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19 April 2013

The lost tribes of British politics – day five: the palaeo-conservatives, Blue Labour and the Red Tories

9. The Palaeo-conservatives

While libertarians have an optimistic view of human nature, palaeo-conservatives are characteristically pessimistic – or realistic, as they would say. Still, no one likes a bearer of bad news, which is why fully-fledged palaeo-cons have so little influence on the political process.

Just as well, then, that they don’t see politics as all that important. Rather, the key to their hopes and fears lies in cultural change. Thus the palaeo-conservative approach finds a strange parallel with the Gramscian Marxism that infuses the liberal left (even if the respective directions of travel are entirely opposite).

It has to be said that proper palaeo-cons are thinkers more than doers, but what thinkers! Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott, Russell Kirk, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Roger Scruton – it’s not like the rest of us haven’t been told. Perhaps, as the delusions of state and market crumble before our eyes, we might start paying attention.

The very accessible writings of Theodore Dalrymple and Ed West would each be a good place to start – as would those of Peter Hitchens, if you can excuse his ex-Trotskyite stridency.

(Note: In recent years, neo-conservatives have had a rather higher profile than their palaeo antagonists. However, we’re not counting the neo-cons as a lost tribe of British politics – not when sympathisers like Michael Gove and George Osborne are to be found at the heart of government).

Score card (palaeo-cons not neo-cons):

Intellectual inheritance: 5/5

Past glories: n/a

Online presence: 4/5

Future prospects: 1/5

10. Blue Labour and the Red Tories

And so, to round off this guide, we give you not one but two up-and-coming political platforms: Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour and Phillip Blond’s Red Tories. There are various distinctions between these respective positions, but let’s consider them together anyway.

Their common strength is a willingness to address the failings of the state and the market at the same time – and to do so in a rather more positive and progressive fashion than the palaeo-conservatives seem willing to countenance.

Furthermore, they avoid the pitfalls of other centrist ideologies. Thus, unlike europhiles, there’s no fixation with Brussels; unlike the metropolitan elite there’s no disdain for tradition; and unlike New Labour the aim is combine the best that the public and private sectors have to offer, not the worst.

So, what we have here is an idea whose time has come – one that some people call post-liberalism.

Unsurprisingly, the main political parties have been sniffing around. Glasman’s been talking to Labour and Blond to the Conservatives. Though there’s been some falling out too.

With the greatest of respect to these two good gentlemen, this is much bigger than either of them.

Sooner or later, one of the main parties is going to pull the threads together, articulate the discontents of the age and offer a vision for a better future. We need to make sure that this is the Conservative Party.

Score card:

Intellectual inheritance: 3/5

Past glories: 0/5

Online presence: 3/5

Future prospects: 5/5


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