Monday 28 January 2019

Mourning Conservative Values

Conservative values is an oxymoronic phrase for many readers, but there are millions of people who adhere to them. After all, the Tories cannot be the most successful electoral party in the world if all they offered was fear and thin gruel. Faith, family, flag are the favourite nostrums, to which we can add conservation, self-reliance, individual liberty, loyalty, unionism and community. Yes, yes, we know there is a disjuncture between Tory theory and Tory practice, as recently exemplified by one of its more liberal and sensible rising stars, but a mass purchase they still have.

Nevertheless, when you do one thing and say another you're going to get found out, and that is as true of political parties as it is people. When this happens a re-evaluation by some is inevitable. This is why I find Matthew D'Ancona's cry of despair in The Graun so interesting. The cause of his anguish? Theresa May's Tories, of course!

Casting an eye over the ugly scene, he confesses repulsion at Mark Francois's crude Germanophobia, the party's small-minded obsession with car crashing Brexit for the sake of tighter immigration controls, and the feeble and pathetic efforts of backbenchers at striking a waxwork Churchill. And what worries him more is the party's lurch into populism. While true that cancelling Brexit could have consequences, Brexiteers are talking up "treachery" and, as we know, insinuating a no deal martial law. What grotesqueries.

To this Matthew opposes a true blue conservatism. Whereas our Brexiteers are guilty of putting ideology before all else, proper Toryism is the dispensing of ideology, of approaching the world pragmatically and meeting it where it is. This is what Thatcher did, what Portillo called for when his Prime Ministerial destiny was snuffed out by 1997 general election, and was the basis of Dave's socially liberal modernisation project. Instead the Tories are now at the brink of a historic disaster precisely because this centrepiece of conservative thought has been abandoned. As he concludes, "the Conservative party is morphing into something I find alien and repellent. Like a listing galleon, holed below the waterline, it sails away stubbornly; dragging the nation towards a storm of unknown adversity, peril and pain."

A tempting response is diddums, but this kind of thinking typifies the attitude of a large number of what you might describe, with some inaccuracy, moderate Tory voters. As per centrism being out of sorts in the Labour Party since 2015, their sense of loss and estrangement is replicated on the other side among a layer of (sociologically similar) people mourning the loss of the Tory party they thought had become theirs. Yes, Dave oversaw unpleasant things like the bedroom tax and clamped down on welfare spending but everyone had to do their bit. And besides, at least he got gay marriage through, had a strong friendship with Barack Obama and totally looked the part on the world stage. You know, he was the sort of Tory that didn't make one queasy about voting Tory.

Dave was their Mr Sheen, flying about his dusty old party and shining umpteen things clean. It dazzled everyone who wanted to be taken in, and the glare was enough so none too many looked closely at the polished turd. With his presentational flare, people with short memories and a shallow feel for politics could be allowed to forget this was the party of class war, of crushing the working class movement, subverting democracy, and imposing an economic model that blew up in 2008. Hugging huskies and being all socially liberal helped ensure the vile bigotry, xenophobia and racism of the most malignant force in British politics was deftly swept under the rug. Then Dave fucked up, and in came Theresa May. Okay, she was a bit harsh on immigrants but she said nice words about tackling poverty and a social conscience. And then she went and defined Brexit in unacceptably hard terms, pulled up the rug and wafted about all the poison Dave stowed there. The Tories reveal themselves as backward, mean-spirited, small, and so unforgivably yesterday.

In truth the Tories in the early part of this decade were as backward and sectional as they proved under May. It's just that Dave was a better salesman, and they had a semblance of unity. They were not pragmatic, and definitely never eschewed ideology. They were the traditional party of the ruling class, and their primary objective - which the Liberal Democrats went along with - was to make working people and the poor pay for their economic crisis, and remorselessly grind labour beneath the heel of capital until there was little left other than motes of dust. This is what the Tory values Matthew and his ilk cry about mean in practice - a comfortable existence for people like him, an element (or illusion) of privileged access, and misery and struggle for those no one cares about.

