The present Conservative government is almost Maoist

18th November, 2012 6:06 pm

Tags:

It is a commonplace that political ideas should be interpreted in terms of their location in political space – how far they are to the left or right, their distance from the centre and so on. But such ideological map-making labours under a misapprehension. Political ideologies are best understood not by their location in space but by their relationship with time. For instance, it is tempting to ‘explain’ current Conservative government policy by establishing just how right-wing it is. But the key to the Coalition is in fact its attitude towards the future.

Traditional Conservatism was wary of the future, thinking it the business of divine providence and no concern of government. That was a long time ago. Contemporary Conservatives are self-consciously a ‘vanguard’ movement. Convinced that they have glimpsed the future and what it must be they are committed to doing everything they can to force it into being. Thatcherism aggressively used state power to eradicate communities and interests that stood in the way of neo-liberal utopia. The present Conservative government is almost Maoist. In thrall to an abstract and ideological vision of ‘the post-bureaucratic age’ it wants, as David Cameron has put it, to ‘use the state to remake society’.

In a remarkable recent speech Michael Gove bluntly rejected Conservative ideology, passionately embraced neo-Blairite globalisation and outlined a distinct vision of a future world led by networked entrepreneurs united by their shared commitment to endless ‘innovation’ and ‘openness’. Gove’s utopia is like a never-ending TeD talk, in which heroes straight out of an Ayn Rand novel permanently blow each other’s minds with their ‘radical’ new ways of seeing the world and their daringly original ‘solutions’.

Gove is a thoughtful man and chooses his words very deliberately. He doesn’t talk about autonomy, the freedom to govern ourselves as we choose, but specifically about the freedom to innovate. And when he talks about openness he doesn’t mean being warm-hearted and welcoming of the plurality of ways people live in the present and face their futures. What he means is the removal of barriers to the transfer of common property into the hands of ‘innovative’ and ‘open’ people like him. “Open-ness” in education, health and welfare is about removing legal and practical obstacles to their transfer from the many to the few – reducing or removing employment rights and abolishing pension obligations for instance. “Reforms” in these domains have not involved a transfer of power to regions or localities, or new collaborations between people who work for, use and own our common goods. They have involved a transfer of control and funding to A4E, G4S and Apollo Global.

This is not only bad ideology. It is bad government. When gripped by a vision of the future political movements can no longer see the past that brought us here or the present within which we must act. Determined that the world be remade as they imagine it such movements lose all feel for the subtle variety of humanity. They blithely impose generic prescriptions without stopping to find out the true nature of the problem. Their acts are blunt and blundering. Ill-adapted to the world they end up in omnishambles.

These mistakes are not made only by Conservatives. They were a part of new Labour too. And it is this which “one-nation Labour” must put behind it. That requires, firstly, a better understanding of the varied cultures and traditions that make up the United Kingdom. This has nothing to do with nostalgia. Our country is made up of many different histories some of which overlap and some of which contradict. Ynys Môn, Accrington and Aberdeen certainly do share a common past. Some of it they share with other parts of the world. Some things they do not share at all. The history of Scottish men and Cornish women, Welsh miners and Cumbrian farmers, Manchester Catholics and Leicester Muslims is not made from a single thread. Good politics and good government recognise and appreciate the texture of our common life and do not imagine it can be flattened out.

Secondly, it must look to the future with a clear eye rather than a crystal ball. There are some things ahead that we can see very well: fundamental challenges in the provision of food and fuel for all; an aging population in need of care and support; further changes in the nature of work that, if not addressed, will leave too many out of a job. The solutions to these will not come from a new app on an iPhone. It will require government action and regulation. But as these are problems of collective action their solution will also require individuals and communities to participate, to work out what they can do (and thus to have power to do it).

