3LETTER TO AN OLD TORY
Many thought your illness was mortal, and a slow lingering death your only future. But recently a little colour has returned to your cheeks and a certain spring has come back into your step. You have even bought yourself a new green coat. At first glance it looks quite nice, but in an age of skin-deep like no other, most things do. That this garment is being tailored by Zac Goldsmith might, however, lend it some deeper plausibility. Could it be that in the fullness of time that Greens and Tories might find common cause on at least some issues?
Most Greens will recoil instantly at the mere whisper of such a notion. To them Tories are creatures of the night with horns and tails and who breathe the foul stench of Beelzebub ... hardly more than Fascists in sheep's clothing. This author at least has long grown out of this 70's agitprop nonsense and is dismayed by the prevalence of such childishness amongst sections of his own party. Lenin's stricture on 'infantile thinking' is apt.
Such thinking presents Greens with an acute dilemma. New Labour has provided the most arrogant, authoritarian and corrupt government in history and whose speedy removal from office has become imperative. Outside a tiny handful of constituencies Greens will play little part in that process. Gordon Brown, so tainted by collective responsibility and a rampant authoritarian himself, offers no mitigation. Yet many Greens regard 'Socialists' as their natural allies.
This is because too much time is spent reading the label rather than tasting the contents. It is easy to forget that political labels are, by and large, self applied. From Keir Hardie to Mao Tse Tung, Clement Attlee to Stalin, Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser to Willy Brandt, all have called themselves 'Socialists'. Political labels wear out like old clothes. With overuse they become empty and fatuous.
So how many luminaries of New Labour cut their teeth in the Hard Left? John Reid, Jack Straw, John Prescott, Margaret Beckett as well as recently departed acolytes such as Charles Clarke, David Blunkett and Paul Boateng. The 'Leftness' withers and dies, but the 'Hardness', with all its swaggering bullying arrogance and its obsession with central control, remains behind like some empty carapace.
Greens have likewise blinded themselves to the rampant materialism inherent in many versions of the so-called 'Socialist' creed. Such people might be called 'medical materialists'. To them humanity is no more than what it eats, modernism is everything, government can only be by tight central control, culture and ethnicity is trash, spirit is superstitious garbage, localism is reactionary nonsense, growth is god, people are idiots and should be treated as such, all technology is - by definition - absolutely wonderful, and progress can only - and must only - be measured in cubic yards of reinforced concrete.
All this, my dear Old Tory, might seem highly tangential to a missive complimenting you on your at least partially restored health. But to return to your own travails it must be said that the true nature of your illness has become one of the best kept secrets of all time, even given the glib superficiality we have all come to expect from most diagnosticians.
These quacks rushed in to diagnose sleaze, uncaring attitudes, public boredom and the loss of economic competence. There is truth in all of these but only to the extent that a diabetic might be incidentally suffering from insomnia, toothache and hair loss. Many also, and often wishfully, diagnosed Europe. Such a prognosis might consider (although it rarely does) that Tories in recent times, as with Labour in the 1980's, became unpopular for reasons wholly unconnected with Europe and that unpopularity arose not because of any negative attitude to European federalism but in spite of it.
Maybe we should not be so hard on the quacks. The onset of your condition was so gradual that for many years scarcely anyone noticed that there was much wrong. But it is the utter resistance, at least
until very recently, of your condition to any remedy that provides the first clue. It is Europe that, as so often, provides the second clue. Not in the usual sense but because Europe is to us the biggest and nearest face of the phenomenon of globalisation.
It is, in essence, the cleavage created by such globalisation that has so debilitated you. Normally splits and divisions in politics are noisy and rancorous affairs. But this sundering has been so slow, gradual and organic as to go silent and unacknowledged.
On the one side we now have the neocons and their Siamese twin, the neoliberals. Their gods are globalisation, growth, big government, unbridled corporate power, the surveillance state. They are the New Bourbons; an immensely wealthy global elite built around the multinationals, organisations such as the WTO, the EU, the World Bank, the IMF, and Bilderberg. Their foreign policy is economic imperialism clad in an unctuous garb of 'spreading democracy'. Yet their attitude to democracy ranges from cynicism to veiled hostility. Witness the reaction to the referenda in France and Holland. Little people should vote as they are told and not be heard. Human welfare only matters where there is oil. Witness the reactions to Darfur, Burma and Zimbabwe. They are great centralisers of political and economic power. All problems, without exception, have technocratic and bureaucratic solutions. If this creates iatrogenesis then so be it; iatrogenesis is very profitable.
These are medical materialists on a grand scale ... an ugly coalition of New Conservatives with Old Marxists, and which has reached such an apogee in China. This ideology forms the core of New Labour. Whilst it says Labour on the label the contents are undiluted Bilderberg. The wine of yesterday has soured into the most toxic vinegar imaginable.
On the other side we have people such as yourself ... Conservatives to whom the word 'conserve' still has resonance and meaning, and who find this new dispensation alien and menacing. You have only your complacency to blame. With the gelding of the trades unions and the collapse of the Soviet empire you thought all the dragons were slain. How wrong you were.
At this point I have to say that Tories are generally not very good at equating cause and effect in the social context. Some would even deny such a thing exists. They would argue that social agents can act more or less as they please without consequence ... that all is a matter of individual 'choice'. Did not the Great Matron herself say that 'there is no such thing as society'.
Thus Conservatives often speak of 'choice' as if 'choices' materialise out of thin air in a manner wholly unconnected to the world around us. Learning that social phenomena do in fact have ... if not causes in any simplistic sense ... at least strongly influencing factors, is doubtless a slow and painful process. This must be especially so for those who have been so willing so sow dragons' teeth for abundant profit yet who have so often been the first to complain when the skeletons come marching up their well gravelled driveways.
Now you look with bewilderment and dismay at this epidemic of selfish, foul mannered, anti-social behaviour that now overwhelms us; at so many people behaving like spoilt, neurotic brats squalling and screaming in some huge toyshop. You see the environment which at heart you value and respect reduced to a degraded global pigsty. You see the civil liberties accumulated over centuries demolished around your head. You see democracy reduced to a hollow sham as government of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists, for the lobbyists, and government by the international elite takes over.
So we reap the whirlwind. Could it be that when we hear such conservative figures as Norman Tebbit and Nigel Farrage railing against the excesses of materialism we are hearing the first acts of contrition from those who did so much to promote this Sorcerer's Apprentice?
What concealed your illness for so long was your success in having it both ways. John Major once mused about chocolate and cream railway carriages, warm beer and village cricket. Of course Conservatism has a strongly nostalgic strand. And why not in an age when every social, cultural, political and physical landmark is being torn asunder in a maelstrom of change? He hankered after a society which was convivial, self confident, neighbourly, slow moving and at peace with itself. But what he wanted was all the consequences of localisation from all the causes of globalisation. That is like expecting a pig to give birth to a princess (my apologies to the pig).
Now you have to live through the gradual and painful realisation of the fundamental incompatibility between method and objective. The trouble is that it was you who built that big toyshop. In doing so you swept away all the small businesses which once formed the spine of your local support and handed it all over to the big corporations. Like the cartoon character who saws off the branch on which he is sitting you destroyed a great swathe of your own power base. For a long time you thought it sufficient to fulminate against the politics of envy. Now you are forced to accept that greed is the opposite side of that same poisonous coin. The one begets the other with all the nastiness that comes with it.
If you still feel the pull of the 'market' then read Adam Smith, whom many of your friends cite but few have studied. Smith drew a vital and unique distinction between proprietors and the 'monied interest'; he warned that government was so often a conspiracy of the rich against the poor; he viewed economic interaction not as one single 'market' but many small interacting markets. Indeed his 'free market' cannot work unless there is parity of power between producer and consumer.
The big single global market is the Bilderberg project. You are increasingly aware that one big market is reducing everything we touch and breathe to a toxic homogenised soup in which the sheer cost of shifting all this stuff and all these people to and fro across the globe has become insupportable.
It boils down in the end to big versus small; Big People versus Little People; central versus devolved. Like the devil this battle between the centripetal and centrifugal forces has adopted many disguises down the ages. Yet it is the most fundamental battle of all, and always has been. Ivan Illich argued that the true distinction between 'Left' and 'Right' is determined by whether the politics are centralist or devolutionary, vertically or horizontally stratified.
Now we face a stark choice between radical devolution of political and economic power on the one hand and a progressive slide into a form of dictatorship, perhaps on the lines of Russia's so-called 'managed democracy' on the other. This is now the emerging battle line and it cuts diametrically across conventional party labels.
Efforts by the Greens to become a mass movement have proven dismally unproductive. True, there is the anti-globalisation movement. But this often looks horribly like Flower Power Mark Two ... a political blancmange without the nucleus and structure to persevere and prevail in a long and bitter war against immensely powerful adversaries. It is unlikely to prevail without winning allies from the ranks of former adversaries who realise that things have gone too far; that in Gorbachev's words 'we cannot go on like this'. People such as yourself.
Thus Greens can achieve little on their own. Medical materialists are adversaries and not allies, and those who call themselves 'Socialists' can be the most dangerously beguiling of all, if only for their name. In the emerging political dispensation, where labels become almost meaningless, it will frequently be difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Often that will have to be done on an individual basis. As to whether we can do business this author at least would prefer dealing with a libertarian 'Tory' than an authoritarian 'Socialist'. Time will tell. But as the world learnt in spades with the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, events, dear boy, can so often chose your allies for you.