Fukuyama has written a disgraceful, third-rate book, as naive as his essay about the end of history

1 Apr

Liberalism And Its Discontents by Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama is a not very quiet American. He has been famous since the summer of 1989, when he wrote an essay called The End of History? for The National Interest. This made such a splash that the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, whom I met by chance at a party, asked me whether I had read it.

To my embarrassment, I had not, though I did go away and read it afterwards, as it was evidently something any thoughtful person should have a look at, if only to see whether Fukuyama was quite as foolishly optimistic as he sounded.

He was. In his celebrated essay he wrote:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This was not the effusion of some callow youth. Fukuyama was 36 when he wrote it, and in a way he deserved his fame, for he expressed what many western liberals believed to be the case.

His new book has one great merit. It is short: only 154 pages. The tone of voice is bland, optimistic, friendly. In the photograph of Fukuyama inside the back cover, he smiles in a benevolent way, conveying not only his desire to help, but an off-putting confidence that he knows how to help.

His intentions are so terribly good that one cannot help being reminded of Pyle, the touchingly upright but also disastrously over-confident idealist, “impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance”, who is the title character of Graham Greene’s masterpiece, The Quiet American.

Fukuyama has set out to write a defence of “classical liberalism”, and on his first page quotes with approval John Gray, who says liberalism is “universalist, affirming the moral unity of the human species and according a secondary importance to specific historical associations and cultural forms”.

Here at once is a problem for all those of us who agree with Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”

Burke is not mentioned by Fukuyama. He does, however, touch on the French Revolution, telling us that it “spawned the next major competitor to liberalism, which was nationalism”.

Surely, one thinks, nationalism has often been liberalism’s ally? Did not 19th-century liberals see the creation of nation states as a way of bringing the blessings of freedom to countries which had previously been under imperial rule?

And what is happening in Ukraine? That came too late for Fukuyama’s book, but Sameer Rahim has just asked him about it in an interview for Prospect magazine:

Rahim: “You hear people in the west say Ukraine is fighting our battle – fighting for liberalism and fighting for democracy. How true is that? Or is it really them defending their nation?

Fukuyama: “Well, look, I think it’s a meaningless distinction. Everybody that fights for a set of values, fights for it as embodied in a specific country. You know, nobody fights for the abstract principles of liberalism. They care about being an independent country. But I think that many Ukrainians, certainly all the ones I know, also take pride in the fact that they are a free country.”

In practice, Fukuyama admits, liberal values have to be “embodied in a specific country”. There are places in his new book where he also admits this.

For example, one wonders what he is going to say about Afghanistan, where so many western leaders preached liberalism, only to run away from the difficult task of upholding it. Here is one of the only two references to that country in Fukuyama’s book:

“There are many parts of the world in which identity politics is very pronounced. The Balkans, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Lebanon, and other countries are divided into clearly demarcated ethnic or religious groups, and loyalty to those smaller identities often takes precedence over larger national identities. Identity politics makes liberalism difficult to implement in such societies…”

As an account of what went wrong in Afghanistan, this is not much help. The ninth of Fukuyama’s ten chapters is devoted to a discussion of national identity, but here we find the admission that he has no idea what to say to “nationalist partisans” in Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia who seek “complete separation”:

“There is a big hole in liberal theory regarding how to deal with such demands and how to define the national boundaries of states that are fundamentally liberal.”

What we find in this book is an unwavering determination to argue for liberalism as a universal ideology, which must be defended against such aberrations as neoliberalism, on the right, and identity politics, on the left.

Abstractions pass before our astonished eyes, and many great thinkers are mentioned in a cursory way, but Fukuyama flees from the local, the particular.

He is, one might say, a liberal on the run, never stopping long enough in one place to be in danger of being pinned down, or to get to the bottom of the “discontents” that are mentioned in his title.

These are liberal discontents, and as far as one can tell, he is not really discontented at all. Optimism keeps breaking in. He is never at a loss for some sweeping generalisation of almost unbelievable banality:

“Liberalism by itself is not a sufficient governing doctrine on its own; it needs to be paired with democracy so that there can be political corrections made to the inequalities made by market economics. There is no reason to think that such corrections cannot occur within a broadly liberal political framework in the future.”

Jolly good. Fukuyama soars into the higher platitudes, where he is safe from contradiction, for he has said nothing concrete enough to be contradicted. What a contemptible evasion of responsibility.

On the Afghanistan point, here is Rory Stewart, towards the end of The Places in Between, his account of walking across that country, on the latter-day liberal elite which set out to create, in the words of the United Nations Assistance Mission, “a centralised, broad-based, multi-ethnic government committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law”:

“Policy makers did not have the time, structures or resources for a serious study of an alien culture. They justified their lack of knowledge by focusing on poverty and implying that dramatic cultural differences did not exist. They acted as though villagers were interested in all the priorities of international organisations, even when those priorities were mutually contradictory.”