Thirdly, one-nation Labour has to live in the present. In his conference speech Ed Miliband said his goal was not to ‘reinvent the world of Disraeli or Attlee’ but, to find a ‘shared destiny, a sense of shared endeavour and a common life that we lead together’. That cannot be wished into being. There is great anxiety, suspicion and fear in the country and these do not breed fellow feeling. The Labour Party, at its grassroots, has a job to do here. A shared destiny is not one that a political party delivers to a people. It is something a party plays a role in forging alongside others in its communities (and sometimes alongside other parties). That starts with opposition to the common ruin forced upon us by the Coalition. It ends with a politics which takes strength from its past, to act in the present, remaining open to the varied futures we will build for ourselves and with each other.

Alan Finlayson is Professor of Political and Social Theory at the University of East Anglia where he researches political ideologies, rhetoric and the theory of democracy

This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList

  • Alexwilliamz

    excellent

  • TomFairfax

    V.Good. Hopefully a few more people will imitate thiis style. Clear, concise and not a selection of cliches strung together semi randomly.
    I hope at least Ed’s speech writers read this.

  • http://twitter.com/Bickerrecord Paul Cotterill

    This is a good piece, though the headline does not reflect the main content, or the main point, which is about the political practice Labour should develop.
    But on the ‘Maoist’ point, why do you not suggest that Gove’s drive for an authoritarian, ‘modern’ state in which public interests are subjugated to the private operating to his diktat (corporatism), ‘nearly Fascist’ instead?

  • Dave Postles

    So, Gove has overspent by £1bn on academies so is cutting back support for other schools. Isn’t that ultra vires?

Latest

  • Featured News Deputy leader CLP nominations and how they compare to 2007

    Deputy leader CLP nominations and how they compare to 2007

    On Friday the deadline for Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) up and down the country to nominate their chosen candidate in the leadership race closed. Yesterday we published a full table of how CLPs nominated this time round in comparison to 2010. But what about the deputy leadership contest? The CLP results for this year are as follows (we have a full list of how each CLP nominated at the bottom of this page): Ben Bradshaw 20, Stella Creasy 77, Angela […]

    Read more →
  • News Alan Johnson endorses Yvette Cooper for leader and says Jeremy Corbyn isn’t right for the job

    Alan Johnson endorses Yvette Cooper for leader and says Jeremy Corbyn isn’t right for the job

    Update: According to Yvette Cooper’s campaign team, Johnson will be joining her on the campaign trail next week. Alan Johnson has called on Labour to elect Yvette Cooper as Labour leader and said that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t right for the job. In an article for the Guardian the former Home Secretary has said Cooper has “the intellect, the experience and the inner-steel” to be a successful leader.  The newly-appointed head of Labour’s pro EU campaign also writes that she would unite the party to […]

    Read more →
  • News LGBT activist Michael Cashman endorses Sadiq Khan’s London Mayor bid

    LGBT activist Michael Cashman endorses Sadiq Khan’s London Mayor bid

    LGBT activist Michael Cashman has endorsed Sadiq Khan’s bid to be London Mayor. Khan is one of six peopled standing to be Labour’s candidate for the mayoral position. Cashman, founder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity Stonewall, has announced he will be supporting Khan in his effort to become the Labour candidate for this role. Cashman is also a Labour peer. Last year Ed Miliband appointed him to be Labour’s  special envoy on LGBT issues worldwide. He declared […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured If Labour can’t get past our political and emotional dissonance, we deserve to be out of power

    If Labour can’t get past our political and emotional dissonance, we deserve to be out of power

    The Labour party is immersed in a massive debate in how it all went wrong in May 2015 – all to a backdrop of an internal leadership contest that, to be honest, is somewhat wanting. Part of the problem is the lack of voices from the frontline including candidates, activists and volunteers as well as a geographical imbalance of voices dominated by those in or around London. This has led me and Professor Andrew Russell to work together on post-election […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour say RBS sell off could cost “as much as £1 billion” to the taxpayer

    Labour say RBS sell off could cost “as much as £1 billion” to the taxpayer

    Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie has slammed George Osborne today over the sale of shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland, which he claims will cost the taxpayer “as much as £1 billion”. He also claims that the two criteria the Tories as a prerequisite for selling the bank have not been met. Leslie said: “Labour has always supported the eventual return of RBS to the private sector but taxpayers who bailed out the bank will want their money back and […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit