Social conservatism? Look to Labour, not the Tories
Published in: Daily Mail
Maybe if the Prime Minister raised his eyes for a moment from playing Fruit Ninja on his iPad, and also paused from adoring at the shrine of the Blessed Barack, he should look behind him and worry.
Ed Miliband has been an object of scorn and derision for Conservatives from the moment he was elected leader of the Labour Party.
Recently, he appointed Jon Cruddas, described by Tories as a Left-wing union stooge, to take charge of the party’s policy review and thus be responsible for setting Labour’s course for the next general election.
At the same time, we read that Tony Blair hopes to make a come-back into British political life. Some may be tempted to greet this particular news as the political equivalent of the Return Of The Mummy.
Coupled with Cruddas’s appointment, it may lead them to conclude that the Labour Party is now lurching ever deeper into la-la-land and political irrelevance.
They could not be more wrong.
The appointment of Cruddas is an inspired move. Writing him off as a Left-winger is to miss the point by a mile.
For Cruddas possesses one very important insight which has so far quite eluded David Cameron and his band of muddled modernisers.
Cruddas realises that if socialism is to have any appeal, it must adopt a platform of social conservatism.
Some may be confused by this. How can socialism be conservative?
Very simply: by connecting to people’s experience of how the world actually is, rather than trying to reshape that world into some pre-ordained idea of how it should be.
Unlike so many on the Left, Mr Cruddas does not shudder at the purportedly knuckle-dragging views of ordinary people.
On the contrary, he respects their attachment to nation, family, community, tradition — all the things, in fact, that the Left has been busily tearing to shreds.
While others demonise the white working class as racists if they complain that immigrants are taking their jobs, Mr Cruddas sympathises with their situation and their anguish at the break-up of traditional communities.
Criticising his own party’s indifference to these matters, he has called for tougher immigration controls.
In similar vein, he strongly sympathises with public anger over the denial of a democratic voice on ever-deeper European union. As a result, he champions a referendum on whether or not Britain should stay in the EU at all.
With public fury over the EU growing exponentially by the day, if Labour calls for such an in/out referendum this will badly wrongfoot the Prime Minister.
As it happens, not that long ago opposition to EU membership was a core position of the British left, not the right.
And when at the beginning of the 20th century the Labour Party famously ‘owed more to Methodism than Marx’, its hallmark was social conservatism — something that Cruddas, who teaches Labour history at Oxford, understands better than most.
The idealism of the Left was based then on the belief that strong families and deep attachments to community and nation were essential for a decent society, and to improve the life-chances of ordinary people.
You don’t have to endorse Cruddas’s union links to realise the importance of a society with deep roots, in which people believe in something beyond their own wants and needs.
And that’s where the return of Blair is potentially so very significant. For just like Cruddas, Blair’s great insight was that to win power he had to promote such socially conservative values.
The soundbite that gave him the party leadership, ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ conveyed the fact that he understood — just like Cruddas — that many were living in a state of siege from crime and disorder, and that he identified with the desperate desire for order and security.
Similarly, once he became leader he pronounced that he would stop the plunge in education standards and also end ‘something for nothing’ welfare dependency.
Of course, once in office things didn’t work out like that. Education and welfare reforms ran into the sand. And far from conserving and protecting what people cherished about their society, Blair set about reshaping it in order to create a utopia of the brotherhood of man.
Hence his insistence that all family lifestyles — married, one-parent, gay — were equally desirable. Hence also his promotion of the oppressive PC agenda of self-proclaimed ‘victim’ groups and hate crime laws, in the apparent belief that prejudice could be eradicated from the human heart.
And hence also his Eurofanaticism and promotion of multiculturalism and universal human rights, in the belief that eroding national and cultural barriers would end strife, prejudice and war.
Dazzled by Blair’s triple election victories, however, David Cameron arrived at precisely the wrong conclusion.
He based his entire modernising programme on the premise that Blair had triumphed because he went with the grain of social change: lifestyle choice, equality and ‘Cool Britannia’.
But this was not so. Blair had won by appealing to socially conservative views — and then, when voter disillusion set in, benefiting from the fact that the Tories had plumped for leaders who were unelectable.
The irony now is that Blair’s social conservatism agenda is being adopted not by the Tories but by Jon Cruddas — who believes that Labour has to pick up the baton that Blair let drop.
It is surely no coincidence that Blair and Lord Mandelson are now shoring up their old ideological opponent, Cruddas’s patron Ed Miliband. Indeed, it would come as no surprise to learn that the appointment of Jon Cruddas sprang from their own advice.
When Miliband was elected leader, he said something to which too little attention was paid. This was his acknowledgement of the ‘squeezed middle’ — an early sign that this Left-winger recognised the electoral opportunity presented by middle-class anger.
The outcome was ‘Blue Labour’, an agenda based on love of community and nation promoted by the political philosopher Lord Glasman — and Jon Cruddas.
Glasman came to grief when he suggested that Labour should start a dialogue with the English Defence League — which caused as much shock as if he had suggested awarding the devil himself lifetime party membership.
The principles on which ‘Blue Labour’ was based, however, remained sound. Now Cruddas has been put into a position from where he can reshape the party around them. This leaves David Cameron dangerously exposed.
For Cruddas speaks to some of the deepest and most emotional feelings in the British psyche — love of country, a patriotism that has been denounced by the Left as bigotry, and a passionate attachment to cultural traditions that are being tossed aside.
But just look at how the Chancellor George Osborne responded, after Cruddas suggested that his aim was to rediscover a sense of national values by asking ‘what is England?’, Osborne sneered: ‘Perhaps when they find out what is England, they will let us all have the answer.’
So, presented with the patriotic yearning of the people, Osborne could only respond with arrogant disdain. And then the Cameroons wonder why people think they are out of touch.
The genius of Tony Blair — and it was political genius — was to understand that elections can only be won on the true centre ground, which means respecting the innate social conservatism of the public.
And so now Cameron faces the prospect of a Labour opposition that is more Right-wing than he is — and which may come to power as a result.
‘I am the heir to Blair,’ Cameron famously said. In his dreams. He never even understood what that meant.