And here is Stewart’s furious footnote on the following page:

Critics have accused this new breed of administrators of neo-colonialism. But in fact their approach is not that of a 19th-century colonial officer. Colonial administrators may have been racist and exploitative but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing. They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single alien nation. They invested in teaching administrators and military officers the local language…”

They did not pretend, as culpably naive, self-regarding liberals like Fukuyama do, that we are all the same really, and we all believe in the same ineffably woolly, free-floating principles. What a disgraceful, third-rate book this is.

Imran Mulla: Religious freedom – and why French assimilation fails while British multiculturalism works

10 Jan

Imran Mulla is a student of history at Jesus College, Cambridge. He lives in Leicester.

Éric Zemmour, the most controversial candidate for the French presidency, believes that France is veering towards civil war.

The reason? Its growing Muslim population, too distinctive from the white majority for comfort. “Our elites have made the mistake, for the last 30 or 40 years,” Zemmour proclaimed in a recent interview with UnHerd, “of adopting the British method, which consists of excessive respect for the culture of origin, trying to allow different cultures to coexist side by side”. He paused, before adding pointedly, ‘I am against that.’

Zemmour’s polemic bears little resemblance to reality; France has never had anything like British multiculturalism. The French government refuses to so much as collect data based on religion, whereas here the word ‘multiculturalism’ denotes our politicians speaking of ‘communities’, visiting minority community centres and places of worship, and ritually giving well-wishes on different religious festivals.

It represents a heterogeneity unimaginable in France, where religion is forced out of the public sphere – thus French schoolgirls are unable to wear the headscarf, the Interior Minister is aghast at the spectacle of halal meat in supermarkets, and Muslim women are banned from covering their faces for religious reasons (though not for fear of the Coronavirus). The French have quite obviously not imitated the British method.

Accuracy aside, though, Zemmour’s point was that France has thus far been too permissive in its attitude to Muslim immigrants and French Muslim citizens. He believes that the growing tradition of Islam must be privatised, de-politicised and modernised – just as other religions have been.

His position is rooted in the legacy of the French Revolution, which was animated by an anti-clerical fervour that saw the forceful subjugation of the Catholic clergy and a requirement for French Jews to renounce the mosaic law. A century later, the Law of 1905 established laïcité by decisively separating church from state.

But France’s colonial exploits in Africa encouraged the migration of colonised Muslims to the metropole – France is now home to a significant Muslim minority. Zemmour, himself a descendant of Algerian Jews, celebrates France’s colonial history, yet exploits fears over its legacy: ethnic and religious diversity in France.

French elites have concealed the ‘reality of our replacement’, he declares ominously in his campaign announcement address, echoing the conspiracy theory of the esoteric fascist, Renaud Camus.

So, what is to be done? Firstly, Zemmour believes, immigration must be halted – but he also wishes to “re-establish French-style assimilation”: immigrants must be forced to “appropriate French history, customs, habits and traditions” (although the French in North Africa made no effort even at integration, let alone assimilation).

We in Britain should respond to Zemmour’s attack on British multiculturalism by standing up for ourselves; we have handled diversity far better than our neighbour.

For one thing, Britain’s secularism lacks the aversion to visible religion that defines French laïcité. Anglicanism is our state religion, the Queen is head of the Church, and all state schools are required to hold an act of communal worship everyday. Britain’s Christian heritage is embedded into our political system; this is largely why we have responded with far less hysteria than France to the growth of new religious communities on our shores.

Many British conservatives, of course, see multiculturalism as having eroded a sense of national identity. But the picture is more complicated than that. Consider the elderly white man in Bradford or Leicester who bemoans the fact that he does not recognise his neighbours, that the music on the radio is American, that his grandchildren hold values entirely different from his own, and that the local church is being used as a mosque.

He is reacting to globalisation, social atomisation, the decline of Christianity, and a host of other symptoms of ‘liquid modernity’. These are not the fault of immigrants or their descendants. That this country is ethnically and religiously diverse is fitting considering our history: Britain first became multicultural when it formed an empire, and today most British non-whites trace their ancestry to the colonies. Our first significant Muslim communities were formed from the arrival in the 1950s and ‘60s of migrants from former British India, encouraged to migrate by the British government.

Nor has our multiculturalism been any sort of disaster; Muslims here identify even more strongly with Britain than the population at large, and there is a positive correlation between British identification and higher religiosity. Islamic faith schools top the national charts in performance, with Muslim girls usually achieving higher than boys. Religious segregation, meanwhile, has consistently been declining, and Muslims are more likely than Brits in general to live in ethnically mixed areas.

Myths abound about Muslims, but these are generally false: ‘no-go zones’ for non-Muslims are non-existent, despite being believed in by almost half of Conservative Party members. Contrary to popular belief, moreover, Muslim and Pakistani-heritage men have no disproportionate presence in grooming gangs, as a two-year Home Office study concluded.

