Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Sociology of Tory Stupidity

It's been a bad week for the Tories. This is supposed to be the month they pull ahead and seal the general election deal. Fat chance. The HSBC tax dodging scandal, the £15,000/head black and white Tory fundraiser, the facing down of Lord Fink by Ed Miliband after initial threats to sue, then Fink handing over another victory by admitting that "everyone" (i.e. his well monied mates) avoided tax, the Conservatives have got to be praying that the political fates won't send them another week like this. Right on cue, in the desperate scramble for anything to change the record here comes their great, trite hope: the removal of social security from the obese, the alcoholic, and the drug-addicted. Less fanfare has greeted their quiet trial of sanctioning in-work recipients of income support if they don't work a set number of hours, a measure they've ruminated on before. When the heat turns up on the rich all the Tories can do is kick down at the poor, and it typifies the programme they will be taking to the country: an entirely negative agenda packed with lies and scapegoats.

You can't help your background, but you can learn from it. I grew up a working class Tory, and so whenever commenting on the decrepit state of the Conservatives a feeling of gratified schadenfreude warms me from tip to toe. The same isn't true for the 15 year old buried in the brain: he looks on with abject horror. Whereas the Tories of the Thatcher and Major years had the good grace to at least pretend an association with and a paternalist care toward the proles, there is none of that under Dave and the gang. They don't even pretend to represent the entirety of business any more, beholden almost entirely to the hedge funds, to the magic men of the city who conjure billions from the flux of global finance, and do make it disappear equally quickly in cataclysmic blasts of economic chaos.

The labour movement talks a lot about the dislocation of its base. For the Tories it's even worse, so bad that only a few siren voices dare speak it aloud. The blue party are hated to a degree not shared by any other by millions of people. In that particular poll they'll always be well out in front. The broad coalition they constructed during the post-war boom, of protecting privilege by conceding the hoi polloi its council estates, its living wages, and its industrial bastions in the nationalised industries was broken on the Nottingham pit heads. Yet Thatcher did more than hit the labour movement a concussing blow. As she smashed up and sold off the industries underpinning the post-war order whole branches of capital were lopped off and left to rot. Other sections of capital, that part of it looking to the longer view were also alienated. As the various factions tussled over the body of the Tories during the 90s - ultimately to be won lock, stock, and two stinking barrels by the most short-termist and backward fractions of capital - New Labour came to be the preferred party of British capital-in-general up until the stock market crash brought them a glimpse of their own mortality. Bits of capital showed their gratitude to Gordon Brown for saving their system by drifting back to the Conservative fold. But not all of it did. What Blair and Brown achieved, unbeknownst to themselves, was they rendered the fracturing of capital under Thatcher permanent by providing, albeit briefly, an alternative ship when the original was holed beneath the waterline.

This background helps explain why the Tories are so useless and cruel. The front bench team share between them the stupidity, venality, and incompetence that makes them so loathsome. The same can be said for the wider party too, and its UKIP mini-me. For a whole social movement from above, for that is what the right is, when we're talking about how common place its character defects are we're talking about a sociological phenomenon, not individual psychological foibles. Think about it. Where are the Tory intellectuals? There's Conservative Renewal, the group around Phillip Blond, Peter Oborne, Tim Montgomerie, and Spectator people like Fraser Nelson and Isabel Hardman. And in the chamber itself? Jo Johnson, Robert Halfon, Sarah Wollaston might be squeezed into the category of 'Tory decent' but that's it. The one thing all these right wingers share is their marginality from mainstream conservative thinking because they are politically sane. The rest are at the mercy of what passes for commonsense in these circles: hold down pay, pare back employment rights, savage any means of support outside of the wage relation. Taken together they believe that magically the conditions for sustained economic growth will emerge, thereby keeping the great unwashed mollified, and allow them to carry on as if they were born to rule. The qualities the modern Conservative Party select for are the traits that see a country run by and for city interests find helpful.

Tories are stupid, but they're stupid for a reason.


Speedy said...

Yeah we said they were stupid through the 80s and 90s but who had the last laugh? I think you also underestimate the degree of loathing directed toward Labour these days, a New Labour accomplishment if there every was one.

Vinyl Miner said...

Watched Jonathon Ross and the rest on the Last Leg.

Anonymous said...

But when will New Labour have the balls to take the Tories on direct, rather than trying to out Tory the Tories?

Tom Mills said...

Good post. The decline of the Tories social base is important and hasn't received enough attention. One of the reasons Thatcherism was so potent as a populist movement was that it could draw on the relatively high levels of growth and social mobility of the social democratic period. It then destroyed those conditions and mechanisms which had led to its apparently popular appeal, which is precisely why it's heirs appear so 'out of touch'. Appreciating this allows us to view Thatcherism and it's successes slightly differently.

Small point: Robert Halfon may seem like a Tory moderate, and his politics certainly set him apart from the conservative mainstream. But he is also part of the neoconservative and right-wing Zionist faction of the party, so I wouldn't rush to judgement about the sanity of his politics.

Boffy said...


I'm not sure that the Tories have become separated from their traditional base. They may have become detached from some of the social layers they had to win over in the period of the 1960's and 70's, when it was impossible to win elections without adopting a more openly social-democratic stance, e.g. Buttskillism,

The Tories always have been based upon the landed aristocracy, its associate social layer the financial oligarchy, and reactionary nationalist elements, usually concentrated in the ranks of the small capitalists. In the 19th century, it was the Liberals that represented big, industrial capital and social democracy, because as Engels points out, by the end of that century the Liberals could only win, by drawing along workers in their tail. The Labour Party, essentially morphed out of that, reflecting the increased role of workers of all kinds - including those that Marx refers to as the "functioning capitalists", i.e. the professional managers, and technicians, and administrators who replace the old private capitalists, as capital moves from the private capital of the small business, to the socialised capital of the joint stock company or co-operative.

Its this same division, as Marx sets out in Capital III, which leads to the establishment of Boards of Directors, whose sole function is to represent the interests of the owners of loanable money-capital (fictitious-capital), such as shareholders and bondholders rather than to represent the interests of the big industrial capital itself, whose true representatives have become those professional managers. These professional managers, the "functioning capitalists" as Marx calls them, are the people who will have been members of unions like ASTMS, and TASS, and so on. They are "functioning capitalists" who are more likely to have been members of the LP or even the CP, rather than the Tories. Their most clear representation, given by Marx in Capital, are those managers appointed by the workers themselves in the worker owned co-operatives.

The fact that the Tories continue to represent the interests of the landlords through their policies on land use, and property prices, that they continue to support the small capitalists through their policies of low wages, and that they continue to support the interests of loanable money-capital (fictitious capital) even as it stands in direct opposition to the interests of big industrial capital, its needs for a rational European market, its needs to reduce surplus value drained in dividends and so on, says to me they continue to be the party of those social layers they always represented, and Labour continues to be the party that represents the interests of big industrial capital.

BCFG said...

Big capital tends to stride the globe looking for opportunities, I read the head of Ineos lamenting the high costs of pensions in the UK, a man who owns 2 super yachts!

And the head of Boots seems quite happy with the Tories.

I think they are big capital.

Big capital tends to lean toward the centre right but they don't lose too much sleep when the centre left are victorious.

The obsession over whether the centre right or centre left win is one that comes down to electoral politics, the differences between them are exaggerated as part of the electoral game.

But for big capital, really they are happy with both. I would say 3 centre right victories to every one centre left victory just about suits them fine.