Further Thoughts on Theresa May


Further Thoughs on Theresa May
by Sean Gabb
(7th October 2016)

I delivered my interim report on Theresa May at the weekend. On Wednesday, I watched her main speech to the Conservative Party Conference. It was a very accomplished speech, perhaps the most accomplished speech of its kind since James Callaghan delivered his sermon on economic reality to the Labour Party Conference in 1976. I also noted one quotation from Vergil (“Parcere subiectis et debellare superbos”), and another from Horace (Carpe diem). Mrs May is no Demosthenes or Burke, but she appears to have good taste in speechwriters. Beyond that, I had nothing to add to what I had already said.

However, I have just seen this from the Guido Fawkes blog:

May wants “government to step up, not back”. So who do you vote for now if you want a balanced budget, free markets and to get the state out of your life?

I suppose the short answer is to ask whom he voted for last time, and, if it was not the Conservative Party, how the Prime Minister’s speech has narrowed his choice. The truth is that, since the 1960s, Conservative and Labour Governments have alternated. In this time, with the partial exception of the first Thatcher term – and she did consider banning dildoes in 1983 – the burden of state interference has grown, if with occasional changes of direction. In this time, with the exception of John Major’s second term, the tax burden has stayed about the same as a percentage of gross domestic product. I cannot remember if Roy Jenkins or Gordon Brown managed to balance the budget in any particular year. But I do know that George Osborn never managed it, or tried to manage it, before he was thrown into the street. Whether the politicians promised free markets or intervention, what was delivered has been about the same.

A longer answer is to draw attention to the low quality of political debate in this country. It seems to be assumed that there is a continuum of economic policy that stretches between the low tax corporatism of the Adam Smith Institute (“the libertarian right”) and whatever Jeremy Corbyn means by socialism. So far as Mrs May has rejected the first, she must be drifting towards the second. Leave aside the distinction, already made, between what politicians say and what they do. What the Prime Minister was discussing appears to have been One Nation Conservatism, updated for the present age.

Because it has never had a Karl Marx or a Murray Rothbard, this doctrine lacks a canonic expression. However, it can be loosely summarised in three propositions:

First, our nation is a kind of family. Its members are connected by ties of common history and language, and largely by common descent. We have a claim on our young men to risk their lives in legitimate wars of defence. We have other claims on each other that go beyond the contractual.

Second, the happiness and wealth and power of our nation require a firm respect for  property rights and civil rights. It is one of the functions of microeconomic analysis to show how a respect for property rights is to the common benefit. The less doctrinaire forms of libertarianism show the benefit to a nation of leaving people alone in their private lives.

Third, the boundaries between these first two are to be defined and fixed by a respect for the mass of tradition that has come down to us from the middle ages. Tradition is not a changeless thing, and, if there is to be a rebuttable presumption in favour of what is settled, every generation must handle its inheritance with some regard to present convenience.

The weakness of the One Nation Conservatives Margaret Thatcher squashed lay in their misunderstanding of economics. After the 1930s, they had trusted too much in state direction of the economy. But, rightly understood, the doctrine does seem to express what most of us want. If that is what the Prime Minister is now promising to deliver, and if that is what she does in part deliver, I have no reasonable doubt that she and her successors will be in office as far ahead as the mind can track.

The question, I suppose, is to what degree she will deliver. Here, let me explain what may be true, or what may turn out to be wishful thinking. Between about 1990 and 2010, the cultural leftists came close to hegemony. It did not begin in 1990, and certainly did not end in 2010. During this time, even so, England was not a conservative country. It was ruled by a coalition of slimy leftists and hard-faced businessmen and a mass of other special interest groups united in their disdain for the nation as traditionally conceived. All of them are now getting old. Their intellectual and political leaders of ability are now mostly dead. The quality of the remainder is dipping below the mediocre. They hold their places in society wholly through nepotism. Their promise – a promise they may once have believed – of a kinder, fairer world has been shown by events to be a fraudulent prospectus. If they had less of an iron grip on the mainstream media, they would by now be subjected to the same blast of withering satire as the old order had to face in the 1960s. As it is, they are pilloried by the alternative media – media dominated by bright young men about half my age, and who are not leftists of any kind.

