I have written a piece for the Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists blog about what blue-collar Conservatives can learn from the American experience. You can find it here.
Donald Trump has been a truly disruptive ideological influence, both in America and abroad. The Labour party in Britain used a number of tricks from Trump’s populist playbook to great effect during the general election to keep working class voters in their coalition. The Democrats are now following their example with a populist economic message to set the stage for next year’s congressional midterm elections.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, announced his new policy agenda “A Better Deal” yesterday. It is aimed squarely at the working class voters who helped Trump flip Democratic strongholds across the rustbelt. This new policy agenda’s three main goals are to create high-wage jobs, lower living costs, and provide new skills for American workers. Alongside traditional Democratic policies such as the $1 trillion infrastructure plan touted by Hillary Clinton last year, there is the intention to increase the minimum wage to $15, strengthen antitrust regulators, and create a tax credit for employers who train workers without any qualifications.
Despite Trump’s support for some of these policies during the campaign, it is highly unlikely that any of these policies will be supported by Republicans in Congress. The GOP continues to be consumed by its efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, and wants to move on to cutting taxes. Instead of delivering real change for working class Americans, the Republicans look increasingly like they are governing in the interests of the wealthy elite. With an unproductive Congress and the Republicans’ ideological confusion, there is certainly an opening for the Democrats to find their voice and be more than the party of “#resistance”.
The problem is that the Democrats are also riven by ideological division. Clinton’s defeat was a humiliation for the Democratic centrists who have dominated the party since Bill Clinton’s New Democrats won the White House in 1992. Last year’s Democratic primaries showed there is a strong grassroots desire for radical change after Bernie Sanders came close to winning the nomination. Schumer’s new policy agenda is a first step towards the more progressive economic platform favoured by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, though it is still a far cry from their demands for single-payer healthcare and free college tuition.
America’s political climate has certainly made radical populist economics look more attractive given how many Americans now see capitalism as being "rigged". According to a poll by UnHerd and YouGov, 61% of Americans believe that most big businesses “have dodged taxes, damaged environment, bought special favours from politicians”, and 58% believe the poor “get poorer whilst rich get richer in capitalist economies”. This is a sentiment which extends to millennials struggling to own a home or start a family, as well as working class Americans who see their jobs disappear and opioids flood their streets.
A moderate move towards economic populism combined with vehement anti-Trumpism could help deliver results in next year’s midterms. But it will take a lot more to win back the White House in 2020. The primary race will be a fight for the Democrats’ soul. They could go for a charismatic moderate like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, or a progressive populist like Sanders or Warren. What is clear is that the Democrats will have to address the new political divide between globalism and anti-globalism in order to bring working class voters back into the fold and build a winning coalition.
In a decision which will echo through the eternal vortex of time and space, the BBC announced the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who. It is the first time a woman will be playing the role since the British science-fiction programme began in 1963.
As expected, Twitter’s outrage settings went into overdrive. Many fans (a.k.a. Whovians) were shocked at the prospect of a female Doctor piloting the TARDIS, the mysterious traveler’s time machine. This sparked a counter-reaction of Whovians appalled by the apparent misogyny of their fellow fans. It is a split within the fandom which has existed for over thirty years.
As a lifelong fan who started watching Doctor Who as a kid shortly before the show was revived in 2005, my excitement levels for Whittaker’s take on the character have already grown exponentially. Change and renewal are in the very DNA of the show. Every new incarnation is a reinvention of the character. All different and yet the same. That’s been the key to the show’s enduring popularity.
A long time ago in 1966, the Doctor regenerated for the first time into a younger incarnation portrayed by Patrick Troughton. Fans thought him too silly, too young to play the role established by William Hartnell. The same reaction from fans happened in 1974 when a wild eyed and curly haired Tom Baker took over from the magisterial and authoritative Jon Pertwee. More recently, Matt Smith was criticised for being far too young and inexperienced to succeed the much-loved David Tennant. But all of these actors are now adored by fans.
Of course, changing genders is different from changing the age of the character. For many years the Doctor has been a paternalistic figure, especially in his first and third incarnations, who acts as a teacher or mad uncle to his predominantly female companions. But that’s not everything the character is. The Doctor is an explorer, a philosopher, a rebel. Optimism, compassion, and reason are the Doctor’s values. These characteristics transcend gender and can be translated into a superb performance by a talented actor.
Let us be in no doubt that Whittaker has serious talent. As a star of the critically-acclaimed British crime drama Broadchurch, penned by the new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall, Whittaker proved that she can handle heavy emotional material with ease. In Attack the Block, a comedy-science-fiction movie, Whittaker has already fought against creatures from outer space, coincidentally her co-star John Boyega has gone on to find Star Wars fame as Finn.
It’s my belief that once fans have seen the first episode of Whittaker’s Doctor, they will adore her. Whenever a Doctor is leaving, fans are always sad and totally convinced that the new Doctor will not be as good. Then they watch the new Doctor’s debut and fall in love with the show all over again. Maybe some diehards will continue to grumble about a female Doctor, but Whovians should be prepared for the avalanche of naysayers changing their minds after seeing Whittaker in action.
A female casting also feels appropriate in the current political environment in Britain. We have our second female Prime Minister. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, and the Democratic Unionist Party are all led by women. Women lead the Conservative and Labour parties in Scotland. Last month’s general election saw a record-breaking number of women elected to Parliament. It looks like Doctor Who is just moving with the times.
Male Whovians have twelve (technically thirteen…maybe fourteen…it’s a long story) incarnations of the Doctor to cosplay as and admire. It’s about time there was a Doctor for female Whovians to embrace. A new generation of girls will be grow up watching the nation’s hero become a woman. That’s something everyone should be able to celebrate.
Articles of the Week
The Tories are not evil - but that takes some explaining by Tim Stanley
How We Are Ruining America by David Brooks
The Consequences of Donald Trump Jr.'s Stupidity by Robert W. Merry
Everyone's Out for Boris Johnson by James Forsyth
After a turbulent year, May still has a chance to influence how history will remember her by Mark Wallace
Cartoon of the Week
Clip of the Week
Today there is a common misconception that conservatism is incompatible with environmental stewardship. Environmentalists on the Left have successfully popularised a narrative in which conservatism is a vehicle for corporate bosses to exploit the Earth’s resources for their own selfish ends instead of the betterment of humankind. The truth is that environmental problems have been caused by the absence of conservative principles, rather than their supposed failure. Environmental stewardship is one of the strongest examples of how fundamental conservative principles, namely the defence of property rights and the common law, have improved our lives.
The right to own and freely transfer property is at the heart of how conservatives view the efficient allocation of resources. Property owners are better suited than central planners to administer their resources, evaluate potential risk and profit, and have a real stake in the long-term value of their property. Property rights are not a defence of privilege, but the best way of empowering entrepreneurs, businesses, and civil associations. By drawing upon their specific, local knowledge, property owners can resolve the environmental problems we grapple with today.
When natural resources have no ownership, anyone can use them and exploit them for short-term gain as they have no incentive to ensure their long-term value. This has led to serious environmental problems such as overfishing and deforestation. The ecologist Garrett Hardin identified this problem as the “tragedy of the commons” in his seminal 1968 essay. Hardin argued that state regulation or public ownership of shared resources fails to guarantee sustainability. These shared resources can be saved from exploitation by introducing well defined and enforceable property rights.
Property rights based approaches have found success around the world. One particularly helpful example is the fishing industry. When fishing waters become shared resources, there is often a “race to catch” which results in the depletion of fish stock. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy put an end to British territorial fishing rights and established a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each member state, and the result has been a severe decline with 30% of European fish stocks at risk of collapsing. By contrast, in the United States, catch share programmes have been established in numerous localities where fishing crews can buy and sell “catch shares” which grant permission for a specific total allowed catch. The result has been a self-regulating institutional framework which integrates fishermen.
In fact, conservationist movements in Britain have built some of their greatest achievements on the back of property rights. An important success story has been the National Trust which was formed in 1895 to protect the coastlines and countryside of Britain. The National Trust owns 250,000 hectares of countryside and its Neptune Coastline Campaign has bought 574 miles of coastline in the past fifty years. This work continues today as the National Trust purchased the Great Orme coastline in 2015. Britain’s broader conservationist movement has also thrived. For example, the Wildlife Trust is responsible for 2,300 nature reserves in Britain, and relies on local communities for support. In Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds manages 80 nature reserves covering 72,000 hectares. These achievements illustrate how conservationists have benefitted from property rights and have become sound environmental stewards without any need for the state to step in.
That is not to say all property owners are good environmental stewards. Pollution inflicted by businesses and the state is a serious challenge for modern policy makers. In recent decades, governments have created administrative agencies to regulate the private sector in order to reduce pollution. This approach has enjoyed some valuable successes, such as the Clean Air Act 1956 in the wake of the “Great Smog of London”, but it is an imperfect approach to tackling pollution. Across the Western world, governments continue to be major polluters with their nationalised or subsidised infrastructure and industries. For example, from 2010 to 2013 in the United States, publicly owned water facilities had 14% more health violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act than privately owned facilities. The state has been trying and failing to directly eliminate the causes of pollution when it should be finding ways to resolve conflicts when they arise.
