Sunday, 12 September 2021

Falling Down: Author's Notes

The publication date of Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain draws near. Though, in reality, the buying public have been able to get hold of it this last fortnight via Verso themselves and other dispensers of books. All for the good.

Thinking about a book you have written just before the bulk of the reviews come trundling in is a new experience for me. On the whole, I think the left are going to like it and the centrists and the right will dismiss it as gobbledegook or hopelessly foolish. I mean, how can the Tories be said to be in decline when they've increased their popular vote at every election following the 1997 debacle? And those advancing that point will reveal themselves as someone who hasn't read the thing. Already I can find myself anticipating some criticisms with the stock "you haven't read it properly." Isn't this something all authors do? An adjacent criticism of would be imputing a demography-is-destiny argument, while the book is at pains to stress probabilities and tendencies. And another, this time coming from the left, might criticise the book for saying pensioners are the enemy and we need to unite on a class basis. Which, of course, it doesn't argue and has never been argued around these parts in the nine years I've been writing about this.

In truth, parrying criticisms in advance is a fruitless exercise. Reviewers are going to say what they're going to say, whether that is consistent with the argument made or not. But perhaps there is some utility in saying what I think the book tries to do.

1. Serve as an all-purpose leftwing introduction to the Tory party from 1979 to Johnson's election triumph in 2019. But with some necessary milestones from before this period name checked.

2. Advance a theory of Tory decline incorporating what is useful in existing approaches on the left and the right while overcoming their limits.

3. Demonstrate the Tories are a ruling class project and understanding this is key to interpreting seemingly contradictory and illogical political positions - from the standpoint of capitalist rationality the Tories have assumed.

4. Recapitulate the well-trodden territory of Thatcher's gradual imposition of neoliberal governance, but accord the John Major years their full importance in bedding it down. This remained the central concern of his government even after electoral defeat became increasingly obvious and he was beset with party management issues.

5. Argues these processes of subjectivation were entirely intentional. Thatcher was clear-eyed about their application and consequences to affect an atomisation of (particularly working class) voters and their re-interpellation as acquisitive, petit bourgeois monads (NB - I don't use this language in the book!). Property is central to this.

5. Break with dominant political science narratives about the Tories' 1997-2005 period. Far from an outbreak of bilious irrationality, it consolidated their base in the immediate aftermath of shattering defeat.

6. Defy received narratives of liberal/centrist Tory rebranding and discussing how touchy-feely posturing of Cameron in opposition turned into the two-nation Toryism of government. Again, the class characteristics are clearly visible during his six years in office.

7. Shows the Cameron years accelerated the age splits in politics around class and property owning cohorts, paving the way for the coalition building centred on retired people accomplished by May and Johnson and how their Brexit shenanigans have to be viewed in this light.

There is much more in the book, but these are the key points. Some dry detail about the formal Tory party and the ins and outs of policy were unavoidable, but there's also plenty on shenanigans and scandal. Including digging up some that have fallen down the politics memory hole. In the end, I couldn't cover everything. Indeed, substantial works could be written on the aspects of Tory politics and practice the book highlights. I'd like to revisit the Major years in more depth, for example. I hope the book meets the metric by which all scholarly socialist work should be judged: an ability to stimulate serious, activist research and make politics more knowable. In this case, understanding the past so we can change the future, and contributing to the most important, immediate objective of socialists everywhere: depriving the Conservative Party of office, and inflicting a historic defeat on this most incorrigible enemy of our movement.


  1. Long time reader, occasional commenter. This is very interesting. Good luck with the book.

  2. This only makes sense if you believe there is a marked difference between the Tories and Labour. The truth is everyone is a Tory these days! As Thatcher said her greatest achievement was Blair.

    But if it is true that as people get older they stop supporting the team in red and decide to vote for the team in blue then I don’t see how the blue team can be in decline, because the young who vote for the neo liberal war mongering red team now will end up voting for the blue team anyway.

    Unless older people start dying as a result of let’s say, some national health disaster. But what are the chances of that?

    Also, if you look at the rise of the populists in Europe this has been a result of young voters, Hitler also enjoyed great support among the youth.

    So before long we could be talking about the young being the bedrock of a new far right movement. If for example, the red team got in, fucked it up and then the only option was some far right populist. There is quite a tradition of this pattern in Europe, where social democrats were given a chance first, changed nothing and made things worse and the masses then turned hard right.

    I guess your answer to all is that woke brainwashing will save the day, or mass communications making the world smaller will bring us into some harmony as per the coke adverts. Well only if the conditions which allow such brainwashing persist.

    Meanwhile, in the here and now, all hail Boris Johnson and more black people in adverts.

  3. I've got my pre-ordered copy and Its everything I expected from following you for a few years now and reading loads of your columns: in my case, a political education, written in a way that does indeed "make politics more knowable".

    I'm glad to have an opportunity to actually pay you for some of your political writings, after absorbing so many of them for free (if there was some means of making occasional payments I'd be happy to do so: I'm a bit tapped out on the regular payment front at present: Novara, Jacobin, Momentum and new Socialist).

