Red Tory: How Left and Right have broken Britain and how we can fix it
Faber & Faber
I am sure that many older Catholics such as myself felt puzzled by the overt hostility of the last Labour government to the Church. Think of the constant attacks on Catholic schools in the name of ‘diversity’, or the Government’s obsessive fury about the gay adoption row. Go back thirty or forty years and there was a clear if informal alliance between the majority of Catholics and the Labour party. Indeed such a relationship was true in most Anglo-Saxon countries. A further question might be why the media normally presents the Church in a negative light; think of the way the Pope’s Regensburg address was deliberately misinterpreted as ‘Islamophobic’, often linked with innuendo about his boyhood conscription into the Hitler Youth.
Answers to all these questions can be found in Phillip Blond’s excellent new book: Red Tory—How Left and Right have broken Britain and how we can fix it. Blond is a former lecturer in theology who shot to fame in 2009 with his public advocacy of social conservatism, or, to use his phrase, ‘Red Tory’. I should emphasise that the book is a detailed political and philosophical analysis of contemporary Britain; subjects like the relationship between New Labour and the churches are mentioned in passing, as it were. Nevertheless, I can think of no other book that explains so clearly what has happened to centre left thinking, or indeed why New Labour seemed determined to follow in Mrs Thatcher’s footsteps in the economic area. Blond has a good understanding of the left having grown up himself in that tradition, as well as the skill to point out their folly and hypocrisy :
My leftish affiliation ended. Many of my left-wing friends suddenly seemed to me to be right-wing…. Despite all their rhetoric, all they really believed in was unlimited choice and unrestricted personal freedom. They seemed in important ways to have been stripped of integral values and to have embraced a rootless cultural relativism…. They seemed to delight in abortion, for example, and made a fetish to choose, as if this were a real exercise of human freedom and unimpeded will, but they hated fox hunting because they thought it was cruel.
In a sense Red Tory is a long essay, both philosophical and political, on what has gone so badly wrong over the last thirty years; in that respect it reminds me of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World, or even St Augustine’s The City of God, which reflected upon the moral failure of the later Roman Empire shortly before it collapsed. Indeed, there are definite echoes of the later in Red Tory:
They despised religion precisely because it put a limit on freedom by suggesting what they should choose. In fact they hated anything which limited whatever impulse they might have.
The book consists of an incandescent introduction and conclusion, sandwiched between a number of chapters looking at the economic and social crisis, and the reasons for them. The latter is set out in various chapters likes the ‘errors of the left and the right’, and ‘the illiberal Legacy of Liberalism’ etc. Blond’s analysis is cogent and powerful. He shows how from the 1960s the left abandoned its previously key concern for social justice in exchange for a cocktail of issues around identity politics, i.e. race, gender, and sexual identity, and the devastating impact this had on traditional working class communities. If you want to know the origins of the ‘sink estates’ and ‘benefit culture’ that disfigure so many of our cities, look no further than this book. At the same time, the book shows how the left’s need to control, in the context of obvious social breakdown, has led to the surveillance state reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.
However, Blond is equally tough on the free market conservatism that Margaret Thatcher injected into the DNA of the Conservative Party. He argues that essentially this was based upon the same kind of obsessive individualism as the new left, both left and right therefore worshipping the market in a way that would have appalled older conservatives and socialists. Red Tory makes a number of good point about how just as the new left destroyed traditional social values, so did the new right. The book is highly critical about the surge in income inequality since the 1970s,warning that the lower paid risk becoming a new type of debt serfs:
What we have produced over the last thirty years is capitalism for the privileged few, and indebted servitude for the many.
Inevitably there are a few quibbles. The book is very strong on politics and philosophy, less so on economics. It is simply wrong to say that the medieval guilds encouraged monopoly, as one of their main objectives was to prevent it. On balance however, a fascinating account of modern politics—and their poisoned philosophical roots.