Cameron’s coalition will stop at nothing to smear those who believe in traditional values
By Simon Heffer
Published: 7:36PM BST 18 May 2010
What does the phrase “Right wing” mean, whether as a noun or an adjective? I ask because I read it bandied about carelessly not as a descriptive term, but as an insult, and its use in this fashion is starting to have sinister connotations. For the avoidance of doubt, let me stress that the sinistrality does not refer to those to whom the term is applied, but to those who apply it.
What Solzhenitsyn called “the censorship of fashion” is in full cry in our politics. Anything the centre-Left consensus chooses to label “Right wing” is by its definition unpleasant, wrong, or in some cases much worse. This casual but graphic abuse of those with a more conservative (or classically liberal) approach to policy than the adherents of the consensus began in America. It has landed here. Read the editorials in The New Yorker most weeks and you will find those who disagree with the vision of President Obama treated as if they were educationally subnormal. This was echoed a fortnight ago in a column in one of our more intelligent periodicals, the London Review of Books, by David Bromwich, who teaches literature and political thought at Yale. Writing about American politics, he mentions “the organised Right-wing crowd” in the same context as this assertion: “Probably racism was a necessary but not a sufficient cause for the launching of the Tea Party movement.”
The Tea Party movement is something some of us rather wish would happen here, the need for it magnified, rather than reduced, by the coalition Government. While it echoes the rebellion in Boston against the British in 1775, the word “tea” is an acronym for “taxed enough already”. I am not clear why a protest about being overtaxed should be a sign of racism. However, that is not the point observers of the Obama administration wish to make. They regard the president as essential to a new project of massive spending, borrowing, redistribution and statism, whose benefits they do not wish rigorously to debate. Therefore, they either believe that any attack on the policy must, by nature of its obtuseness, be rooted in racism; or, if cunning enough to realise that it isn’t, but is rooted in concerns for liberty and prosperity, they know that chucking around the label of “racism” is the fastest way to demonise an opponent who is not, in fact, demonic.
Our new Government is obsessed with image and manifestly finds policy problematical. The wing of the Conservative Party that Mr Cameron and his friends would call “Right” comprises the people most likely to cause the coalition to fall. Mr Cameron has tried to rig the constitution to prevent their succeeding, but he may have to put that plan into reverse: David Davis’s article in this newspaper yesterday showed why. To keep the “Right” – itself a coalition of Hayekian liberals, Powellite souverainistes and social conservatives – in its box, the process of insult, begun in opposition, will be used to seek to have them ridiculed, marginalised, soiled and, eventually, rendered pointless.
In opposition, such people were told that, in spite of the compelling supply-side arguments for doing so, there would be no tax cuts to incentivise wealth creators. They were told that the Brown client state would not be touched. They were told (though this eased off when there was an election to fight) that talk of curbing immigration was racist. They were told (and this did not ease off) that religious people with a non-permissive view of sexual practices were “homophobic” or “reactionary”. They were told they could not have grammar schools. They were told their money would continue to be sent to Third World despotisms, further undermining the economies of those countries, so the Tories could boast that the overseas aid budget was untouched; which is very nice for the wives of those despots on their shopping trips to Paris and Milan, and for the order books of Mercedes-Benz. So the “Right” had had its nose rubbed in it: and the new dispensation allows an unprincipled Conservative leadership to step up the process, winning the admiration of minority shareholders in the Liberal Democrats, and ensuring the BBC does not give it a hard time.
It has been reported that Mr Cameron was more than ready to dispense with policies such as less inheritance tax, or the repudiation of human rights legislation, as the price of a deal with the Lib Dems, because he thought those policies were “Right-wing” and therefore he had never liked them. Let us pass over what this means about the sincerity of his attitude to such “Rightist” policies as survive, such as the official, though mild, Euroscepticism. But let us ask this question: what does the “Right” in his party really stand for, and why are they to be abjured in the way that he and his “modernising” friends have so happily done?
The Gladstonians want a small state, reduced borrowing and spending, and reduced taxes. The coalition will protest that it is pursuing some of this by force majeure, because of the parlous condition of the public finances. But a shadow administration to the “Right” of the coalition talked about increasing spending by “sharing the proceeds of growth”. Does that remain the hidden agenda? If it does, why is it necessary? The Powellites want assurances about sovereignty, but also seek to advance a benign idea of nationalism. Yet this is where the “racist” tag is most readily deployed. If it is “racist” to be patriotic, to believe in the traditional values of one’s country, to believe in the democratic right to self-governance, then the “Right” is racist, and much of the Labour-voting working class with them.
The social conservatives are, though, the main purveyors of hatred, since they choose not to endorse various sexual practices that they find objectionable – which, in a free society, it should be their right to believe – and to feel that traditional family units are the best way of bringing up children and of improving society. The first is a matter of taste; the second is echoed in countless surveys not just of criminality, but of offences against children in non-traditional families. Some extremists even believe that certain murderers should face the death penalty: a medieval idiocy they share with another well-known reactionary, President Obama.
One cannot expect a coalition to be ideological. But one ought to expect the leader of the largest party in it, which includes many who endorse all or most of what I have defined the “Right” as believing in today, to respect the principles and convictions of such people. However, that does not fit in with the image, which relies on building a norm of attitudes and beliefs.
Mr Cameron and those modernisers from the Conservative benches who have gone laughing into coalition with him do not want a debate that would expose so many illusions and betrayals. They fear their party will realise the truth sooner or later, and end up splitting; that would be inconvenient for those for whom power is not so much an aphrodisiac as an addiction.
Vilifying and ridiculing the “Right” is their necessary defence against this. It is important that the rest of us remember that, arm ourselves against it, and refuse to be cowed.
Published in the Telegraph: