Thursday, 2 October 2014

The re-alignment of the Right

The phrase 'Re-alignment of the Left' began with Jo Grimond in 1956.  It happened briefly when the SDP split away from the Labour Party in 1981, but the Left then contrived to align itself back into its old dysfunctional shape.

For some reason, you almost never hear the phrase 'Re-alignment of the Right'.  Yet, listening to David Cameron's speech yesterday, with the ghost of Ukip peering over his shoulder, convinced me that that may be what is happening.

The Conservative Party is an uneasy alliance between two elements which have little in common - the old-fashioned conservatism of family and community, and the new conservatism of markets and big business.  Sometimes a broad Cameronian rhetoric of moderation can hold the two sides together; sometimes it can't.

The last time they came apart spectacularly was during the early years of the last century - half of them backing protectionism and 'imperial preference' and the other half a kind of liberal commitment to trade, with a rump around prime minister Balfour where they had, as one of them put it, "nailed my colours firmly to the fence".

The Ukip insurgency seems to be uniting one kind of conservatism - suspicious of foreigners - from across the parties, against the other kind.  Business lobby groups are in despair.  Something is about to shift.

So when former Cambridge MP David Howarth argued in the latest Liberator (not online) that there is no constituency for Jeremy Browne's vision of a new kind of free market Liberalism, there is a 'yes, but...'

Because the long-term prospect is to re-align the Right so that the old curmudgeons in Ukip take over the rump of the old Conservative Party, and the modernisers, moderates, small enterprisers and open traders join the Lib Dems.

There is a 'yes, but' here too.  Because it provides an opportunity for Liberals to claw back the original meaning of 'free trade' from the conservatives and advocates of turbo-capitalism.

Free trade as it was originally understood, developed by liberals for Liberals, was the right of free people to trade with each other, communicate with each other and be hospitable to each other.  It emerged out of the anti-slavery movement as the antidote to the kind of economic bondage which faced former slaves in the Deep South or former serfs  in Russia.

It was not what it has become: an assertion of the right of the powerful to ride roughshod over the powerless.

It was originally an antidote for monopoly; it has become a justification of it.  In the Re-alignment of the Right, if Liberals embrace it - and make the intellectual running - that has to change.

It is a historic opportunity for Liberalism to take back control of a concept which they invented.  I'm rather looking forward to it, especially if we can re-align the Left at the same time.

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5 comments:

felix dodds said...

david would be good to see you define what free trade should look like today compared to the past. The comment on Monopolies is true but we need more perhaps a set of new principles for free trade in the 21st century...for the next blog? :-)

David Boyle said...

Felix, I think you're quite right. It's a big project actually, isn't it!

Anonymous said...

Well, that's an interesting blog post David, one that I'm going to have to share with all my A2 Ideology students in class at college tomorrow :)

First thoughts - we want free and fair elections, so why not free and fair trade as well? In other words, something akin to perfect competition (which can't truely completely exist but we can have a good go and getting as close as possible).

The original classical liberals were against monopolies because of their anti-competitive nature, we should be as well.

In other words, there needs to be a level playing field. Therefore, some thought needs to be given to the one third (estimate) of world trade that occurs in off shore tax havens. Free and fair trade should mean that you have the freedom to make a profit, but that you pay your fair share of tax as well.

It isn't free and fair trade when you're undercutting your competitors (as monopolies like to do for short term gain) simply by hiding your profits offshore.

Free and fair trade should be enabling then. It should help economic growth (as outlined by Adam Smith's simple maths in his theories of comparative and absolute advantage).

Free and fair trade to encourage people to participate in the global economy. Small business ownership should be encouraged, both for the classical liberal aim of creating economic growth and wealth, but also for the modern social liberal aim of supporting developmental individualism, and getting people to develop fully as individuals.

That's my initial thoughts, will go away and put this to my students, and see what clever ideas the come up with.

Simon Foster - Birmingham.

David Boyle said...

Thank you, Simon. Let me know what they say!

GF said...

I totally agree that we need a realignment of the Right. In fact we need a comprehensive realignment of every corner of British politics.

ALL the established parties have worn deep ruts in the political landscape that makes them unable to turn onto a different path. ALL have become prisoners of a their past and their own particular form of political correctness which stifles debate. That is surely why UKIP and the SNP are polling so well - people are desperate to find a new path.

I'm sure you're on the right track to be thinking about free trade, competition and so on. More please.