By Anthony O'Hear, Professor of Philosophy at Buckingham University, and editor of Philosophy journal.
Following Ed Miliband’s evocation of ‘one nation’ at his party conference, various Conservative big-wigs immediately began lamenting this theft of their clothes. But few seemed to have reflected on what might be involved in ‘one nation’, particularly in Miliband’s understanding of the phrase, which is very un-conservative indeed, the very last thing we should fighting to own.
We can leave aside the extent to which Disraeli was a conservative, perceptive as he was in identifying the intrinsic conservatism of the English working class. We should focus rather on ‘Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer’, or its variants, that perennial siren call of tyrants and demagogues. And we should ask whether in the Miliband vision, Fuhrers aside, ein Reich will require more than ein Partei.
Certainly it involves far more than a sense of equal rights under a shared constitution. For one of Miliband’s stripe, one nationhood means one education system, one system of health and child care, one trajectory for each citizen from cradle to grave. There will be one ‘level playing field’, ironing out differences of investment between different parts of the nation, and centralised regulation of pretty well everything that moves, from railways to power utilities to the press and the media. Miliband’s nation is also one all-inclusive nation, supposedly embracing all differences in a superficially soft relativism, but enforced by ever more petty systems of thought and speech control.
Well, not by me, it isn’t, nor one imagines by anyone who is honest about some of the experiences they and their loved ones will undoubtedly have had with that creaking Stalinist Behemoth (and similar things can be said about the state education Old, New and One Nation Labour are all so wedded to). And this is where real conservatives should begin the fight against the Milibandian nation from which even now I feel myself in internal exile (for in large part it already exists). That nation is an intolerant dirigisme, exploiting corrupt notions of fairness and equality to stifle not just personal freedom and responsibility, but also genuine diversity of opinion and association and locality, all the little platoons of autonomous initiative which made the nation we once were admired throughout the civilised world.