Nor does Muslim terrorism reflect a general problem with Muslims any more than far-right terrorism reflects a problem with white people (London’s Muslims, for example, are even less likely than the population at large to condone violence against civilians).

Integration, overall, is proceeding smoothly; the culture found among, say, Birmingham’s Pakistani-origin Muslim youth has little in common with youth culture in Pakistan.

The most self-segregating people in British society are the wealthiest. They move in their own social circles and maintain elite private schools such as Eton – culturally, they are removed from much of the country. But we do not attempt to suppress their way of life in the name of egalitarianism (although some activists would have us try), because to do so would be authoritarian. Britishness, traditionally understood, has always been a broad umbrella.

This is not to say that there are no problems with multiculturalism – there are, and this should be considered in light of the fact that half of British Muslims live in poverty. There is also pervasive discrimination: Muslims face significant penalties in the labour market (as evidenced by all the available data) and are singled out for digital strip searches at the airport.

But, overall, British multiculturalism has been a relative success. This is the irony of Zemmour’s rhetoric: the French situation, by contrast, is disastrous. While Muslims here feel comfortably British in the understanding that Britishness allows for the expression of different religious values and the intermingling of cultural practices, French Muslims are trapped in a zero-sum game: they must conceal their religious convictions to be respectable citizens.

But Zemmour’s comparison of the two countries should encourage us Brits to look in the mirror. We face an attack on our traditional multiculturalism from our own government, which is currently promoting a ‘muscular liberalism’ compelling people to either accept ‘British’ (read: liberal) values or be labelled an extremist.

This un-British attempt to coerce fealty to an ideology represents a departure from Lockean liberalism and multiculturalism. Religious liberty is being eroded – we now face the possibility of the Prevent ‘counter-extremism’ programme, which has proved extraordinarily ineffective at combating violence while targeting expressions of Islamic practice and suppressing Muslim free speech, being extended into the private sphere.

Religious institutions may be compelled to report people suspected of ‘extremism’ (defined by the government as vocal or active opposition to British values) to the authorities. This would mean the wholesale securitisation of religion – something one would expect to see in France, but not Britain. Old-fashioned multiculturalism might be messy and flawed, but it is less authoritarian than the assimilationist model currently being ramped up.

The spectacle of French politics, where every significant presidential candidate has an assimilationist stance towards French Muslims, should encourage us to assert ourselves in support of the British multiculturalism which Zemmour disdains and which is currently being threatened. We are not like France, and it should stay that way. Will Britain really be enriched by replacing multiculturalism in all its vibrancy and complexity with a secular monoculture?

This is Zemmour’s aim for the French – and the closer you look, the more incoherent his vision appears. France is ‘the country of the Notre Dame,’ he declares bombastically in his campaign announcement video, not considering the irony that the Virgin Mary, whose image adorns the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, would today be unable to step foot inside a French school; headscarves are banned. Zemmour also adulates the French Revolution’s legacy of liberté, but there is an obvious contradiction here: ‘freeing’ French Muslims from their religion requires extreme coercion, from deploying immensely authoritarian surveillance methods to banning women from putting on too many clothes.

Zemmour is right about one thing: the situation in France is certainly tragic. We in Britain should be thankful for what we have, and wary of allowing it to be lost.

Snap guide to modern conservative thinkers 5) Patrick J Deneen

7 Jan

A new ConHome monthly series offering a very short introduction to some of those who are making or who have made an intellectual contribution to conservatism.

5) Patrick J Deneen

Age: 57

Education: Rutgers University,

CV:

  • Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame
  • Author

Relevant works:

Several, but for the purposes of this piece:

  • Why Liberalism Failed

Outlook:

At the heart of Why Liberalism Failed is a bold claim: that the various crises starting to wrack western liberal democracies are not just challenges to liberalism, but inevitable consequences of liberalism; they are artefacts not of the failure of liberal ideology, but of its success. It cannot be salvaged, and the hunt for a ‘post-liberal’ way of living must begin.

This is quite the thesis, but in just 200 pages Deneen limns it persuasively enough. Doing so in five paragraphs is a trickier proposition. So I will instead simply highlight a few of the cases he advances, lest any of them snare the imagination.

First, he suggests that modern liberalism is built on a radically different understanding of liberty to the classical and ancient tradition, substituting a definition based on freedom from restraint for an older one centred on discipline and mastery of the passions.

Following this, Deneen argues that many of the apparent strengths of early liberalism were built on a pre-liberal inheritance – classical education, traditional social mores, ‘thick’ community allegiances, et al – which liberal society does not replenish, and to which political liberalism is often officially hostile.

He then attempts to trace the roots of a huge range of problems facing modern society, from populism to voter disengagement to obesity, to the triumph of (often well-intentioned) liberal campaigns to emancipate mankind from restrictions imposed either by custom or nature.

