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We're not evil, just wicked - Owen Jones' generosity (and logic) falls a bit short

By Mark Wallace
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Owen JonesIt's generous of Owen Jones to concede in today's Independent that we Tories aren't evil. Unfortunately, he does so on the basis that the term "evil" is too kind - a comforting excuse that neglects the supposed fact that we cause misery and suffering intentionally in order to preserve privilege and inequality.

Owen's article decries naive, simplistic critiques of:

"Tories as a cabal of upper-class sadomasochists, spending their evenings plotting ever more devious ways to hunt children on council estates like rural foxes."

Which is kind of him, but having done so, he rather chickens out a bit. Just in case his readers might think he's going soft, he then explains that moving in exclusivey upper class circles allows Tories to justify a selfish worldview by:

"...worshipping “self-reliance”: the idea that all should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the implication being that those who fail to do so are personally to blame. Easy, then, to justify policies that benefit the rich (who you see as noble wealth-creators) and punish the poor (who you see as those too feckless to climb the social ladder without prodding)."

In short, we may not be evil, but we are intentionally wicked. 

The explanation is a classic piece of psycho-babble. He finds it far easier to assume we are driven by private greed, concealed by public and self-deceit about our motivations, than to accept that perhaps - just perhaps - we hold the tenets of conservatism to be true due to genuine belief and a strong evidence base.

The argument is based on a bizarre assumption. He is correct to say that the Conservative front bench are all much better off than the average British individual. But the same is true for the Labour front bench - indeed all MPs - and yet he appears to believe that those he agrees with have somehow remained immune from the ideological contagion brought by money. Either they have a magic vaccine or his premise is wrong.

Similarly, he provides no account of the millions of Conservatives who are not Eton old boys or Cabinet millionaires, but rather working people, many of whom struggle to pay the bills. Why do 30% of Unite members vote Tory? Why did a young Eric Pickles, for example, growing up in a household strikingly similar to Owen's account of his own childhood, choose the Right if he wasn't spoon-fed caviar as a baby?

Traditionally, when faced with such inconvenient facts, the Left reaches for the tired Marxist excuse of false consciousness to explain such cases - the claim that workers who vote Tory are unwitting class traitors, conned into supporting their own oppression by the unreachable lie of aspiration.

The idea falls on a simple analysis of cock-up or conspiracy.

Is it more likely that millions are victims of false consciousness, that the well-off are engaged in a cunning and deceitful defence of their own privilege and get away with self-justification by never meeting anyone who isn't like them?

Or maybe Conservatives think what we think because, having interrogated the logic and the evidence, we honestly believe conservatism holds the best solutions for the problems the nation faces?

The latter is not only a more fair explanation - and one which most of us would be generous enough to extend to Owen Jones should the argument be reversed - but it is more likely. Even if he refuses to believe us when we attest that it is true, logic should tell him that - for a start, if we were such Machiavellian geniuses, we would have swept Labour into the dustbin of history long ago.

Conservatives believe in doing what works - not holding tight to nice means, and to hell with the ends. We recognise and embrace human fallibility, and seek to sculpt policies that turn it to society's best advantage. We would rather acknowledge the profit motive and channel its energies towards alleviating ills, than seek to restrain it at the cost of greater human suffering.

This is one reason why every Labour Government in history has left higher unemployment than it inherited. Their intentions, good or otherwise, are worthless because the outcomes are so bad.

The difference between Left and Right is like the response of a village whose stream regularly floods.

Owen Jones thinks that water is the problem, and will divert all our energies to trying to abolish it: a radical, permanent solution for this scourge. We can point out til we're blue in the face that he's wasting his time, but he'll insist we're just apologists, in the pocket of "Big Water".

Conservatives would rather build a dam, and a watermill which will power the village. In so doing, he alleges, we are turning a blind eye to the evils of flooding and teaming up with it in our own interests - while lying to everyone that it's for their own good. By allowing water to continue to exist we show that we don't care about the possibility of future floods.

That we think he is sadly mistaken to pursue a fruitless task but he thinks we are wickedly collaborating with the enemy is a moral failure on his part, not ours.