In America, the shorthand term for this essentially new movement is the Alternative Right. Its acknowledged, though perhaps not entirely knowing, leader for the moment is Donald Trump. That is only for the moment. Whatever happens next month in the American election, the Alternative Right will not go away. It has no exact counterpart in England. Instead, discontent was until recently expressed through UKIP. This has now collapsed. Politicians who beat each other up are not loved in England.

If you read the speech Theresa May gave on Wednesday, you will see attacks on the “international elite,” and the claim, unprecedented from a recent British Prime Minister, that, “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” Her speechwriters are obviously borrowing from Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. They are also pinning her to a modern restatement of One Nation Conservatism.

I will say yet again, that there is a difference between words and actions. All things considered, though, something is changing in British politics. Theresa May is no kind of liberal. She pushed through the Psychoactive Substances Act – a law that would have shocked just about every British politician before 1980. She has been pushing for years to give the police an open warrant to read our e-mails. But that perhaps was then. Her interests as Prime Minister may lie in a slightly less authoritarian direction. Certainly, there is nothing sinister about what she said on Wednesday. We have an overextended state that has been generations in the making, and that will not go away in the foreseeable future. If she can, in any degree, move its working from the advantage of the rich and well-connected to that of ordinary people, this will be something.

 

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16 comments

  • May’s Day

    Re Sean Gabb’s, further thoughts and interim report on Mrs May.

    ‘Considering banning dildoes’ isn’t the same as actually banning them. I’ve ‘considered’ invading Strasbourg and ‘effecting regime change’ there, but my plans haven’t yet to come to fruition and I’m beginning to believe that they might never do so. In any case, this proposed ‘dildo ban’ that Sean Gabb reports Margaret Thatcher supposedly had in mind, appears to me to consist of a ‘ban on their sale’ not of their possession, or use.

    No one can ‘ban’ a dildo. Both cucumbers and Vaseline, for example, are readily available at my local Co-op. (5% Dividend if you’re a ‘Member’ (sic)). But enough of this tasteless debate. The whole idea was Mary Whitehouse’s anyway. Margaret merely referred it to Leon Brittan.

    As for Theresa May, my own dismay as to her speech lies in how overtly Statist her chosen political philosophy appears to be. I don’t expect politicians to deliver on Libertarian principles, but neither do I expect a Tory Leader to denounce them from the start. Even Ted Heath started off his term as Prime Minister with a Free Market agenda. Mrs May’s stated philosophy is a seriously retrograde step in the political debate itself. She has moved the political Middle Ground well and truly into Statist Territory.

    On a less relevant point which, in fairness, shouldn’t on it’s own be seen as a criticism of Mrs May, I don’t find her much of an orator either. She is the least inspiring major speaker I’ve heard for a long time. At one point in one of her speeches this week she lost her place in the text. After she’d waited for the (inevitable) applause for some dreary sound bite she’d uttered, she nearly read out the same line again. You could see her correcting herself.

    I used to go to Tory Party Conferences when Margaret was ‘Great Leader’. Her words actually were worth hearing twice. I still listen to them on You Tube. Even if I’m still alive in 35 years time, I don’t imagine I (or indeed anyone else), will still be listening to Mrs May’s 2016 Conference speech.

    Margaret was fantastic. It was like carnival when she arrived in the hall. She needn’t really have bothered making the speech at all. We could just have cheered and clapped her for the 30 minutes or so. The minutes prior to her arrival were filled with patriotic music. When she’d finished, we all used to stay for about twenty minutes to cheer her departure through the thronging mass of worshippers, and sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

    But good luck to Mrs May, in whatever it is, she’s actually trying to do. We can all live in hope. I’ve lost interest in listening to her, but unless she actually introduces Communism, I’ll still carry on voting Tory. I’ve got used to being disappointed.

    • We’re all used to disappointment, that’s for sure.

  • It is a shame when those whose views ought to give rise to some sympathy for the only party in modern times which has openly promoted libertarian policies, democracy and freedom should instead join the chorus of contempt. UKIP has been struggling for years with internal conflict. Ever since we started to accept as members and promote people with views more in keeping with David Cameron than our constitution we have been building the problem which has emerged in recent weeks.

    Conspiracy theories suggest it was a planned attack to disable UKIP; if so it worked a few months too late. Others suggest it was a conspiracy among the mediocre to gain position and salaries beyond their value. Still others say it was a clever ploy by Nigel to use said inadequates to neutralise opposition to our views among certain classes such as the media.