Finally (for our purposes – this could be a very long article) he claims that conservatives and progressives, supposedly the great antagonists of modern politics, actually work symbiotically to advance a common liberal project: the right dissolves restraints on the market, the left social restraints on the self. Whilst both sides often have non-liberal objectives, they tend to advance these much less consistently than their liberal ones.

Impact:

Why Liberalism Failed once made President Obama’s summer reading list, which probably counts for something. It’s also a useful guide to what the people who have started calling themselves ‘post-liberal’ (a term that appears in the book) actually think. Deneen offers an accessible introduction to an emerging trend on the right.

Where to start?

Definitely this book, which at only 200 pages is a perfectly manageable treatment of its theme even for those disinclined to settle in with vast tracts of political philosophy.

Adrian Lee: How we could all learn from William F. Buckley Jnr

31 Jul

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Fifty-three years ago, on Saturday 3 August 1968, at the start of one of the most closely fought American Presidential campaigns in post-war history, two men with impeccable manners and matching mid-Atlantic accents entered the ABC outside broadcast studio above the Republican Convention arena in Miami Beach, Florida, for the first in a series of debates from the two great nominating conventions.

In the Left corner was Democrat-supporting Gore Vidal, novelist, snob, raconteur and public wit. Whilst over on the Right, was the equally erudite Republican William F. Buckley Jnr. Each night they would exchange not only their contrasting political opinions, but also increasingly bitter sardonic barbs and put-downs.

The viewers loved it and the ratings grew. It culminated on 28 August at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, with tensions riding high and Police tear gas seeping into the hall from the Vietnam War protesting “Yippy” riots outside, with the two men almost coming to blows.

Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” for supporting the Police action, with Buckley responding, “Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the face and you’ll stay plastered.” The exchange went down in political history, but there was a lot more to Buckley than this brief loss of temper.

William F. Buckley Jnr was born in New York City on 24 November 1925, the sixth child of a Texas-born, Irish Catholic, oil baron. Whilst the family officially resided in Sharon, Connecticut, Bill spent much of his childhood in Mexico, where his father’s oil business was based.

Buckley first came to public attention in 1951 with the publication of ‘God and Man’ at Yale, which exposed the university (and his own alma mater) as a bastion of Left-Liberal dogma. The book examined the academic course materials used and the political bias expressed in classes by individual tutors.

Buckley argued that Yale was undermining student’s faith in Christianity, and promoting economic collectivism. Keynesian and socialist theory were taught as fact, and the opposing arguments were ignored. When teaching vacancies occurred, academics appointed those of the same opinion. To counter this, Buckley urged alumni on the university’s controlling board to exert their influence over academic appointments and enforce a broader curriculum.

The Left’s reaction to the publication of God and Man at Yale was one of outrage. McGeorge Bundy, academic and future National Security Advisor to both JFK and LBJ, called Buckley a “violent, twisted and ignorant young man”, and questioned both the “honesty of his method” and the “measure of his intelligence”. Another academic, Frank Ashburn, even suggested that Buckley should wear KKK rather than graduate robes.

Buckley would later remark of the intellectual elite: “I am obliged to confess that I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

William Buckley had an evangelical zeal to re-launch conservatism as a viable philosophy in America. He believed that a new, younger, broad-based movement needed to be created, uniting traditionalists, libertarians and anti-communists. In 1955, he launched a Conservative fortnightly periodical, the ‘National Review’. In its first editorial, entitled ‘Our Mission Statement’, on 19 November 1955, Buckley wrote:

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who urges it so.”

It is hard to over-estimate the political impact and importance of National Review. Buckley, as Editor-in-Chief from its inception until 1990, brought together contributors from all strands of Conservative opinion. Over time, National Review developed its own blend of conservatism based on the free market, the rule of law and opposition to the spread of Soviet Communism.

Buckley concluded the decade with the publication of the polemic ‘Up from Liberalism’ in 1959. Of all of his works, this slim volume, containing a sharp critique of Liberal prejudices, probably has the greatest resonance today. Over 60 years ago Buckley wrote:

“I think it is fair to conclude that American Liberals are reluctant to co-exist with anyone on the Right…when a conservative speaks up demandingly, he runs the greatest risk of triggering the Liberal mania; and before you know it, the ideologist of open-mindedness and tolerance is hurtling towards you, lance cocked.”

During the 1960’s Buckley worked at a ferocious pace on new projects. In 1960, he formed the conservative youth movement, Young Americans for Freedom. In 1962, Buckley started writing a twice weekly syndicated column entitled ‘On the Right’, which appeared in 320 newspapers across the USA. In 1964, he was one of the principal drivers behind Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination.

In 1965, following the selection of John Lindsay, a bizarrely Left-wing Republican Party candidate supported by the New York Liberal Party, in the contest for the New York Mayoralty, Buckley joined the tiny New York State Conservative Party and stood as their candidate. This would be the only occasion that he would run for public office, and his campaign trail experiences would later be shared in his next book, ‘The Unmaking of the Mayor’.

He started the campaign with a humorous quip that almost backfired. When asked at a press conference what would be the first thing that he would do if elected Mayor, Buckley remarked “demand a recount”.

At that time, the New York electorate were treated by mainstream politicians as members of competing voting blocks. It was common practice to play off one ethnic or religious community against the other. Buckley was the first candidate to reject this approach and to treat voters as individuals:

“I will not go to Irish centres and go dancing. I will not go to Jewish centres and eat blintzes, nor will I go to Italian centres and pretend to speak Italian.”

Buckley stood on a manifesto of unbridled conservatism in a liberal metropolis at the height of the 1960s. He fought for zero tolerance of crime, low taxes, curbs on welfare, workfare for the long-term unemployed and the rehabilitation of drug addicts in residential hospitals.

His opponents at first tried to ignore him, and then attempted to smear him. However, Buckley’s humour shone through, and he finished in a highly respectable third place. The significance of the 1965 campaign is the amount of publicity he garnered for conservative opinions across the country.

A few months later, in 1966, PBS gave him his own weekly TV interview show, ‘Firing Line’. This programme was destined to be broadcast for 33 years, and the guests read like a lexicon of conservatives. Many episodes can now be viewed for free on the internet and British readers may find the interviews with Margaret Thatcher and Enoch Powell of particular interest.

Buckley’s peak of political influence came with the election of his friend, Ronald Reagan, to the Presidency. His final book, ‘The Reagan I Knew’, provides a touching insight into the relationship that he and his wife Pat had with both Ron and Nancy. The couples spent weekends and holidays together, and maintained a humorous written correspondence for over thirty years.

When Reagan became President, Buckley joked that he was not interested in a government appointment apart from as US Ambassador to Afghanistan, then under Soviet occupation and without American representation. Subsequent letters from Reagan to Buckley would always be addressed to “His Excellency”, and addressed to “The Bunker, Kabul”.

William F. Buckley Jnr, journalist, broadcaster, candidate, political organiser and author of over 50 books, died aged 82 in 2008. For over half a century he championed conservatism in the American media, and helped develop the movement’s organisational skills. We could all learn from his legacy

Dean Godson: It’s easier for the right to a left on economics than for the left to move right on culture. That’s a plus for Johnson.

21 Nov

Dean Godson is the Director of Policy Exchange.

“You have limited time, limited capacity, and limited choices. Where does your focus lie?” asks Rachel Wolf on this site last week. Well, the Conservative Party has been walking and chewing gum since Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act — and there is no reason why the “reset” triggered by the departure of Dominic Cummings should change that.

Representing a critical mass of both the prosperous and the “Just About Managing” classes and parts of the country is what all successful political parties do in democracies. Since the Tory party became the party of Brexit and expanded – or maybe one should say rediscovered parts of its working class base – it is certainly true that the heterogenous coalition which it represents has spoken with a somewhat different accent.

Indeed, a case can be made that the part of the political class that ascended to power after December 2019 represents a significant break with all governments since the fall of Margaret Thatcher. The governments of John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May (though less so the latter) tended to put global integration before national sovereignty, the metropolitan before the provincial, higher education before further education, trains and planes before buses, diversity before cohesion, the cognitive classes before the artisanal ones.

Their version of the national interest broadly reflected the priorities of what my colleague David Goodhart, who was interviewed recently by this site, has called the people who see the world from Anywhere. And in his most recent book Head, Hand Heart, he describes a narrowing definition of a successful life, as seen by Anywhere Britain, based around academic success, a university education and entry into high-status professional employment. This is the world of the big cities, the university towns and much of the middle and upper public sector, (and certainly of wide swathes of the senior civil service which were at daggers drawn with Dominic Cummings).

But what of that part of the population that cannot achieve or does not want to achieve this version of success? They still want recognition, and to feel able to contribute to the national story and the Brexit vote provided the opportunity for many of them to say ‘no’ to much of that governing class consensus.

The Vote Leave strand of the Johnson Government sought to represent and appeal to this part of the electorate – summed up in the phrase “Levelling up” – in a way that no government, let alone a Conservative government, has done for decades. That has, unavoidably, created tensions with many powerful interests and beliefs, including inside the Tory Party itself, many of which came to be focused on the pugnacious personality of Dominic Cummings.

A more emollient tone can be struck – but to abandon what was termed “Erdington modernisation” (after Nick Timothy’s Birmingham roots) and return to the necessary but not sufficient Notting Hill modernisation (in which the party made its peace with much of modern liberalism) is now very hard.

This is the case for electoral reasons as much as any other – with both Keir Starmer and Nigel Farage both praying for a return to Cameron-Osborne era Conservatism with its implicit assumption that the common good can be achieved through a kind of trickle-down from the most successful and dynamic parts of our society.

There are other reasons for thinking that it would be foolish to switch back now. Politics for most of the post-war period has been dominated by economics. And, of course, a thriving economy is still a sine qua non for any government. But economics is a means not an end, and the economistic bias of the Anywheres gave us the failed cost-benefit analysis of the Remain campaign.

Today’s much higher profile for the security and identity cultural issues ought to be a boon to the centre-right because, as has been pointed out, it is easier for the right to move a bit to the left on economics (as it certainly has done) than for the left to move right on cultural issues (as Starmer would no doubt like to do, but will find his path blocked).

This does not require an aggressive culture war from the right. The cultural offensive has been coming mainly from the left – as exemplified by the controversies over statues and the decolonisation of museums. The right needs to stand up for common sense, and for the large majority who accept the equalities of modern liberalism but do not want their sensibilities constantly undermined.

Conservatives should be the party of value diversity. Go back to the 1950s and the country was often dominated by a conformist, traditional culture that stunted the lives of many people and often punished those who deviated. Over many decades, much higher levels of choice and freedom for women and minorities of various kinds have been achieved.

Part of the Left now wants to impose a degree of progressive conformity comparable to the traditional conformity of earlier decades. Tolerance and pluralism should be the watchwords in these matters — with a strong bed-rock of rights and anti-discrimination legislation, but also an understanding that rights and values often clash and the ratchet should not only turn in a progressive direction.

That all said, walking and chewing gum is possible, and there is space, post-Cummings, for a new tone and a new stress on policy bridges that seek common ground between Anywhere and Somewhere priorities.

The green industrial revolution is clearly one of those policy areas, and should not be seen as a soft bourgeois indulgence. As the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, it is places like Teesside, Port Talbot and Merseyside that are now centres of green technology and jobs. Ben Houchen, the mayor of Tees Valley, underlined the same point in the introduction to Policy Exchange’s recent report on The Future of the North Sea, and on ConservativeHome earlier this week. Research we will soon be publishing on redesigning the national grid should also generate many good, skilled jobs in areas that are sometimes seen as “left behind”.

The re-set seems more likely to be a milder form of reboot. Without Cummings, some of the urgency will go out of parts of the recent agenda, particularly the machinery of government and data in government focus. But many of the priorities of the new conservatism—Brexit, levelling up, higher spending on the NHS and police, social care, boosting further education, immigration reform, restoring some bustle and pride to Britain’s often unloved towns—are owned by a broad range of the people that matter.

The Red Wall voters are likely to prove more complex beasts than in the Vote Leave or Remain caricatures – and no political strategy can focus too much on just one slice of the population but without producing visible, tangible improvements to the lives of people in places like Stoke and Leigh before the next election the Conservatives will not be returned in 2024.

David Lidington: Why I profoundly disagree with my friend and former colleague, David Gauke

7 Jul

David Lidington was the MP for Aylesbury from 1992 to 2019, and has held a number of roles including Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

Last Thursday, in a piece that was characteristically both thoughtful and thought-provoking, my friend and former Cabinet colleague David Gauke came to a pessimistic conclusion. Choices had been made, he argued, which compelled the Conservative Party to pursue “the war on woke and Rooseveltian economics”. Implicit in his analysis was the suggestion that those whom he termed “small state free marketeers and one nation social liberals” had no future in the party and might have to look elsewhere.

I profoundly disagree. Throughout the 45 years that I’ve been a member and for decades before that the Conservative Party has been a coalition. Economic liberals, defenders of traditional values and institutions, social reformers, blue-green environmentalists: all have found a home. Different leaders of the party, at different times have chosen to emphasise different elements of the broad Conservative tradition.

As Paul Goodman pointed out yesterday, human beings tend not to fit neatly into a single, neat political category. Margaret Thatcher was strongly in favour of opening up broadcasting to greater competition and market discipline. Yet she was also passionate about the need for high standards of decency in what was broadcast – which meant intervention and regulation. I have crossed swords with Iain Duncan Smith many times over Europe, but have also admired his efforts to promote a Conservative approach to social justice.

The present government’s commitment to “level up” the opportunities available to people living in towns and estates that have for years felt left-behind and ignored will need to draw on all strands of Conservative thinking if ambition is to be realised: incentives for free enterprise to create wealth and jobs, and government action, both national and local, to provide modern infrastructure, drive urban regeneration and boost expectations and outcomes in education and training.

For years, Conservatives have fretted about our loss of support in old industrial areas and among people on lower incomes. The fact that we now represent seats in County Durham and South Yorkshire as well as Surrey and Sussex is something to be celebrated: it gives our words about standing for One Nation much greater credibility.

If a successful policy of levelling up (and at the same time improving our chances of holding those seats) means a tilt towards the economic and industrial policies of Macmillan, Heath and Heseltine, it should be seen as a pragmatic response to the needs of the times, certainly meriting debate and argument, including within the Conservative family, not some heretical departure from the one true faith.

Nor do I share David’s pessimistic conclusion that there is an inexorable electoral logic which must compel the party to abandon the ideas, policies and perhaps even the support of liberal Conservatives.

