Prospect magazine hosts a critical exchange between the reform Labour thinker Maurice Glasman and Philip Blond, the reform Conservative and avatar of Red Toryism. It’s really something. The takeaway I have is that here are two intelligent political thinkers from the British Left and the British Right who are grappling in creative ways with the economy and polity that we actually have today, rather than fetishizing the political and economic arguments of 30 years ago. It is impossible to imagine American liberals and conservatives having this kind of friendly argument today. Completely impossible. This is a big part of our sterile, frustrating political stalemate. There are no new arguments or ideas on either side, just endless chewing over the same old ones.
I trust that my readers are familiar with Red Toryism, as it is what crunchy conservatism would be if it were actually to be set out in a detailed political program. If you haven’t read Philip Blond’s original essay about Red Toryism, which combines social conservatism with a skepticism of neoliberal economics, look here.
You may not be as familiar with Blue Labour. Read this Guardian essay by Glasman to learn more. In short, it’s a Burkean conservative form of socialism focusing on local community and traditions to build what Blue Labourites call a “politics of the common good.” It is a direct challenge to contemporary left-liberal identity politics. One of Blue Labour’s key insights was identified by Luke Bretherton, one of its thinkers, as a”paradox that confronts progressives: traditionalism can often provide the basis for a challenge to the power of money over our common life.”
If you read the Prospect discussion, you can easily see where Blond and Glasman differ. What’s interesting to me is that they both agree that the familiar models of Thatcherism on the right and both Old and New Labour on the left are insufficient to address the most important problems of today, which, broadly speaking, have to do with the loss of community and a sense of the common good. I understand that Glasman and Blond, as Englishmen, emerge from a historical and political context unlike our own. Yet even though they by no means represent dominant strains within their respective political traditions, both men have ideas that are very much part of the political conversation in the UK. We Americans have nobody within either liberal or conservative circles who are doing these things.
Why are we so impoverished?