I asked Adrian Pabst, an English friend who is a professor of politics in the UK, why the Tories are stumbling into today’s parliamentary vote, given that they started out so far ahead when Prime Minister Teresa May called the snap election. He responded:
The Tories are blowing the chance of a landslide victory for two reasons. One is that their narrative is strong but their policies are weak. Many people would identify with the anti-individualist and pro-patriotic vision, but then wonder whether the party will translate it into transformative action. I’ve written this on the Tory party manifesto:
That’s a really interesting piece. Here’s an excerpt from it:
May’s team have embraced Blue Labour’s emphasis on ordinary working families. Part of the problem with Miliband was that he only ever talked about the rich and the poor, which ignored the vast majority of people. The Conservatives are pitching for what they call the mainstream – people with Blue Labour values who choose a fairly traditional family structure, value their settled ways of life and are generally sceptical about the pace of change.
While specific policies undoubtedly matter, the point about the manifesto is how the party sees the country. And the Conservatives are redefining the centre-ground away from the elite consensus of the past four decades towards the British mainstream. That means rejecting both the socialist left of Corbyn and the libertarian right of Farage in favour of the ‘common good’. That includes the ‘just about managing’ who struggle to make ends meet and the precious bonds uniting the peoples of the four nations.
However, May’s communitarian Conservatism looks set to run into contradictions. Ever-more global free trade is likely to hurt the very workers that May claims to defend when she speaks of a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. The focus of the Tories’ industrial strategy on greater specialisation in cutting-edge high-tech sectors offers nothing to more traditional sectors and local supply chains in support of people and communities they live in.
What is missing is a Conservative challenge to the power of centralised finance in the City of London combined with the Blue Labour idea of establishing a network of sectoral and regional banks that can channel capital into the productive activities of small- and medium-sized enterprise.
There is an even deeper problem with May’s mantra of creating a Great Meritocracy, which is narrowly focused on trying to boost social mobility. By definition, higher social mobility involves both winners and losers, and the point about the Brexit vote is that the losers from globalisation want a new settlement that works for everyone.
This is broadly true in the American context too. I wonder if the Republican Party has within itself the capacity to adopt a more communitarian conservatism. Trump might have done so, but he has not demonstrated the imagination, wit, conviction, or discipline to make it happen. Joel Kotkin writes about this here; I’ll devote a separate blog post to Kotkin’s piece later.
Pabst adds, in his email to me:
The other reason is a terrible campaign and a candidate who looks like an empty vessel. From the start the campaign was unimaginative and off-putting, with an un-British personality cult as if the UK had a presidential system, not a parliamentary democracy. The ad nauseam repetition of ‘strong and stable leadership’ was fatally undermined when Theresa May flip-flopped over her social care reform plans. She’s been robotic and unable to speak from the heart whereas Jeremy Corbyn — for all the dangerous ideas he defends — has been an effective campaigner.
In short, May’s post-liberal politics charts an alternative to globalism and nationalism, but she doesn’t look like the leader to make this the new consensus. We’ll know more in 24 hours.
Indeed we will. Here’s an election guide from our friends at The Spectator.
Readers, I am traveling today. I’ll be at the Trinity Evangelical School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, at a conference today and tomorrow. If you’d like to come out tonight (Thursday June 8) to a free public lecture by me, on the Benedict Option, register here.
I am off to Italy with my son Matthew on Saturday. I’ll be at a conference in Trento early next week, then taking the train up to Munich to visit some friends and see the Bavarian capital. (Matthew, my science, technology, Kraftwerk, and automobile-loving spawn, is really interested in seeing the Deutsches Museum and BMW-Welt). Then we’ll drop down to Venice for the following weekend before flying back to the US. I’ll be blogging as often as I can, but please be patient with comments approval, which will be intermittent.