The Folly of Youth

It was the grand old Fabian, George Bernard Shaw, who opined that ‘youth is wasted on the young”, and every so often one comes across evidence to support just such a contention, as in the case of this “strategy for taking on the Tory leader” posted on the blog of Compass Youth.

There are times when the aphorism that one must sometimes by cruel to kind is not merely justified but an absolute necessity, so lets get the cruetly out of the way first by deliberately picking on the title of the piece.

Cameron’s open goal: A strategy for taking on the Tory leader By Daniel Elton of Compass Youth

…aged 13 3/4.

Quick presentational tip here, Daniel. If you want to be taken seriously (and I assume you do) then try not to present the title of your article in way that make it look like a piece of GCSE coursework. Trust me, here, it doesn’t help.

Okay, now on with the essay, errm… strategy.

David Cameron is the first Tory leader in living memory that could be described as trendy. He is reaching fashionable urban intellectuals, a key part of the Blairite coalition, and Labour are rattled.

Now hang on a second, Daniel.

For starter’s ‘trendy’ is a quality that’s very much in the eye of the beholder. Okay, so you do go on to qualify that statement by noting that the ‘trendy’ group he’s reaching are ‘fashionable urban intellectuals’, i.e. what pretty much everyone living in the real world outside London and the Home Counties would refer to as ‘a bunch of effete twats’.

That aside, yes, I would agree that Cameron is noticably chasing the same bunch of muesli-eating, open-toed sandals and Chelsea tractor liberals that Blair went after during the late 1990’s. i.e. he’s playing New Labour at their own game, which is really the observation you should be making.

As a footnote, ‘in living memory’ is a tad problematic as well as this, conceptually speaking, rather depends on how old your audience is. Sir Anthony Eden, for example, was considered to be extremely fashionable in his time in much the same upper-middle class circles that Cameron is now appealing to and would certainly be thought to be within the living memory of many older members of ourt present society.

But he is ignoring another crucial part of the New Labour coalition – low-paid white collar workers and skilled workers, or C1/C2 voters. It was these voters, especially southern ones, who helped make Labour electable again by switching from the Tories in the 90s.

Ah, yes. The return of Basildon man.

By wooing the urban elites, Cameron is leaving a vacuum on the rhetorical and policy stages. Labour has the opportunity to construct a rhetoric that unites the urban elites and C1/C2 voters and justifies policies true to the party’s heritage. But to understand what that rhetoric is and what those policies are, Cameron’s strategy has to be explained.

Labour has the opportunity to construct a rhetoric that unites the urban elites and C1/C2 voters and justifies policies true to the party’s heritage???

Tip number two, Daniel.

Find yourself a copy of Orwell’s essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’ – to make life easy, check the sidebar here.

Read it. Read it again. Digest what it has to say. Read it again.

Now try to apply what Orwell has to say to your own writing.

I’m not about to bore everyone with Daniel’s analysis of Cameron’s ‘strategy’ to woo the Islington set, suffice to say if you can recall the the approach that Blair took in builiding the ‘New Labour coalition’ between 1994 and 1997 then you immediate reaction will be the same as mine: same shit, different party.

What Daniel’s analysis misses, as does most of the assessments of Cameron emanating from Labour think-tanks (and bloggers) is that there might be just that bit more to Cameron than meets the eye, and certainly more than simply stealing Blair’s clothes.

Michael White, writing in today’s Guardian seems to get it:

When a promising young Tory MP urges his party to discard the social policy thinking of Sir Winston Churchill in favour of Polly Toynbee’s it may be time to concentrate…

…The real culprits, who rejected the One Nation Tory orthodoxy of 50 years, were Margaret Thatcher and acolytes like John Moore, who famously declared in 1989 that absolute poverty was over in Britain.

Daniel, one suspect, has the excuse of youth for failing to recognise the critical subtext to Cameron’s reform of the Tory’s policies and, at least in terms of opinion polls. He is simply too young to remember how the Tories operated in the pre-Thatcher era and has, therefore, no real benchmarks against which to assess Cameron.

There is, in this, the serious risk that we underestimate Cameron, not because we fail understand what Cameroon is doing but because we fail to place Margaret Thatcher into her proper context as a Tory leader.

Conservatism, in its traditional sense, is a doctrine of pragmatism and, unlike liberalism or socialism, distinctly unideological in character.

It was long said of the Tories that they considered themselves to be the natural party of government. And, indeed they did. However, this belief was rooted not in any presumption of ideological superiority over other political parties but simply in the belief that this was the ‘natural order of things’. Tories govern, in their own minds, because that is the role to which they are best suited and which they naturally occupy within the prevailing social heirarchy of British society.

Thatcher was not, in philosophical terms, a conservative. She was a radical, albeit one of the political right rather than the political left. Moreover, she and others amongst her supporters and acolytes, notably Keith Joseph, introduced into the Tory party something that it had never really had before; ideology. In terms of her impact on (and legacy to) the Tory Party, that was her reall innovation; one might almost say that she ‘infected’ the Tory Party with ideology and that the parties travails in the post-Thatcher era stem largely from its stuggle to shake off this infection.