Ultimately, happily, the problem the Tories have are much more serious than its social liberal veneer fluttering down the street with so many other discards. Brexit runs through the party like a gangrenous sore and it is totally split to the point of utter dysfunction. The support in the country, while substantial, literally diminishes by the day and there's no new constituency that can pick up the Tory standard and remake the party. To be sure the traditional party of the British ruling class is looking down the barrel of a gun. It has no answers, offers no leadership, and barely comes together as a coherent political force. Is it the Tories' distance from Tory values that bothers Matthew and friends, their exposure as a scam, or do they know in their bones that their party is in its death throes and they're getting their mourning in early?


Boffy said...

I think you have to be careful about trash talking the Tories or Boosterism of Labour's performance, or else you risk sounding like a more refined version of Skwawkbox.

Its not enough for the Tories to be bad. Its required that Labour be much better. But, on the main issue of the day, Labour is indistinguishable from the Tories.

Phil said...

What a ridiculous comment. Labour and the Tories aren't "indistinguishable" from the Tories on Brexit. There are very clear differences reflecting the different class priorities of the respective parties. As you can't see this you have, like so many others, completely lost your head over Brexit.

Jim Denham said...

Sadly, Phil, it's *not* "ridiculous: what are the "clear differences", exactly? As far as I can judge the Labour front bench's de facto position amounts to May’s deal, ending free movement, modified by a customs union, plus “a close relationship” with the Single Market — that is “clear difference reflecting different class priorities”?

Boffy said...


Can you clearly spell out what those "differences" are?

May's Withdrawal Agreement calls for Britain to remain in the Customs Union and Single Market, effectively, until such time as some alternative agreement that achieves the same effect is negotiated. If no such agreement is reached, the backstop requires that Britain remain in that arrangement until such time as said agreement is reached.

That is precisely what the Brextremists oppose, because they say it means remaining in the EU permanently. Corbyn also revealingly joined them in that criticism of the backstop, yet Labour's official policy is precisely to make that arrangement permanent by agreeing to be in a Customs Union, and "close to the single market", ie. abiding by its requirements. For all intents and purposes that is the same position.

The only difference is that the Tories, do not offer up the fantasy that it would be possible to be in this Customs Union, and close to the single market, and also to be able to take part in its decision making, whilst also going off to make separate trade deals, as Labour suggests. That is why May insists that the backstop could only be temporary, but can provide no grounds for saying what the alternative to it would be.

So, their position is the same. My challenge remains, what exactly IS the difference in substance between the two positions? There is none.

Moreover, because Labour's Six Tests cannot be met, a Labour government would be faced either with capitulating and saying the Brexit we promised is unachievable, so its status quo, or else it would have to say, its unachievable and so we have to walk away as Rees-Mogg suggests. All the evidence is that it is this position that Corbyn, backed by Milne et al, is actually geared towards.

Boffy said...

As I recall, Phil, some years ago you also backed the Stalinist inspired, nationalistic and reactionary NO2EU campaign, though in your defence you were a member of the SP at the time. I fear their miseducation, and the residual nationalism and reformism they taught you has lingered on, and is colouring your current views.

Labour's front bench has gone from holding principled position defending free movement and opposing immigration controls to lining up with the right-wing Labourites to oppose free movement, and defend immigration controls, it even took a rebellion yesterday for goodness sake to get the front bench to whip members to vote against the Tories appalling new Immigration Bill!!

Exactly what clear class principles was that supposed to be defending? On the headline position, both Labour and the Tories are supporting Brexit. No difference, and on the subtext there is no substantive difference either. Labour's position starts not from a defence of class principles, but of nationalistic principles. How does separating off British workers from EU workers promote working-class principles?

Labour's populist programmes, for example on rail renationalisation have some traction - though as basically a rehash of the old reformist policies that would fall apart on contact with reality - and it has put forward some more thoughtful policies in terms of mutualisation and so on. But, no one is hearing them, because Brexit has sucked the oxygen from all other debate, and all that can be seen is that Corbyn and May are both Brexiteers.

And, in fact, all of Corbyn's other agenda is undermined by Brexit anyway, because the hit to the economy will make the rest of the programme even more utopian, and impossible to achieve. That is why, despite how bad the Tories are, as you have said, Labour, instead of being a country mile in front, are at best only neck and neck with this atrocious bunch, which of itself says a lot about the performance of Labour.

Phil said...

The differences are pretty simple. Labour are backing an all-UK customs union followed by a deal with single market access. It retains a close relationship with the EU, minimises damage to the UK economy and protects jobs. The Tory deal, whether it's the demented strategy to pursue the ERG's off shore tax haven strategy or May's hard Brexit outside of the customs union is obviously different.