    Whatever the facts there surely is a place for a party with the values and objectives which UKIP formally advocates and for which it used to campaign. To allow the political class to retreat into Butskellism as a means of protecting their mates and their standards of living would be disreputable and sympathisers should not make it easier.

    • Agreed, I think UKIP is far from over, but in my amauteur view, it is being sabotaged from within. It needs a credible leader in light of Farage’s departure, and it looks like the NEC is doing its utmost to prevent Steven Woolfe (who is one such person) from succeeding him for the time being… ultimately he should return for 2020, as the country is in dire need of a genuine conservative/libertarian alternative.

  • [quote]”Because it has never had a Karl Marx or a Murray Rothbard, this doctrine lacks a canonic expression. However, it can be loosely summarised in three propositions:

    “First, our nation is a kind of family. Its members are connected by ties of common history and language, and largely by common descent. We have a claim on our young men to risk their lives in legitimate wars of defence. We have other claims on each other that go beyond the contractual.

    “Second, the happiness and wealth and power of our nation require a firm respect for property rights and civil rights. It is one of the functions of microeconomic analysis to show how a respect for property rights is to the common benefit. The less doctrinaire forms of libertarianism show the benefit to a nation of leaving people alone in their private lives.

    “Third, the boundaries between these first two are to be defined and fixed by a respect for the mass of tradition that has come down to us from the middle ages. Tradition is not a changeless thing, and, if there is to be a rebuttable presumption in favour of what is settled, every generation must handle its inheritance with some regard to present convenience.”[unquote]

    I would add to this a belief in the existence of an organic nation called Britain and that societies are formed and evolve organically. That is not completely opposite to the thatcherite neo-liberals, who were also nationalistic and patriotic, but it does stand in sharp contrast to the mainstay ideas of neo-liberalism and is very crucial to an understanding of One Nation Conservatism because it explains and rationalises traditionalist Tory ideas about class and aristocratic legitimacy in modernist terms. The closest One Nation Conservatism has to an intellectual guru, Benjamin Disraeli (i.e. ‘Sybil or Two Nations’ and ‘Coningsby’), believed in societal organicism.

    Whether Disraeli was ethically sincere about it all, I am not clear on. What we can say is that One Nationism was good politics: it allowed the Conservatives to cast the Liberal Party (their main opponents at that time) as cold individualists, uncaring for the poor – which is rather ironic given the major role the Liberal Party would later play in expanding the state in the name of helping the working class.

    One Nationism dropped off towards the end of the Victorian and during the Edwardian era. It then underwent a revival within the Conservative Party during the inter-war years, mainly as a response to the rise of both the far-Left and the far-Right, and prefaced the moderate post-war Tory party. After 37 years of neo-liberalism, the Conservatives now seem to want to revive Tory democracy. The rationalisation is the same lie: “we are the party of the people”, when the actual motivation, I suspect, is fear of the people. The Establishment fear the rise of both a far-Left (Corbyn) and an as-yet-undefined far-Right (including UKIP).

    The Tories are experts at keeping power and deceiving the public.

    • You are too cynical about the old Tories. It is at least possible that they believed what they were saying.

      • I would maintain my view that the Conservative Party is a vote-winning machine, and it’s purpose is to block radical reform. I think this is born out by the Tamworth Manifesto, and explains the Party’s otherwise inexplicable longevity. The ‘British’ solution to what Keir Martland calls ‘the proletariat problem’ is unique, or at least particularist, in that it amounts to framing radical demands within the values system of the ruling elite.

        The Chartist Movement is a pluperfect example of this, and I see the Conservative Party as another example of such. It is designed to be a solution to Martland’s ‘proletariat problem’ by means of fudge and accommodation within the propitious conditions of a society that industrialised, urbanised and capitalised early and gradually and was also the first country to have a bourgeois revolution.

        I am sure that individual Conservatives were and are absolutely ethically guided and may believe in social reform without any prospect of power. Ethics are a crucial dimension to it, I did not mean to suggest otherwise, and probably the values of the mid-to-late Victorian One Nation Tories informed the ‘ethical socialism’ of the early Labour Party, alongside Methodism.

        But their motivations were not completely ethical and it was the thirst for power that gave impetus to their beliefs. One Nation Conservatism, and really, the Conservative Party of Peel, Disraeli et al, was a result of the Great Reform Acts and the surrounding social changes that created the possible conditions for political revolution. Had mass enfranchisement not happened, I’m sure much the same beliefs and concerns would have been aired, but they would have taken shape differently – possibly more militantly.

        • You are arguing from a broadly Marxist perspective that I do not share. My view is that a society based on both tradition and market forces is about the best on offer. This gives me a different view of One Nation Conservatism.

          For the sake of argument, I invite you to set aside your prejudice against Disraeli and to consider him from my perspective. The Whig reforms of the 1830s seemed to set precedents for the undermining of the whole established order. Indeed, as the century progressed, the liberals became less interested in freedom and cheap government and more in imposing their own obsessions on the people – for example, their wars on porn and drink. They also began to shade into state socialism.

          I do not share your conflating of Disraeli and Peel. The latter’s approach was to resist whatever was fashionable until it became seriously inconvenient to his own remaining in office, and then to go along with it. The Peelite Conservative Party, therefore, was not about conserving the established order.

          Disraeli was, I have no doubt, a shifty character, not always concerned with telling the truth. But his Conservative Party became a genuine means of conserving. He wrapped up resistance to the liberals in visions of a glorious past, and gave the working classes a stake in the established order. Once he was gone, his general approach was taken up by Lord Salisbury, who had been sceptical about its rightness in his early days. Together, these two men slowed down the advance of statism by decades. Their work was only seriously undone by the Great War.

          For these reasons, I see One Nation Conservatism in a better light that you do, and suggest that you should regard it as other than a cynical delaying ploy by an illegitimate ruling class. And that is what so interests me in the Prime Minister’s speech.

          • Our views in this matter are not mutually-exclusive.

  • I’d like to see a PM misquoting Virgil: “Timeo Iudaeos et dona ferentes.”

    Theresa May dines with Chief Rabbi on eve of becoming Prime Minister

    Theresa May kept a longstanding dinner date with the Chief Rabbi on the day before becoming Prime Minister, it has emerged. Mrs May and her husband,Philip,were guests at Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s north-west London home this evening. […]

    Mrs May broke off from choosing her cabinet to attend the dinner in what the Chief Rabbi said was an extraordinary gesture to the Jewish community. He said: “The fact that she did this in the midst of critically important preparations before taking up office is a reflection of her strong desire to keep to her commitments and the esteem in which she holds the British Jewish community. I was delighted to have the opportunity to give her my blessings at this very auspicious time.”

    http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/160245/theresa-may-dines-chief-rabbi-eve-becoming-prime-minister

    A longer answer is to draw attention to the low quality of political debate in this country.

    When people are frightened to speak the truth, debate does tend to be of low quality. When people are rewarded for telling lies, the quality of debate drops even further.

    cc. GCHQ, NSA, Unit 8200, et al.

    • All else aside your misquotation wouldn’t scan. I will add that your point is irrelevant and unwelcome.

      • All else aside your misquotation wouldn’t scan.

        mis-, prefix2

        Forming chiefly nouns (e.g. misuse) and verbs (e.g. missit) with the sense ‘ill’, ‘wrong’, ‘improper(ly)’.

        Origin: A borrowing from French. Etymon: French mes-.

        Etymology: In compounds adopted < French represents Old French mes- (French més- , mes- , mé ), cognate with Occitan mes- , Italian mis- , probably < a Frankish form cognate with Old High German missi- , etc. (see mis- prefix1). (OED)

        I will add that your point is irrelevant and unwelcome.

        It’s unwelcome, but not irrelevant. In fact, it’s unwelcome because it’s not irrelevant.

        Here’s another misquotation that doesn’t scan:

        Behind Sean’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about transgender cricket and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Anti-Racism Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Sean made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Community Security Trust plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

  • She will do nothing to stem the migrant influx,

    That is her treason.

    The rest of her hot air is just that.

    • I do wish she were more like this lady:

      (I’ll add the needless, in my view, qualifier that I do not endorse her or all her views)

      One of the few female leaders worth her salt.

  • Think of this as New labour 3.0 and you won’t be far wrong.

    So there’ll be plenty of corporatism, a good deal of foreign interventionism and a large dose of police state paternalism.

    Not quite what “leave” voters thought they were choosing I guess.

    And not remotely conservative.

    • All the more reason to reject them come 2020.

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