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30 May 2013

Jon Cruddas, Edmund Burke and a most remarkable book review

Warning! What follows is a review of a review, written by one Member of Parliament, of a book, written by another Member of Parliament, which is about a third Member of Parliament.

If that hasn’t left you feeling thoroughly confused or slightly nauseous then please read on.

The three gentlemen concerned are Jon Cruddas (Labour), Jesse Norman (Conservative) and Edmund Burke (Rockingham Whig). Writing a glowing review of Norman’s book in the Independent, Cruddas has some less than glowing things to say about today’s Conservative Party:

  • “It is a rapacious economic liberalism that threatens the Conservative Party. A free-market logic that, way back in the 1870s, removed economics from a satisfactory social location and into the arena of abstract calculus now dominates the texture of the party. It is a national tragedy played out in real time. A once-great party is being deracinated, in the sense that it values and desires to conserve the essential institutions and traditions of a country. This is a sadness that even political opponents can share.”

Well, it’s very good of Mr Cruddas to feel sad for his opponents, but who was it that knighted Fred Goodwin? Which government unleashed the biggest debt-fueled speculative frenzy in British history? On behalf of which party did a senior figure say “we are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”?

And, then, from the party that brought you uncontrolled mass immigration, preparation for UK membership of single currency and British participation in the invasion of Iraq, there’s this:

  • “Individuals are reduced to base units of economic calculation, blind to cultural form and tradition. National boundaries are barely acknowledged.”

And let’s not let the following pass without comment:

  • “The liberal armlock on the [Conservative] party is near-total – the equivalent to Labour's 1980s Militant Tendency.”

In what way is liberalism equivalent to a thuggish Trotskyite splinter group? And in what way does liberalism, albeit left liberalism, not have an armlock on the Labour Party?

It is, of course, fascinating that the biggest problem that Jon Cruddas has with the Conservative Party is that it is not conservative enough. Indeed, he regards it as the fount of all anti-conservatism. The philosopher John Gray, used his New Statesman review of Jesse Norman’s book to make a similar argument:

  • “The Tory England [Margaret Thatcher] inherited, which even the turbulence of the 1970s hadn’t greatly shaken, no longer exists. Patterns of deference that had survived the postwar Labour settlement are now barely memories.
  • “Thatcher’s career illustrates the paradoxical pattern of democratic politics over the past 30 years. Society has been revolutionised by parties of the right, while those of the left have tagged along behind…” 

Gray at least acknowledges that society was in the process of changing anyway, but for Cruddas it’s as if Margaret Thatcher had taken over in 1879, not 1979 (i.e. after two world wars, the welfare state, the winds of change, the permissive society, the three day week, membership of the EEC and the Winter of Discontent). 

It wasn’t Mrs Thatcher who did for ‘Tory England’, but the upheavals of the 20th century – a series of revolutions that were usually led by the left not the right. 

At one point Cruddas states that “individualism gives authority figures an unwarranted sense of arrogance.” But what about collectivism? What about the post-war central planning that physically destroyed communities, tearing down entire streets, scattering their inhabitants and scooping them up again in hideous, crime-ridden tower blocks? Was that the product of individualism?

The acknowledgement of what the left did to wreck our society is so conspicuous by its absence, that one has to ask whether Cruddas is actually sending a message to his own side:

  • “Norman's lessons from Burke are the building-blocks for a different type of Tory party. There is the rebuilding of trust and ‘social capital’; the renewal of our national and institutional character; the preservation of social order and representative government in the national interest; a critique of cronyism and excessive power; a return to issues of duty and obligation.”



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