Before Thatcher, Tories did not believe in changing society, merely in maintaining social order and does whatever was needed to keep society ticking over nicely, which is why, following the Attlee government of 1945-51, successive Tory leaders from Churchill through Eden and MacMillan to Heath did almost nothing to challenge or overturn the main social changes wrought by that first post-war government. The Tories more or less bought into the welfare state, even though Churchill raided the newly created National Insurance system to pay for his programme of road-building and, therefore, both undermined one of the key planks of the Beveridge report and laid the seeds for today’s impending pension ‘crisis’. They bought into Keynesian economics, accepted the nationalisation of key industries and the creation of the National Health Service, not because they necessarily believed in any of these things or had any great ideological attachment to them but because, at the time, they worked and worked well enough not to make change a necessity.

This is simple pragmatism, the doctrine of ‘if it ain’t bust, don’t fix it’.

This is what Michael White recognises in identifying Thatcher as one of the ‘culprits’ who rejected ‘One Nation Tory orthodoxy’ and the fact that he refers to Thatcher in those terms in article that deals with Cameron’s potential reforms of Tory social policy suggests that he is beginning to that there may be a little more to what Cameron is doing than simply emulating the tactics of New Labour that swept Blair to power; that, in actuality, his underlying agenda may well be to ‘cleanse’ the Tory Party of the ideological afflictions visited on it by Thatcher and restore to the party its traditional pragmatism.

Cameron may well represent not a ‘New Toryism’ to parallel ‘New Labour’ but simply a reversion by the Tory Party to type – and in one sense, Cameron, as an Old Etonian scion of the aristocracy, is already just such a reversion.

To be fair, Daniel does (sort of) flirt with an understanding of this possibility in noting:

Up until the 1970s around three-quarters of the middle-class voted Tory and many did so out of a sense of respectability.

Although there is rather more to it than that, and efforts to analyse how the Tories (allegedly) ‘lost’ Professionals does suffer from two rather more fundmantal flaws.

First, it appears to disregard entirely the effects of Thatcherism and of ideology individualism during the 1980’s, which he seems to think was little more than an anti-60’s backlash – presumably what we used to call ‘Yuppies’ were either a figment of my (and everyone elses) imagination or else they disappeared in around 1991/2 having reached a state of social nirvana arising out the discovery of muesli and open-toed sandals.

Second, the entire passage is completely and utterly patronising in its tone, as in:

Up until the 1970s around three-quarters of the middle-class voted Tory and many did so out of a sense of respectability.

They [the middle classes] went to church once a week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, followed Cricket and Rugby Union rather than Football and Rugby League, and watched the BBC rather than ITV. For these people, voting Conservative was just another facet of a respectable life. 

And…

This line [‘Back to Basics’, ‘Victorian Values, etc.] had served the Tories well in the 80s, when an anti-60s backlash was in full flow. But it was not ideal once a segment of society that worshipped youth and had dabbled in free love came into its prime. 

So there you have it – the key to building a liberal, tolerant and humane society is a bit of guilt-free shagging.

Little wonder that Don Paskini calls the article ‘Spectacularly bad‘.

‘The Don’ raises a number of pertinant points, none more so than his observation that ‘the individual policies suggested are ones which would not work very well’.

Quite right too. In fact, to offer Daniel another little tip, if you’re going to attach figures, and especially sums of money, to policies, then its usually a good idea to do ‘the numbers’ first an not simply pull figures out of your arse.

A British Universal Inheritance, of lets say £10,000 paid out to each citizen at the age of 21, to start them off in life, could be funded by inheritance tax. The age, figure and whether spending should be restricted to housing, education, entrepreneurship etc, could be debated. The important point would be that citizens would take responsibility for their lives. Rather than some children being given a head start because of mummy or daddy, or Cameron’s paternalistic welfarism.

If introduced today (well starting from next April to keep with the tax year) a ‘British Universal Inheritance’ of £10,000 would cost something of the order of £8 billion, and, in fact, if one has a bit of play with the projections on the ‘population pyramid‘ provided by thr National Statistic Office then the number of people becoming eligible for this payment would generally bottom out at around 700,000 a year, give or take the number of (presumably) ineligible migrants in that figure, so we can safely assume a minimum cost for this policy of around £6.5 billion a year – but only if this payment remains static and does not increase in line with either inflation or earnings.

The Treasury’s current ‘take’ from Inheritance Tax is around £2.5 billion a year.

One doesn’t need to be an economist to figure out where to problem with this suggested policy lies.

I don’t wish to be too harsh on Daniel, not least because a dare say that some of the ideas that I (and most of us) probably harboured at his age would seem equally daft when looked at with the benefit of experience and, of course, one of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes and learning from them.

What I would, perhaps, suggest though is that, for time being he might consider being a little more circumspect in his aspirations and try tackling something a little less ambitious than ‘a strategy for taking on’ David Cameron – maybe take one of the specific policy ideas he suggests and work it up in a bit more detail and see how it goes.

4 thoughts on “The Folly of Youth

  1. Thank you. I only read up to the bit just past Orwell (will read rest after work, lunch has ended for me), but I read Daniel’s piece this morning and was shocked by its intellectual/political paucity.

    My own blog is hardly a paradigm of political discourse, that I shall accept. but then, it was never intended to be.

  2. Being cruel to be kind, the paragraph in which you criticise his spelling contains not fewer than three typographical innovations.

    I agree with the rest. I doubt yer classic muesli liberals ever voted Tory in any numbers – it’s the next socioeconomic notch down, the ones who aspire to be like them, they are fighting over.

  3. Even so, you managed to “by cruel to kind” and commit “cruetly” – or did you mean “like or pertaining to a saltcellar”? – in a paragraph devoted to mocking his presentation.

    It’s traditional that, when you criticise someone for this, you make a howler yourself. So I’ll do one heer.

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