That neither you Boffy, or you Jim can't or, it seems to me, unwilling to note a difference just goes to show you're not looking at this with clear heads.

phuzz said...

It's not that people have "completely lost [their] head over Brexit", it just that for most people, the details are tedious and keep changing, so there's only three possible outcomes that the average person can distinguish:
No-deal Brexit, Brexit with a deal, or no Brexit.
And while there's a massive scope for different deals, but most people don't care about those details. They generally either want no Brexit, or their own specific ideal Brexit deal.

Jim Denham said...

Sorry Phil, but "backing an all-UK customs union followed by a deal with single market access" hardly amounts to "very clear differences (compared with with May's deal)reflecting the different class priorities of the respective parties." The differences are minimal and nothing whatsoever to do with "class priorities."

Boffy said...


You have failed to spell out any substantive difference. You say,

1)"Labour are backing an all-UK customs union followed by a deal with single market access."

But, that is exactly what May's Withdrawal Deal proposes! That is precisely what Britain must abide by as part of that deal, in conformance with the backstop. It only comes to an end when some equivalent alternative deal that provides the same arrangements have been negotiated.

The only difference here is that the Tories are honest enough to accept that so long as they have to abide by such arrangements they can have no seat at the table, outside the EU, whereas Labour peddles the delusion that they can.

It continues to propose as do the Tories, that Britain continue with a damaging reactionary policy of Brexit, which is the most significant aspect in which there is no difference between Labour's position and that of the Tories.

2)"It retains a close relationship with the EU, minimises damage to the UK economy and protects jobs."

That is meaningless. It simply repeats what the Tories say. The Tories also say they want to keep a close relationship with the EU and so on. But, both the Tories and Labour talk about having separate trade deals and so on, which is contradictory to that first objective. Its the same cake and eat it strategy that Bojo has promoted all along. You can't be close to the EU, and the single market, i.e. abide by its regulations, if you are going to do separate tarde deals, say with the US, whose regulations conflict with those of the EU, for example on GM crops. And, as for minimising damage to the economy, that is ridiculous, because Brexit itself will cause significant damage. In doing so it will damage jobs, and living standards. For British capital to try to respond it will mean attempting to reduce wages and conditions, which will also then adversely affect workers in the EU, by encouraging a race to the bottom. It will undermine any potential for implementing an anti-austerity programme and so on.

In short, whilst the ERG might actively seek to introduce an economy based on being an offshore tax haven, the economic consequences of Brexit, would force by economic logic, a Corbyn government to introduce measures that would not look that different to it. No doubt Chavez and Maduro had good intentions too.

May's current position is not OUTSIDE the Customs Union, but inside it as part of the backstop. Labour state their ambition to be in the Customs Union permanently, but their Six tests, which insist upon also having a seat at the table and the right to do separate deals means that ambition is as unacheivable as the Tories' to have some kind of free trade deal that is an equivalent of the Customs Union, but at least, honestly recognises that you can't be in such a CU and act outside it as a free agent.

I think it is your sneaking continued support for the reactionary nationalist agenda of Brexit that you previously expressed in your support for No2EU, as with Corbyn's long-term support for the reactionary nationalist policy of leaving the EU, that is causing you to act as an apologist for Corbyn's obvious intention to try to push through this reactionary policy against the wishes of the vast majority of party members, and Labour voters.

Boffy said...

A good example this afternoon. Corbyn spoke about needing to be in such a CU, and as soon as May challenged him on what he meant by it, and whether that would mean he would accept everything that went along with it, he looked to Starmer for answer, and his whole policy was exploded.

He said, a Customs Union would be negotiated. No it wouldn't. The whole point is that the UK would be in the CU or it wouldn't, would accept its conditions or it wouldn't. So, what is it, in the CU or not, and only in it if the EU agreed to the Six Tests? In reality, there is no difference between Labour's position and that of the Tories.

Anonymous said...

Boffy is so duplicitous. He wants us to believe that if Corbyn stood at the next election on a platform of taking us back into the EU with no vote at all he would win easily.

He also believes May would win easily if she stood on a no deal Brexit (despite all her warnings about how bad it would be!

So Corbyn will win if he stands on getting us back into the EU with no democratic mandate and May will win if she stands on a no deal disaster!

