign The Single European deal when she was so opposed to it? It doesn't seem much like the Iron Lady of popular Tory myth. She is remembered as being forthright, determined, capable. Not someone who compromises on points of issue. Having signed the deal, following her legendary, and it has to be said histrionic rebuttal of Jacques Delores, she then went on to distance herself from colleagues by damning all things European. The eventual consequence of this was to alienate Geoffrey Howe following her vitriolic attack on Europe during Prime Ministers question time. He resigned two days later. 

I am convinced of her duplicity. She wanted the best of both worlds. European security for the nation yet condemnation for the European dream. She performed the latter so that in the eyes of her fervent followers, those sceptics of Europe, believed she was as sceptical as they. She played to the gallery. She won their undying love. The schism that followed split the Conservative Party in two. Twenty- five years on and the rift has not healed. What we have now are two parties under one umbrella. Neocons and One Nation Tories.

"Mr Lloyd George's Budget, classified property into individual and social, incomes into earned and unearned, and followers more closely the theoretical contentions of Socialism and sound economics than any previous Budget has done." - Ramsay MacDonald

“Liberalism is one thing, Socialism is quite another, and the new Labour Party is Socialistic” - Keir Hardie


MacDonald and Hardie, two of the Labour Parties founding fathers. Hardie, originally a Liberal found that party less inclined to the radical views he had. Although, unaccepting of the Marxist road to revolution in Britain he was, nonetheless, Socialist. MacDonald, on the other hand, wasn't. His opinions and political views but a hairsbreadth apart from the Liberals. Had he lived during New Labours time in power, his views would have suited theirs perfectly. He was painted in similar hues to Gaitskill and Blair. MacDonald was a centrist.

It is this rift, the one between Social Democracy, a form of Democratic Liberalism, and true Socialism that has been the grit in the eye of Labour for its entire existence. Many times elections have been won by those who were centrist by nature and centrist by design. They believed that the way to assume power was by a moderate approach rather than radical. That by appeasing the natural liberal heart of Britain, or rather large numbers of the electorate, they could make the necessary changes slowly and gently without upsetting too many applecarts. 

From the inept Macdonald through to Hugh Gaitskell, we have witnessed a succession of centre-right Labour Leaders. Even Harold Wilson, with his parties social reforms, was nothing like a Socialist. Indeed, the changes his government made were good but not good enough in the eye of the voting public who grew increasingly concerned by his inability to control the countries economics. The economy being the perennial bugbear at the heart of Labours ills. Callaghan was yet another right-wing Labourite. Another perfect candidate for the Social Democratic Party.

With the advent of the breakaway Socialist Democratic Party who Michael Foot roundly lambasted as being the cause of Labour losing potential voters, British politics had revolved around a three party system. The SDP muscled in pushing the Liberals off the platform. 

The SDP were formed out of the  members of the Labour party, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and David Owen. They were known as the Gang of Four and, up until the advent of UKIP, could claim to have re-energised UK politics. Their power lasted for seven years before merging with The Liberals to form the Liberal Democratic Party. Possibly the one party who identified with the centrist heart of the British people.

During the eighties, Tony Benn along with Bernie Grant, Dennis Skinner, Austin Mitchell, Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and many, many others were highly critical of the centre left of Labour and vitriolic of anything right of centre. Tony Benn even went so far as to challenge Labour reformer and party leader, Neil Kinnock, for the leadership of the party. Benn lost granting Kinnock, by default, the ability to shape Labour as a vote winning Socialist Democratically inclined party. This redefinition paved the way for the man who was possibly the most right wing leader of Labour, or New Labour as he and his spin doctors renamed it, to lead the party to a sweeping victory - Tony Blair. His victory was twofold. He beat the Conservatives as he also beat the Socialists. His win gave rise to Margaret Thatchers comment when asked her greatest achievement was "New Labour." 

The left were beaten. The centre ground was ripe for centrists to plough their corporate, state-controlled capitalism leaving fertile ground for the far-right to grow in the void left vacant. Out of that void came UKIP, a party whose existence, ironically, owes more to the disgruntled members of old Labour than it does Conservatives. Even now UKIP is chipping away at Labour making small impressions only on Tory strongholds. I say ironically for in essence UKIP is as far right as you can get failing Fascism. It is also worth noting, that, during my time as a union member, so-called left-wingers, who made up the union membership, were bigots, racists and xenophobes. In reality, it is no surprise to me that those voting left, much like Christopher Hitchens can swiftly swap allegiance. It is, after all, a classic change that has often taken place in history.


"So what kind of party is UKIP ? Ideologically, the party combines a mix of old-style liberal commitments to free markets, limited government and individual freedom with conservative appeals to national sovereignty and traditional social values." Political scientist Stephen Driver, 2011

So then, Conservatives and Labour. The old guard, the old protagonists. What we have now are two parties under one umbrella. But within those established parties four distinct sub-parties. That is clearly evidenced within the Conservatives whose Euro-Sceptics, long the bane of One Nation Tories, have polarised the party. On the other side is the old style Conservatives, the ones who hold fast to a benevolent hierarchy. The obvious thing for those who feel at odds with the EU and with those they view as 'wets' to split, leave and join, as Mister Carswell already has UKIP. This would leave traditionalists able to pursue their time honoured policies as practised for however long it has been.  

The same with Labour. There are two parties under a single umbrella. Both of whom are constantly at each other's throats. Social Democrats and Socialists. Those who have, for as long as Labour has existed, sought a fairer more equitable society, who have long held the view only Socialism can achieve these aims, should disenfranchise themselves by breaking away from Labour to either form The Labour Socialist Party or, far better in my view, join forces with UK Green's. By making this break they would be allowed to practise radical policies without fear of constant bickering by colleagues within the umbrella party. The same goes for those left of centre. Either leave and form their own alternative party or join with, as logic suggests, The Liberal Democrats. It was after all on the table during Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown's time as leaders and there is nothing to suggest it isn't still viable.

Politics in modern Britain needs change. Representative Democracy is failing whilst it adheres to constricting the electorate to limited choice. The voters tastes have changed. They have broader opinions than those set out in the current menu available. As much as I dislike the policies of UKIP there are four million people who voted for them. They are but one party though with at least another seven who are among those popular, to various degrees, with the voting public and whose views they mirror. For now, Labour and the Conservatives offer too broad a church within their respective 'churches.' They need to split their differences then realign their collective selves into cohesive units.


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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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