Saturday 18 January 2020

'Why Does the Left Keep Losing?'

I remember asking a Tory MP friend, Sir Antony Buck, after the 1992 election, if Labour could ever win again. He replied
'Remember what Harold Wilson said. "A week is a long time in politics." The only good thing he ever said.'
People asked the same question after the 1957 election. The bad news is that political parties very rarely die in a  two party system. Labour will almost certainly be back one day and possibly in five years' time

This matters because a Labour government of any complexion, left-wing or moderate, is the worst thing that can happen to the UK. If you doubt me, read the history. The worst Labour governments of all were Tony Blair's and Gordon Brown's, by the way.

I recommend very highly the long read from this week's New Statesman by John Gray, headed 'Why Does the Left Keep Losing?' It is so good that it is puts me in mind of the incomparable long read, 'The English Revolt' by Robert Tombs, in the NS just after the Brexit referendum. 

Years ago I read or skimmed a collection of John Gray's writing from the NS and thought his ideas completely vapid, but he has changed a lot, I have changed a lot and the world has changed a lot. 

I already quoted from the article twice in my last post, but here is another and much longer quotation about the progressive consensus. 

'Humanities and social sciences teaching has been largely shaped by progressive thinking for generations, though other perspectives were previously tolerated. The metamorphosis of universities into centres of censorship and indoctrination is a more recent development, and with the expansion of higher education it has become politically significant. By over-enlarging the university system, Blair created the constituency that enabled the Corbynites to displace New Labour. No longer mainly a cult of intellectuals, as in Orwell’s time, progressivism has become the unthinking faith of millions of graduates.

'...Liberal or Corbynite, the core of the progressivist cult is the belief that the values that have guided human civilisation to date, especially in the West, need to be junked. A new kind of society is required, which progressives will devise. They are equipped for this task with scraps of faux-Marxism and hyper-liberalism, from which they have assembled a world-view. They believed a majority of people would submit to their vision and follow them. Instead they have been ignored, while their world-view has melted down into a heap of trash. They retain their position in British institutions, but their self-image as the leaders of society has been badly shaken. It is only to be expected that many should be fixated on conspiracy theories, or otherwise unhinged. The feature of the contemporary scene progressives fail to understand, in the end, is themselves. 

'Johnson’s dilemma is how to cement his alliance with the working class while the cultural establishment remains wedded to progressivist values. It may be that hegemony is no longer possible for his or any political project. Society may remain fragmented indefinitely, and in some areas unalterably polarised.
It remains to be seen if the rural and small town people and the working class can win against what someone called the graduate proletariat indoctrinated in a new kind of left-liberalism, a sort of philosophy that extends to include Tory politicians like David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May. 

I hope Boris will follow in the tradition of Disraeli, Lord Randolph Churchill and Tory Democracy rather than, like the last two Tory Prime Ministers and like Michael Gove, be another heir to Blair. That would be disastrous. Blairism was a wrong but plausible answer to late twentieth century problems but I hope that the wind has blown it away.

Boris's principles are very liberal but, like Disraeli and Lord Randolph Churchill, the latter Boris's hero, he is very clever and very opportunistic. He also, unlike Mr Cameron and Mrs May, hates liberal sanctimony. These qualities give me hope. 

Politics in the next decades in Europe and elsewhere will centre on immigration and this should mean a long dominance by the right, if the Tories can fill the right-wing space which David Cameron and Theresa May vacated. They also need to convert part of the progressive establishment.


  1. You need to distinguish between the Economic Left, which has indeed lost every battle for more than half a century, and the Cultural Left.

    The Cultural Left now includes the entire Conservative Party. Including Boris Johnson. We need to be careful about falling into the trap of thinking there's anything remotely conservative about Boris. There isn't. He's a thorough-going social liberal, an economic neo-Thatcherite, a convinced globalist and he's very very pro-immigration. He's Blair on steroids. And much more dangerous than Theresa May because he's a better liar.

    The Economic Right-Cultural Left alliance is still firmly in power. Nothing has changed.

    1. He is very like Blair, he is a social liberal, he is very pro-immigration but he is not 'neo-liberal' on economics. I agree with you on much of what you say but he is a big figure who feels he is a man of destiny and let's hope he is.

    2. but he is a big figure who feels he is a man of destiny and let's hope he is.

      If you look at the disaster that have beset our civilisation in the past two hundred years most were caused by politicians who thought they were men of destiny.

      I'd rather have someone like Lord Salisbury, who certainly did not see himself as a man of destiny.

    3. He is obviously a genius as Charles Moore, his old boss, has said. Toby Young too was told he was one before he went up to Oxford and met him.

      I see on your blog you quoted Salisbury today:

      "In men of genius, as a rule, the imagination or the passions are too strongly developed to suffer them to reach the highest standard of practical statesmanship. They follow some poetical ideal, they are under the spell of some fascinating chapter of past history, they are the slaves of some talismanic phrase which their generation has taken up, or they have made for themselves a system to which all men and all systems must be bent.”

      I don't think he is that sort of genius. Salisbury was one too.