Seriously does anyone actually believe this?

Boffy wants us to believe that Corbyn is neck and neck because of his position on the EU and ignores the fact that Corbyn is probably only neck and neck because of the decades of bile from the establishment media that makes standing on the sort of progressive platform Corbyn is offering seem dangerous! Not to mention the personal abuse Corbyn has received from every section of the establishment media.

It should be noted here that the polling also tells us that Corbyn is very popular among the young and not so popular among the old. In other words, those who voted remain are still voting for Corbyn! This sort of undermines Boffy’s logic!

Boffy tells us that Corbyn can’t renegotiate with the EU because they have said they won’t renegotiate. Forstly Boffy has not met the EU negotiators and Corbyn has but also the EU have clearly stated that if may dropped her red lines there could be a renegotiation!

Boffy is doing what he always does, he ignores what everyone has said, throws logic to the side and just bulldozers through the argument based on his dogma and not based on any of the available facts.

It is one thing to say in principle you are for Britain remaining in the EU, it is quite another to do it in such a dishonest and dogmatic way.

Anonymous said...

If there is little difference between the Tory brexiters and Corbyn, then there is an even smaller difference between Tory remainers and Boffy.

In Venezuela we are told we must stand neutral and for the ‘people’ but in Britain we are told we must take sides and be with the political block that wants to take us back into the EU.

So in Venezuela it is with the ‘people’ and to hell with all sides (as they are all bourgeois) and in Britain it is with the bourgeois EU and the ‘people’ can fuck off!

(incidentally it was Chavez who was trying to everything to create a united Latin America, the Americans did everything to destroy that as they did with any attempts to unite the Middle East).

Boffy said...

"Boffy is so duplicitous."

Says the troll who has not one single principle or set of ideas they actually believe in, and who one day, therefore, posts as the BNP'er "Sentinel", the next as a libertarian, the next as BCFG, or DFTM or CAAC whose reactionary ideas, are so jumbled that no one could hazhard whether he thinks he is pretending to be a representative of the SWP, Hamas, or the Jones Cult!

Boffy said...


"Sorry Phil, but "backing an all-UK customs union followed by a deal with single market access" hardly amounts to "very clear differences (compared with with May's deal)reflecting the different class priorities of the respective parties." The differences are minimal and nothing whatsoever to do with "class priorities.""

Quite right, but also the confusion in Labour's position is reflected in this concentration over the Customs Union, the details of which its clear from yesterday Corbyn does not even understand. The CU is relatively unimportant. Its not the CU that enables frictionless trade but the single market. A CU would not enable frictionless trade between NI and the Republic, or between the UK and EU, unless the UK is also in the EU Single Market, because its that which ensures regulatory alignment, which is the basis of frictionless trade.

As the Brextremists have pointed out, Customs/tariffs are only a form of taxes, and we already have different taxes - VAT, Excise Duties etc - between different countries in the EU, which is no hindrance to their trade. This shows how many of the politicians, let alone would be politicians discussing the issue have no clue about the details of what they are discussing, let alone Joe Public, or worse still Brenda from Bristol for whom more than a few minutes every five years thinking about politics is way too much inconvenience.

But, its obvious why Corbyn wants to talk vaguely about being in "a" CU, which he ridiculously wants Britain to negotiate with the EU - which would actually mean it was rather a free trade agreement like the Canada-EU deal (the Norway deal means just accepting the existing EU Customs Union with no say whatsoever) - whilst talking in even more vacuous terms about a "close relation" to the single market.

The single market means continuing to accept free movement of labour, and its clear from Labour's shameful performance in initially failing to agree to oppose the Tories new racist Immigration Bill, and only being forced to change position after the rank and file members rose up on social media to create a shit storm against the leadership, that the leadership are continuing down the old reactionary nationalist line of the Stalinists of blaming immigrants, and appeasing racists by supporting immigration controls.

On the one hand Corbyn is hijacked by Stalinism and its reactionary nationalist agenda, and on the other he is appeasing the right-wing Labourites, and their short-sighted appeasement of racists and bigots in their local electorates, in the misguided belief those bigots might vote for them.

All those reactionary Labourite MP's, including Skinner, who voted with the Tories yesterday should be deselected by their CLP's. Then we should move on to the rest of the Blair-rights.

Jason said...

"presentational flare", hmmmm.