Nick Timothy, the ‘brains’ behind Theresa May’s pre-UK General Election 2017 brand of working-class Tory populism, is all over the place at the moment attempting to revive interest in Red Toryism.
The thing is, I don’t disagree with his central premises. That Tories should be interested in what is best for the whole nation. That they should always be concerned to reform, carefully. Wherever that reform sensibly should go. That they need to have an ear to what the populace wants. And that a lot of folk, especially working people, feel very uncomfortable with the prescription of the center-left for a supranational economic melting pot, which doesn’t appear to take care of those who can’t necessarily make the grade in the brave new world.
It is the healthier aspects of this approach which allow me to meld those aspects of Red Toryism with my own brand of US proletarian populism, which I call Democratic Populism.
The problem is, when people are scared, they aren’t always at their, hmm, ‘healthiest.’ And, as another Guardian article points out, it is often not the principle of free movement of labour, capital and goods that the ‘left-behinds’ vote against, as it is the colour of the skin doing the moving, and the fact that the capital ain’t moving into their bank account. Frankly, I think the author of this article, one Stephen Bush, misses a lot in his essay. But I do believe him correct when he says that, if Red Toryism dies, the alternative could be a lot uglier.
As Nick Timothy himself admits, he is as much to blame as anyone for the possibility that his policy baby may well have got thrown out with the election-failure bathwater. But, even before the 2017 UK General Election, some in the British Conservative Party were inadvertently doing their level best to condemn Red Toryism by allowing others favorably to compare it to Trumpism.
For myself, I do believe that politics in both the US and the UK will be driven, for a while to come, by a large section of the working population who feel they want to retake control of their economic future. I think that is best obtained by devolving as much power over economic decision-making as possible as far down the political ladder as possible.
The upshot of that will undoubtedly be less interest in supranational decision-making. A desire for some breathing space, while new priorities are designed. Which itself may take the form of an element of protectionism and isolation. Together with some localized intervention in the marketplace, to keep at bay the impersonal forces of capitalist change, while ordinary folk better prepare themselves for that brave new world. And it might even see a surge of interest in mutualism. All in all, a gentle ‘qualification’ of the absolute freedom of the free market.
What I strongly believe will not work is boffins of right and left seizing on the distress that exists to superimpose trendy prescriptions of social engineering, which are not desired, and have not worked in the past, and may only result in further distress, and a headlong rush towards greater political ugliness.
It is not left the people want. Nor right. Nor even the center. It is populism. It is what the people say they want. It’s easy enough to work out. Just stop prescribing before you’ve listened. And then have the generosity of political will actually to accept what you are hearing.