    I'd also happily buy additional copies to be distributed to comrades who are a bit strapped, if you has such a scheme (never used the "C" word before, feels nice).

    I cancelled my labour membership, often cannot even bear to read much more than the awful headlines, but I can read your dispassionate analysis, it gives me some hope (I still get emails from the local party, invites to meetings etc so they still think I'm a member, at least the local party does; I never respond, obviously).

  4. «you believe there is a marked difference between the Tories and Labour. The truth is everyone is a Tory these days! As Thatcher said her greatest achievement was Blair.»

    Well, there is a “marked difference” between Conservatives and New Labour on one side and Labour (e.g. Corbyn, even Burnham and Brown) and New Labour, especially the Militant Mandelsoncy. Blair was not an achievement of Thatcher, but of Mandelson. There are significant differences among the Conservatives too. My personal understanding of the main political factions is:

    * traditional tories: colonel Blimp types, mostly about landed property, institutions, they want a return to the 50s, the 1750s.
    * business tories: grey men in grey flannel suits, they want state support for private profits in business.
    * finance whigs: americanised (but still often in pinstriped suits) City spivs, they are the faction of leverage and "freedom of contract".
    * social-democrats: the Labour wing of the New Labour party, the hattersleytes whose idea of politics is “change society so that there is no poverty and deprivation to escape from”.

    The Conservatives are mostly a mix of traditional conservatives (from Rees-Mogg to Francois, allied with and subordinate to the finance whigs, united by a common love of property speculation; the business tories are trying to stage a comeback, but are essentially irrelevant (which is why Boris Johnson said “fuck business”).
    New Labour is mostly a coalition of finance whigs and some business tories, with an insignificant majority of social-democratic members, the "trots".

    «But if it is true that as people get older they stop supporting the team in red and decide to vote for the team in blue then I don’t see how the blue team can be in decline, because the young who vote for the neo liberal war mongering red team now will end up voting for the blue team anyway.»

    That is a caricature of our blogger's claims as I understand them, and not very realistic; my summary is that:

    * Politics is primarily about interests, interests as understood in a cultural framework.

    * The primary divide in interests in current UK politics is between rentiers and producers, between those with fixed secure incomes like pensions, and with booming incomes from property profits, and those who have to work or run a business and to pay rent or buy property.

    * Because pensions and housing were much cheaper 20-40 years ago, many of today's oldies got theirs, and now want bigger rents and capital gain and smaller wages and profits. By and large Labour and the trade unions by winning cheaper housing and better wages and pensions for the working class turned them into mass petty rentiers.

    * The cultural framework around these interests is that worker solidarity and reciprocity also happened because of large workplaces with lots of workers (mines, car factories, docks), giving them common interests and making them easier to unionize. As they transitioned into pensions in their homes they no longer have that kind of background, and Labour and the trade unions have not worked harder at keeping them involved with the movement, Also, and very importantly, the main source of old age security for women is now pensions and property, and no longer the work of their sons. This has had and will continue to have colossal effects well beyond party politics.

    Since the dominant fact in UK politics and economy is property, politics largely revolves around the number of property owners, not the number of oldies. But those two, because housing was much cheaper 20-40 years ago, overlap a lot. Also often when a tory property owner dies, her heirs become tory.

  5. Thanks for your comments Mike and I'm glad you enjoyed the book. If you want to distribute copies now's the time to grab them - it won't be at 40% off for much longer! But seriously, if cash is tight don't do this!!

  6. Done! I'm ordering them one at a time as I assume a bulk order would come in one package and I have had problems with the PO when a package won't fit thru my letterbox.  I'll order two more as they come - if I miss the 40% deadline for one of them, no problem, I'll pay the extra.  I know its a drop in the ocean but glad to spread the word (whether it "takes" is another question, but heyho, horse to water etc).

  7. How long will it be likely to be until a paperback version appears?

  8. It depends on the sales, Russ. If the hardback does particularly well a paperback is very likely. Though worth remembering when a PB version does appear its rrp will still probably be more than the discounted rate in the Verso Sept sale!

  9. You are far too kind, Mike. I hope we can meet in person one day so I can thank you.

  10. “There are significant differences among the Conservatives too. My personal understanding of the main political factions is:”

    The word significant should be replaced with the word superficial. Business Tories and Traditional Tories are pretty much on the same page where policy is concerned.

    I would even argue that the differences between the Tories and Corbyn are trivial, just not as trivial as the differences between the Blairites and the Tories. Having said that, the gulf between Corbyn and Burnham is way bigger than the gulf between Burnham and the Tories. This is why Burnham scores well with Tory voters.

    Labour should replace Starmer with Burnham, but I hope they don’t because I detest Burnham.

    “The primary divide in interests in current UK politics is ...those who have to work or run a business “

    Those who run a business are overwhelmingly Tory, so are you saying workers are also overwhelmingly Tory? You also pit these groups against rentiers and those with fixed incomes. I would say that people who own a business fit into this camp too! So what you seem to be saying is that everyone is a Tory! Which is what I said!


Comments are under moderation.