Conservationists can rely upon the common law as a mechanism for resolving these conflicts. English tort law is a particularly beneficial example of how property rights and the common law can protect the environment. After the landmark Rylands v Fletcher 1868 case, strict liability was introduced into tort law for incidents when activities within one party’s property causes damage to another party’s property. This effectively meant that pollution is an invasion of property, so an injured party can prosecute a polluter and pursue damages or an injunction. As the economist Ronald Coase has persuasively argued, the threat of damages in tort law can deter and punish polluters, which in turn provides a clear incentive for investment in non-polluting technologies. This innovation in tort law provided conservationists with a property rights based approach which is more responsive to local circumstances than centralised regulation, and adequately protects the environment from polluters.
The common law has been a critical element of environmental stewardship in other ways. One of the major examples of how common law has been used to fight polluters is the riparian owners’ struggle with upstream pollution after the Chasemore v Richards 1859 case established riparian rights in civil law. When various parties are involved in class actions, it can be a very costly and complex affair. In order to remedy this, the Anglers Conservation Association was formed in 1948 to provide financial backing for nuisance suits and get injunctions against polluters. One of their key victories was the Pride of Derby 1953 case when the ACA prosecuted the Corporation of Derby, the British Electricity Authority, and British Celanese Ltd for polluting the River Derwent.
It is only when entrepreneurs, businesses, and civil associations have the freedom to use their property, provided they harm no one else, that they can become true environmental stewards. They enjoy the specific, local knowledge required to conserve the long-term value of their resources. State intervention does have a place in environmental policy, but conservatives ought to defend property rights and the common law as the best means of promoting a robust culture of environmental stewardship.
Work is a fundamental element of Conservative thinking. A job is the best pathway out of poverty and towards prosperity. It can provide a purpose which defines us as an individual. As well as creating jobs, Conservatives have a proud history, which goes back to Lord Shaftesbury and Benjamin Disraeli, of ensuring robust protections for people in the workplace. In this spirit, Theresa May asked Matthew Taylor, the former head of Tony Blair’s Number 10 Policy Unit, to review current employment practices and law.
Yesterday’s launch of Taylor’s review was briefed as part of May’s leadership reboot. In this regard, May’s speech fell somewhat short. But as a Conservative case for work it was a well-worded statement. May described how a “good job can be a genuine vocation, providing intellectual and personal fulfilment, as well as economic security. With good work can come dignity and a sense of self-worth. It can promote good mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.” For the past seven years, the Conservative have had an impressive record of job creation. Now the time has come for similar progress to be made in the development of workers’ rights.
Technological innovation, as much as globalisation, is transforming the workplace. At the cutting edge of this change is the “gig economy”. New companies such as Uber, Deliveroo, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit have appeared which allow workers to easily take up freelance work and to be hired through apps and websites. It has provided opportunities for many workers as well as lower prices for consumers. But there is also a lack of security for workers as the legal line between gig economy jobs and the traditional definition of self-employed has become ill-defined. These new jobs also fail to provide sufficient pay and benefits for people to get started on the path towards forming families, owning a house, or planning their retirement.
Jeremy Corbyn and the hard-left have responded negatively to this development and believe in a heavily restricted labour market, unlike the liberal left in America. The challenge for Conservatives is to maintain the balance between flexibility and fairness which ensures British workers can easily find work without fear of being exploited. Taylor’s Good Work review goes some way to provide guidance on how this can be achieved. This is particularly important as the workplace in general becomes increasingly flexible and as people make more frequent career changes.
Taylor’s key recommendation is that gig economy workers should be legally classified as “dependent contractors”, separated from the traditional definition of self-employed. Not only would this allow the tax system to recognise the unique status of gig economy workers, as Philip Hammond tried to do when he proposed an ill-judged increase in NICs in his Spring Budget, it would also provide greater clarity in the law so employment tribunals can identify and punish cases of abuse. Gig economy workers who work full-time would also be able to enjoy access to the national minimum wage, sick pay, and holiday pay.
May placed workers’ rights at the heart of her new Conservatism. But the loss of her majority in a humiliating election result has placed these reforms in jeopardy. Instead of being able to confidently promise a bill to implement the Taylor review’s proposals, May asked other parties to “read this report, engage with the difficult issues it raises, come forward with your own views and ideas about how we can tackle these challenges as a country.” It is more likely that Corbyn’s Labour party will decide to play an obstructionist role in Parliament in order to weaken the government.
