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Which Lost Tribe of Politics Shall Inherit?

A recent analysis of “The Lost Tribes of British Politics” at the ConservativeHome website [1] (specifically, its Deep End blog) applies quite well to U.S. scene, too. The Deep End looked at ten philosophical factions vying for influence and rated them on a scale of zero (lowest) to five (highest) for their “intellectual inheritance,” “past glories,” “online presence,” and “future prospects.” As the first post, looking at Christian Democrats and Tory “wets,” [2] explained:

In the age of the internet, you don’t need to have a political party behind you to have a voice. With an effective communications strategy and something to say, just about any school of political thought can take part in the battle of ideas. Furthermore, we shouldn’t take the existing party system for granted. Smaller parties now have the potential to breakthrough; while, in the major parties, factions that ran the show in one decade can be heading for extinction in the next.

Tory wets are analogous to the moderate Republicans of old—with a similar philosophy and once dominant within their party but now virtually annihilated. (Or at least disguised as something else.) Christian democratic parties of the sort found in Germany and Scandinavia, on the other hand, have never taken root in the U.S. or UK at all. So the first two tribes strike out.

The next two, the Blairites and the liberal interventionists [3], may seem like counterparts to the Obama administration, but not quite. Whatever their affinities with the present occupant of the White House, these tribes are indelibly branded with responsibility for the Iraq War and Great Recession, traumas that occurred under a center-left government in Britain. Take the worst parts of Bush and Obama, and that’s a reasonable proxy for Blair. The liberal interventionists in question, meanwhile, are “self-respecting lefties like Nick Cohen, Martin Bright and Oliver Kamm [who] now serve out lonely exiles on rightwing publications”—basically, left-wing neocons. These camps rate a 2 and a 1, respectively, for their future prospects.

So do the Labour left and the palaeo-socialists [2]. The former scores a 2 for its prospects despite getting a boost from the Occupy movement, while “the premier palaeo-socialist blog is that of Neil Clark—sworn enemy of the liberal interventionists” (and a TAC contributor [4]). The situation in the U.S. is parallel: American leftists, as opposed to partisan Democrats, aren’t all that happy with the Obama administration and the likes of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi; they miss Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold. Some of the more staunchly antiwar ones prefer Ron Paul to Democrats’ leadership. So, yes, in America too their scores should be about a 2 or 1.

Next are the high liberals and the libertarians [5], variations on the same classical-liberal theme. The former are represented by The Economist and the Financial Times—over here they’re the Wall Street Journal kind of Republican, or at least the upper reaches of that demographic. As the Deep End says:

What the high liberals would really like is a Conservative Party without any conservatives in it—a sort of German-style Free Democrat Party, only bigger. No doubt, some of you might think that’s exactly what the Cameroons are giving them. But you’d be wrong. To a high liberal, euroscepticism of any kind is infra dig—as is anything that smacks of faith, flag and family.


The high liberals have tremendous media pull but not much presence at the local polling station. The libertarians have even fewer braves and not as many chiefs, in the UK that is. There’s nothing there like Ron Paul or Rand Paul or the Tea Party or liberty movement.

change_me

The last two tribes are the most interesting: the “palaeo-cons” and the Red Tories/Blue Labour [6]. (The rundown doesn’t include neocons because they’re not a lost tribe, “not when sympathisers like Michael Gove and George Osborne are to be found” in David Cameron’s cabinet.) Britain’s palaeos include TAC contributors Peter Hitchens [7] and Theodore Dalrymple [8], and they have a lustrous intellectual pedigree. They are “characteristically pessimistic—or realistic, as they would say. Still, no one likes a bearer of bad news, which is why fully-fledged palaeo-cons have so little influence on the political process.” So their prospects score 1 out of 5.

The outsiders with the best chance of breaking in—getting 5 out of 5 for their chances—are Blue Labour and the Red Tories, the projects of Maurice Glasman [9] and Phillip Blond [10], though “this is much bigger than either of them.” What makes these color-coded philosophies so promising?

Their common strength is a willingness to address the failings of the state and the market at the same time—and to do so in a rather more positive and progressive fashion than the palaeo-conservatives seem willing to countenance.

Furthermore, they avoid the pitfalls of other centrist ideologies. Thus, unlike europhiles, there’s no fixation with Brussels; unlike the metropolitan elite there’s no disdain for tradition; and unlike New Labour the aim is combine the best that the public and private sectors have to offer, not the worst.

There’s a thirst for politics like this in America, but no one yet has even begun to satisfy it. Perhaps surprisingly, several libertarian-minded Republicans have lately been making a play for this tantalizing new territory. Tea Party favorite Sen. Mike Lee gave a community-themed talk [11] at Heritage last month, and Sen. Rand Paul has been known to refer to himself as a “crunchy con [12].” From the high liberal rather than populist libertarian side, Jon Huntsman has taken aim at crony capitalism [13] in his recent speeches. Does this suggest that an American “Red Tory” movement will be semi-libertarian—libertarian but more anti-corporatist than anti-government? There’s something to think about here.

Update: Yesterday was a very good day for UKIP, the UK Independence Party, in local elections around Britain [14]. Conservative Home didn’t include UKIP in its lost tribes analysis on categorical grounds: “We’re also leaving out those ideologies associated with smaller, but significant, parties like UKIP (rightwing populism), the Greens (leftwing environmentalism) and the SNP (Scottish nationalism).” But at the rate they’re going, UKIP won’t be a minor party for long—or will they? More on that soon. For now, suffice to say the lost tribes are the contenders for more established parties.

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#1 Comment By David Naas On May 1, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

While it may be strange for anyone who self-identifies as conservative to suggest, the present mess in which we are frozen (i.e. the status quo), needs a bit of shaking up. The lines have become hardened, the positions rigid and non-compromising, the (shudder) “ideology” become absurd.
Perhaps Our politically homeless and disgruntled should get with Their politically homeless and disgruntled, and see what emerges.
Can’t be worse than what we’ve got dominating affairs now.

#2 Comment By K H Acton On May 1, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

It seems to me that the crunchy-con should be more libertarian federally and communitarian stateside.

#3 Comment By sal magundi On May 1, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

“American leftists, as opposed to partisan Democrats, aren’t all that happy with the Obama administration”

correction: american leftists revile the obama administration

#4 Comment By Michael N Moore On May 1, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

The Red Tories are definitely onto something. I recall a TAC article of a few months ago about them. There are some things in the modern world that you cannot ignore:

The collapse of time-tested personal value systems is a disaster. – Thank you T.S. Elliott

Government tends to be aimless and unproductive. –Thank you Frederich Hayek

Capitalism is still ruled by the inherent contradiction that the more productive it becomes (cheaper labor), the fewer people there are that can buy its products (lower incomes).
– Thank you Karl Marx.

Government can affect the above problem with policies that increase purchasing power. -Thank you J.M. Keynes

Keynesian schemes may further the imperial and militarist elements of the society. –Thank you C. Wright Mills

#5 Comment By Myron Hudson On May 1, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

Great article and thought-provoking. I’m in agreement with Mr. Nass above. Our two parties and their partisans have become polarized and rigid. They reflexively don’t want what the other wants, even if it is something that the “other side” has crossed over on; it becomes necessary for those holding the position first to adopt the contrary.

I believe that while we do not have a coalition government, we do have a coalition populace. We have the partisans on both sides, neither of whom represent even 50% of the population. We have those in the middle – the swing voters of which I am one – who find that neither side represents them and tends to vote against whichever side most recently overreached, or seems most likely to overreach worse than the other side.

Although those running for election do what they can to attract the middle, once they are elected they ‘forget’ that they were elected by a combination of voter blocks, claim a mandate and forge ahead with the agenda of their choice. Possibly because they are complete idiots. Or, because we were idiots for electing them in the first place.

So far, folks like libertarians are co-opted and used but not served. This needs shaking up, and breaking up.

#6 Comment By JB On May 1, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

Myron, you’re right that libertarians are being used but not served. This will only change when we vote in large numbers for the Libertarian Party and stop being “Charlie Brown” to the GOP’s “Lucy”: “oh THIS time the Republicans are really going to cut spending and restore liberty” 😉

Gary Johnson for President 2016.

#7 Comment By JonF On May 1, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

The Tea Party is not remotely libertarian. Oh, they use libertarian language when it suits them, but they are all too willing to use Big Government for their own purposes. And don’t forget “Keep the governmnent’s hands off my Meducare”:.

#8 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On May 1, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

Given that the “thirst for politics” you mention is for a more socially-conservative, economically-populist (in other words, pre-60s, “Reagan Democrat”) tendency, I don’t see why libertarians would want to go anywhere near it.

#9 Comment By Ed On May 1, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

“Does this suggest that an American “Red Tory” movement will be semi-libertarian—libertarian but more anti-corporatist than anti-government? There’s something to think about here.”

“Red Toryism” isn’t libertarian. Or even “semi-libertarian.” It’s hard to say what it would be in a positive sense. But libertarian? Definitely not.

Anti-corporatist? That’s also tricky (and it depends on what you mean by “corporatist”) . Traditionally, decidedly not. If I understand them correctly, “Red Tories” were more opposed to what they saw the chaos laissez-faire than to big government or big business.

But if one wants to revive the label for a communitarian movement that takes swipes at large corporations, then perhaps. Still wouldn’t be libertarian in any sense libertarians would recognize.

#10 Comment By Greg On May 1, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

A Red Tory option will only be interesting – let alone relevant – to the extent that is opposes libertarian and so called free market policies and programs. What the US needs desperately if it has any hope of a future as a healthy and humane society is an explicitly anti capitalist/anti neoliberal political movement – the right is so deeply infected with market veneration that there is little hope it can provide any meaningful future orientation.

#11 Comment By R. Lewis On May 2, 2013 @ 1:47 am

The Right has been destroyed from within by the economic neoliberals. The only reason why any sensible person would vote Republican is for a greater sense of traditional local communities and patriotism. The Republican Party doesn’t stand for this at all. They like multinational corporations and tax cuts. They don’t care about our nation or its people and culture whatsoever.

#12 Comment By James On May 2, 2013 @ 6:29 am

I was quite surprised when I read both the ConservativeHome blog on these and the TAC response. Red Toryism and the Blue Labour movement were popular here (Britain) for about 6 months and then got completely shredded in the press and columns. Basically because a) both sides saw this as a massive capitulation, b) because it sounded too similar what was apparently tried before – I think to the idea of one nation/compassionate conservatism and Third WayNew Labour, and c) because it wouldn’t actually work.

I think it’s unlikely to have any major traction because it’s not the way either movement conservatism or progressivism seems to be aiming for. Red Tories/Blue Labour supposedly are economically progressive and socially conservative (relatively speaking of course). Yet movement conservative appears to be increasingly libertarian and movement progressivism appears to be ever more interventionist. Maybe in the US there’s far more discussion of this?

#13 Comment By Ethan C. On May 2, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

Where do Euro-skeptics like UKIP fit into this mix?

#14 Comment By James On May 2, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

They’re probably occupying the ‘hard Right’ position or whatever it’s called. Neoliberal economics, Atlanticist and hawkish foreign policy, anti-EU (not just Eurosceptic), fairly socially conservative (at least on some things). The overlap with the more right-wing Conservatives means their ‘position’ in this mix is probably higher than the Red Tories/Blue Labour in my opinion.

#15 Comment By Michael N Moore On May 2, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

James,

Thank you for the UK update – very informative. I think that the article is referring to ideas that are in germination and not in the current electoral mix. The Fabian Society was formed in 1884. The first Labour government wasn’t elected until 1924.
Politics runs on opportunism, reflex, money, and ambition. It take a while for actual ideas to influence it.

