Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The new conservative mood and why it matters

Have you noticed that the word 'modernisation' is slowly disappearing from the political lexicon.  At roughly the same speed as Tony Blair.

Why?  Because people don't believe it any more.  It became a weasel word.  If you heard any service was being 'modernised', it usually meant 'streamlined', which took the humanity and usually also the effectiveness out of it.  Nobody, except maybe the dinosaurs at McKinsey, believe in that kind of modernisation any more.

The last thing anybody wants of any institution they use is that it should be 'modernised' in that sense.  Why would you, when modernised has come to mean 'lobotomised'?

I thought of this as I read a fascinating article by John Harris in the Guardian, which describes the emerging new conservatism in the UK - and how far away it is from the conservatism practised by the current leaders of the Conservative Party.

The first thing we think of in these terms, because we are members of the metropolitan middle classes (speak for yourself! I am), is UKIP and the hatred of foreigners.  But don't let's dismiss English conservatism so blithely.

Harris was talking about the growing sense in the nation that modernisation, globalisation and internationalisation, as practised by Blair and Osborne (can you see the difference between the two twins?), has not served us very well.

It is small C conservatism to regret the closing of your local pub or post office, to bemoan the destruction of traditional banks, the failure of lobotomised institutions.

It is small C conservatism to regret the privatisation of Royal Mail, one of the great institutions of state.

Nobody any more believes that this will improve the service, provide any sense of mutuality or leadership, or give any grounded sense of community.  Not even the promoters of the privatisation plan can possibly believe that.  But they believe somehow that it will be worth it because a new owner can raise the necessary capital to - no, don't say it - modernise.

That is not a conservative act.  Not something that any middle English conservative, with a healthy sceptical view of political language, could possibly be thrilled about.  This is how Harris puts it:

"But too many modern Tories' conservatism is dissonant, for some key reasons. First – and here, picture George Osborne, who is not actually a small-c conservative at all – most of them are brimming with neoliberal zeal, and for all their thin approximations of patriotism, have a tin ear for issues that go from politics and economics into questions of national identity, culture and people's feelings for where they live."

That is absolutely right, and it provides an opportunity for the opponents of the Conservative Party, which Miliband tried to fill a little last week with his Labour-style populism ("keep still and we'll give you money").

The great danger is that the Westminster elite will regard this quiet kind of conservatism as too dangerous, too backward-looking, even mildly racist - so that they don't hear it properly and miss its creative, localist power.  

Or take the usual line of the Westminster bubble and shut it out completely, while the elite embrace our existing lobotomised institutions with new fervour.  The danger then is that you push middle England straight into the waiting arms of Nigel Farage - or worse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

New conservatives have still failed to tackle racism.