By 2024 the Conservative Party will have been in office for 14 years. The coming economic storm, even if, as we all hope, it is short-lived, will have left many people scarred. The Labour Party will be led by someone who is not Jeremy Corbyn. The temptation to vote “for a change”, to “give the other lot a chance” will be strong. It will be as great a challenge to secure re-election then as it was for John Major in 1992. We shall need every vote from as broad a coalition of support as we can.

Of course we shall want to hang on to traditional Labour supporters who lent us their votes last December, which in turn means that in four years time they need to see that we are at least beginning to deliver results for their families and neighbourhoods.

But that on its own won’t be enough. By 2024 there will be about three million new electors on the register who were too young to vote in 2019. According to YouGov, at last year’s election the tipping point – the age at which someone is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour – was 39.

That is better than 2017, when it was 47, but still leaves no room for complacency. While it is possible that those who were in their teens, twenties and thirties in 2019 will automatically shift into the Conservative column by 2024, we cannot count on it happening.

In any case, we ought to be seriously concerned that so many people in their twenties and thirties – working, paying tax and often holding both professional and family responsibilities – should have preferred Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism to what we had to offer.

To win again in 2024 we shall need to secure support from more younger voters than we did in either of the last two elections and to do that will mean reaching out to people whose values are, in the convenient shorthand, more “socially liberal” than those of their parents and grandparents, and who want to see political parties to take seriously their concerns about issues like the environment.

Next year, the Prime Minister will host a world summit on climate change. The Glasgow conference will be an opportunity for the United Kingdom and its Conservative government both to showcase its own ideas to address the climate emergency and to demonstrate global leadership on the issue.

In recent years, “green” policies have been identified with the liberal wing of the party. David Cameron took a lot of flak early in his leadership for focusing on this agenda.

Again, it’s easy to oversimplify: I’m old enough to have been in the audience at the party conference in 1988 to hear Mrs Thatcher declare that: No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease. This Government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full. The key point is that it will be both right and in our electoral interests to take action on the environment and to be seen to do so.

Another political reality that the party must grapple with is the fact that voters from British people of Caribbean, Asian, African and central European heritage make up a significant proportion of the electorate in a growing number of constituencies.

Yet again, we need to beware of oversimplification. Many of my former constituents from Pakistani, Indian and Polish backgrounds are on the social conservative rather than social liberal end of the spectrum. They are certainly a long way from being “woke”.

But they care passionately about racism – sadly almost always because they and their children have been at the receiving end of abusive or insensitive comments – or worse. They judge politicians in part by how they handle these matters. Community relations and anti-racism are causes that, like the environment, have been championed within the Conservative Party by its liberal wing and, once again, are issues where our electoral interest coincides with what it is right to say and do.

The Conservative Party’s electoral success has rested in large measure on its ability and willingness to adapt to the realities of social and economic change. Far from giving up in despair, liberal, centrist Conservatives should redouble our efforts to influence the party’s thinking about how we can win again in 2024.

Neil O’Brien: The New Puritans want to tear down our liberal settlement. Here’s who they are, what they think – and why they must be resisted.

29 Jun

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Consider recent news.

JK Rowling criticised the expression “people who menstruate,” leading to accusations of “transphobia”, numerous authors quitting her literary agency, and staff at her publisher refusing to work on her new book.

Various controversies have followed the Black Lives Matter protests. Liverpool University will rename a building named after Gladstone.  UKTV deleted an episode of Fawlty Towers making fun of a racist character. The RFU is reviewing the singing of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

These stories illuminate a new division in our politics. It’s not left vs. right, but is uniting conservatives and liberals against something new, which we need to give a name to.

“Woke” is the most common term, and laughing at its excesses is part of the cure. But we also need to take it seriously. Paul Staines calls it “Neo-puritanism”, which captures the absolutist, quasi-religious nature of it – the urge to “police” others behaviour.

Like puritanism, it’s strongest in America, but powerful here.

So what is Neo-puritanism?

First, Neo-puritans want to change the balance between free speech and censoring offensive speech.

The embodiment of liberalism is the slogan: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Neo-puritans feel a duty to “call people out”, often pressing for people to be sacked or shunned.

Don’t debate JK Rowling – “cancel” her. They see debate not as a chance to test and exchange ideas, but as unwelcome, wearying, maybe impossible.

Neo-puritanism has tightened the boundaries of free speech. Like Amber Rudd being “no platformed” by Oxford students. The NUS trying to block Peter Tatchell from speaking. A school dropping plans to name a house after JK Rowling. A DJ sacked (now reinstated) for denying he has “white privilege.” An Oxford professor given security guards after threats from transgender activists. Sheffield University paying students to police “micro-aggressions”. Hundreds of Guardian employees attacking Suzanne Moore’s “transphobia” for writing: “Female is a biological classification.”

Second, Neo-puritans believe in “hard” quotas and targets.

