The Idea of a Red Tory (1): report on a debate with Philip Blond

This is a write-up of an event I attended in Bristol recently.

The event was a discussion around the idea of a Red Tory (Tory being the common term for a political conservative) between the author of the book ‘Red Tory’, Philip Blond and the political philosopher John Gray.

The talk began with Philip Blond stating his position: The Red Tory position is that of economic radicalism and social conservatism. The political Left has failed the poor because individualism favoured the educated. The political right has failed because monopolised markets dis-empower people. A Red Tory is opposed to state centralisation, to looks to allow people the ability to create institutions. However if we are against state authoritarianism then we must also be against rampant individualism. The political Left and Right have both brought into individualism. Both positions oscillate between extremes of power to the state/individualism and ignore, indeed lead to the breakage of human and local relations. Blond said that religion is a force for cohesion around the shared values of the ‘transcendent’. A Red Tory allows people to create institutions that are non-profit, to run services (however they could be passed to private companies

Then went to a conversation between the two…

John Gray asked the question about if Blond’s ideas were realistic to reverse not only the post-1945 Labour settlement (that established the welfare state and the National Health Service) and also the legacy of Thatcherism?

Blond replied that this is the only way. The current methods have failed. Both the state and monopolised markets have failed so the market of groups is the only solution.

Gray then asked that if we reject current politics are we not also rejecting who we are? We are a society built on differences but with a shared tolerance.

Blond replied that too much diversity leads to atomisation. That we need shared values to stabilise us. Real liberty comes from common believes.

Gray said that Blond’s suggestion of religion is a binding concept, how would this work as Britain is a post-Christian society?

Blond replied that transcendent is about that which can’t be known so in the unknown lives diversity. Universality is in our cognition. The idea of a common good can be shared by secular world.

Gray remarked that he is confident that nothing of this program will happen. That it is just a rehash of old ideas of redistribution.

Blond countered that it will. The Tories have adopted it as policy.

Question from the audience about how the Red Tory would approach Climate Change. Blond stated the the biggest opposition to action on climate change came from the poor. He then suggested the example of individual carbon accounts for people as solution for climate change which gives the poor an asset that they have never had. Assets are true source of wealth: while recent report on inequality put income at 10:1 while asset difference is 100:1.

My thoughts: There is some interesting ideas being bashed around here. It is hard to see how the Red Tory would avoid the monopolised market from creeping into the the people-created institution, thus creating a new phase of privatisation in the mould that has already been shown to fail are helping the poor. In addition the opposition to action on climate change, I would contend that most opposition comes more from existing vested interests (e.g. coal, gas and oil industries) than from the poor. However the concept of the current structure of the welfare state dis-empowering people is something worth more thought.

Jonathan Raban was very scathing of the idea in a recent review of the book:

Stripped of its obscurantist rhetoric and foggy sermonising, Red Tory issues a moral licence to government to free itself from the expensive business of dispensing social services and to dump them on the ‘third sector’ of charities, voluntary organisations, non-profits and the like. It won’t make Britain a more virtuous, civil, courteous or moral society. It certainly won’t restore us to that happy state of grace and comity in which, apparently, we all lived in medieval times.

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