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Which Lost Tribe of Politics Shall Inherit?

The old center-right moderates are gone---here's who's vying to replace them.
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A recent analysis of “The Lost Tribes of British Politics” at the ConservativeHome website (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,” 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, 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. 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). 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, 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.

The last two tribes are the most interesting: the “palaeo-cons” and the Red Tories/Blue Labour. (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 and Theodore Dalrymple, 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 and Phillip Blond, 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 at Heritage last month, and Sen. Rand Paul has been known to refer to himself as a “crunchy con.” From the high liberal rather than populist libertarian side, Jon Huntsman has taken aim at crony capitalism 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. 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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