#16 Comment By Michael N Moore On May 2, 2013 @ 8:52 pm

A prospective Red Tory platform:

The government should encourage heterosexuals to be as enthusiastic about marriage as gays and lesbians. A life-time commitment of parents to children and adult children to parents should be expected of everyone.

Capitalism should be recognized as a problem that we are stuck with until something else comes along that can be both productive and humane instead of just productive. Anyone whose job involves proximity to vast sums of money should be watched closely.

Society should agree upon a set of values derived from the World’s great religions without requiring anyone to participate in religious ceremonies. Every immigrant should sign a statement agreeing to these values. The values should be taught in school.

The national military should be tasked to protect the country’s borders and not be a hit man for trans-national corporations.

Any corporation who sets up a headquarters outside the country should lose as many rights as is legally possible and be put at a tax and business disadvantage. Tax favors should only be granted to domestic corporations who attempt to keep people employed during recessions.

The government should spend money during recessions and make cut-backs during good times. When there is high unemployment people over 65 should be required to retire or risk losing pension benefits.

Every government agency should be given customer service training on a regular basis. Unproductive public employees should be fired.

The elderly should be treated as respected members of society whose breadth of vision is recognized until their brain stops functioning when they should be allowed to die in peace free of the medical-industrial complex.

We recognize that people are not purely rational and economic creatures. They have non-rational needs for love, myths, and crazy obsessions. They should be free to express themselves.

#17 Comment By Sean Scallon On May 2, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

“Does this suggest that an American “Red Tory” movement will be semi-libertarian—libertarian but more anti-corporatist than anti-government? There’s something to think about here.”

Indeed but we must remember that so much of funds politics and who has influence in politics comes from corporations, who hedge their bets to fund both sides of he aisle. Conservatives and libertarians have used populism before but never economic populism outside of the anti-tax variety. So much of what funds the parties and the think tanks and the media is corporate largess. It would take a lot for such groups to turn on their corporate ,master unless there is a change in the way they think about the Kochs and the Adelsons and Murdochs and the Chamber of Commerce and althoughs who wish to use to use the government to service their businesses. Some has that has taken place but much more needs to happen before such a new movement can come together.

#18 Comment By James On May 3, 2013 @ 7:05 am

Michael N Moore:

The current idea that seems to be gripping the Labour Party is ‘One Nation Labour’ – think one nation conservatism but more confused. Over here we seem to view anything that has a name as threatening, un-British and ideological (and therefore close to fanatical). We don’t do ideas very well, regardless of what they are.

The reason I think the Red Tories/Blue Labour won’t get anywhere ever is precisely *because* it’s trying to bridge the divide between different ideological traditions. People (from what I understand, young and inexperienced as I am!) want to know what side they’re on. Floating voters are only those who are waiting to see who the obvious ‘common-sense’ candidate is going to be. It seems that ideas are far more widely debated or preached in the US or France than here. Culture or history might have something to do with it!

#19 Pingback By A Populist Right Rises in the UK | The American Conservative On May 3, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

[…] a deadlock, one that allows the post-socialist left a relatively clear path to power. This is why the “lost tribes” of U.S. and UK politics matter—to break the deadlock on the right, someone has to find a formula to combine elements […]

#20 Comment By Michael N Moore On May 3, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

James,

That is disapointing news about UK political rigidity. Another illusion lost.

#21 Comment By Jay Levin On May 5, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

Your “third way” or “ideal middle” describes Obama’s approach and positions with a fair amount of precision. Indeed, almost every attempt to define such a “missing middle party” ends up just describing Obama. Because he does recognize the power and importance of the free market, and he is RELENTLESSLY reverential of tradition.

So this fantasy “third way” is just a Barack Obama political clone who does not get vilified by the extreme right, painted as an extremist, foreigner and threat to Our Way Of Life. The problem with that, of course, is that the 25% extreme right vilifies the ENTIRE other 75% as those three things, while “centrist” Republicans and “responsible” conservatives cower under their own insignificance.