Conservatives and liberals often support increasing numbers of women or ethnic minorities in certain roles. They favour outreach programmes, mentoring, open days, etc.

Neo-puritans want quotas and sex/racially defined scholarships which other groups can’t enter. For example, Reni Eddo-Lodge argues that “when there are no hard targets for programmes of positive discrimination, they will always run the risk of looking like they’re doing something without achieving much at all.”

Examples include Cambridge University’s scholarship scheme (worth £18,000 a year) solely for black British students and Oxford’s  Arlan Hamilton scholarships for Black undergraduates. UCL has scholarships for BME postgraduate students. The Bank of England has scholarships for African Caribbean students.

Third, Neo-puritans (i) think people are defined by their group, (ii) say people have “false consciousness” about our society and (iii) attack the liberal idea that people can be neutral.

A wave of bestselling books by Neo-puritan authors ramp up the importance of group differences Whether we’re talking about “White supremacy”, “White privilege”, or “White Fragility”, it’s not that some people are racist, but society.

For Neo-puritans, not only are people defined by their race, but race is defined by behaviour in an almost mystical way. The founder of “decolonise the curriculum,” Pran Patel, said: “Priti Patel is the perfect example of whiteness inhabiting a different coloured vessel”.

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge academic, tweeted: “White lives don’t matter. As white lives” and “Abolish whiteness.” This isn’t just divisive and unhelpful. The concept of “whiteness” – that there are certain ways of behaving that are “white” – is intrinsically racist.

This explains why Neo-puritans think it’s OK to attack Conservative MPs from ethnic minorities as “coconuts” or “bounty bars” Robin DiAngelo argues there is deep false consciousness in our society: “Our racial socializatition sets us up to repeat racist behaviour regardless of our intentions.”

Neo-puritans see the “colour-blind” ideals of liberals as part of this false consciousness.

Reni Eddo-Lodge argues: “Colour-blindness is used to silence talk about structural racism while we continue to fool ourselves with the lie of meritocracy.”

A headteacher in Sheffield agrees, writing to parents: “Our society is built upon white supremacy… the world’s systems and structures are built on this bias, and this therefore creates White Privilege.”

Finally, Neo-puritans have a particular take on history, with the emphasis on criticism.

The self-styled “leader” of the BLM protests says Churchill’s statue is offensive and should be taken down.  A university lecturer argues: “Churchill must fall”, because he was an “imperialist racist,” “hated” by the working class. Maya Goodfellow argues: “The way Churchill is remembered in the UK has always been tied up with ideas of white superiority.”

Nor is it just Churchill.

Take the student union leader who vowed to paint over a First World War memorial: “Mark my words – we’re taking down the mural of white men in the uni Senate room, even if I have to paint over it myself.”

Or the Oxford lecturer who hopes Oxford researchers don’t invent a coronavirus vaccine first because: “it will be used as it has been in the past, to fulfil its political, patriotic function as proof of British excellence.”

So what’s the problem with Neo-puritanism?

First, I worry hard quotas lead to resentment; undermine those who succeed (am I only here because of my race or gender?); and lead to unfair, arbitrary decisions: can a scholarship for black students be awarded to a mixed-race person?

Second, there’s an abuse of language here. Apartheid South Africa and the Confederacy were states with an ideology of “White Supremacy”. Britain isn’t.

Third, relentless emphasis on group membership plus tighter boundaries on speech will lead to a society not at ease with itself. Instead of the colour-blind world liberals hope for, we’ll end up in a world walking on eggshells, where more and more we’ll see each other primarily as members of groups.

Fourth, I worry about the counter-productive effects of this conversation. If the “core function” of the police is racism, why should anyone non-white join up?

A 13 year old boy recently pleaded guilty to kicking a police officer on the head as he lay on the ground because of protests he’d seen on TV. Ideas have consequences.

If you claim our society is built on “white supremacy”, this will be heard by some people with fragile mental health. I know of a case of a young person who feels oppressed by all around her, seeing offers of friendship and help from white people as disguised attempts to hurt her.

Compared to a world in which you tell kids – ‘you’re all just the same, you just have different coloured skin’ it makes it more difficult to have natural relationships, and friendships without hangups.

Overemphasis of group differences is disempowering. Katharine Birbalsingh, head of one of the country’s top performing state schools says it: “undermines much of the work we do at school in trying to empower our children to take personal responsibility and grab life by the horns.”

Finally, healthy countries need a balance of self-criticism and self-confidence. Self-loathing is unattractive, but might also have bad practical consequences. People are often called on to do things for the greater good of the nation, from paying tax to fighting for their country.  If Britain is basically shameful, why bother?

Neo-puritans sometimes highlight important problems. But though there is more to do, the big picture is one of progress. Sexism is down, racist attitudes are declining and ethnic minorities are steadily getting better off. Neo-puritanism won’t accelerate that, but instead risk a whole set of new divisions.