There will be some opposition from within the party to these reforms, but May’s desire to build a new Workers’ Party remains necessary and right if the Conservatives want to regain their majority. In a rapidly changing global marketplace, the Conservatives can only endure and thrive by becoming a champion of small businesses and workers, "the little guy", in an increasingly volatile new world.
As we approach Theresa May’s first anniversary as Prime Minister, we are confronted with a government losing its passion for reform. Brexit dominates the national conversation, but the economic and social problems which have fuelled the rise of populism will worsen if Toryism does not respond to them.
The greatest risk for the Conservatives is for them to become an uninspiring party of managerialism. The country does not need more technocrats at a time when voters feel frustrated with the political class and distressed by the upheaval of the twenty-first century. By retreating on the reforms of both May and Cameron, the Conservatives are becoming a party of Grey Toryism. The growing similarities with the 1990s when the party leader was infamously satirised in Spitting Image with grey skin, and the party went into a minority with support from Northern Irish MPs in its dying days, has not gone unnoticed.
Leadership rumours have also undermined the spirit of radical Toryism. Rather than asking questions and proposing solutions to help the party connect with working-class voters, the young, and public sector workers, many MPs seem more interested in gossiping about when May should leave office and who should replace her. The next Tory leader will certainly need a positive vision for the future of Conservatism, but the question of leadership should not define the party’s post-Brexit identity. There are major challenges which need to be addressed by a new radical Tory philosophy.
The meagre nature of the domestic legislation in the Queen’s Speech was inevitable given the new parliamentary arithmetic, but the government has been sliding towards managerialism for months now. During the election, May never proposed any truly imaginative and popular policies to live up to the philosophical vision in the manifesto. Even the ideas which inspired May’s communitarian conservatism were drowned out by the constant and unrelenting mantra of “strong and stable leadership”. The government is now suffering the consequences.
Social reform has been paralysed. Some progress might be made with reform of mental health and domestic abuse legislation, but we cannot expect anything as ambitious as the Coalition-era public services reforms. In fact, flagship Tory reforms are being watered-down. Michael Gove’s innovative and much-needed prison reforms have been ditched. Justine Greening might end funding for the future expansion of free schools. Damian Green has appeared reluctant to defend the tuition fees system.
Economic reform has also stalled. George Osborne succeeded in delivering cuts to income tax and corporation tax, a reduced deficit, and a steady flow of investment in infrastructure and skills. But the Cameron-led Conservative party never fully grasped the post-crash reality. The changing nature of work, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, the unaccountability of global corporations, and growing inequality between the generations. Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers have been too busy making public interventions on why their departments should be exempt from fiscal restraint.
There is no lack of radical Tory thinkers and ideas. Conservatives should draw upon them to become a populist, rather than a managerialist force in British politics. Voters are attracted to parties with a clear vision. That is why the politicians across the political spectrum from Donald Trump to Emmanuel Macron have prospered. Defending the status quo, or promising “strong and stable leadership”, simply will not do. It’s time for a rebirth of a radical Toryism which is prepared to win the twenty-first century.
People are losing faith in capitalism. Ten years on from the financial crisis, there is a continuing backlash which fuelled Jeremy Corbyn’s surprising electoral performance. In their anger and frustration with capitalism, ordinary people, especially the young, are starting to be attracted to socialism once again.
Many of the people who voted a few weeks ago weren’t even born when socialism drove Britain to the brink with financial bankruptcy, rampant inflation, and paralysing strikes. It is no longer good enough for Conservatives to point to a largely forgotten past to prove their point. They need to make the case for capitalism from first principles. This requires teacher-politicians who can say why capitalism is worth conserving. It just so happens that one of the party’s greatest teacher-politicians was also a populist who turned back the tide of socialism, namely Margaret Thatcher.
Much like Corbyn's candidacy in the Labour leadership election, Thatcher was not supposed to win the contest to succeed Ted Heath. As the middle-class daughter of a grocer, Thatcher was an outsider, excluded by the upper echelons of her party because of her gender. Thatcher’s victory has gone down in history as a “peasants revolt” due to her support from backbench MPs who defied the patrician elite which had traditionally run the party.
The economic philosophy Thatcher championed was also a rebellion against an establishment which insisted on clinging onto the failed policies of the post-war consensus. When she made the case for capitalism, Thatcher wasn’t speaking for the corporate interests. She was speaking for a free market populism, of how capitalism can empower the people as wealth creators and property owners. The genius of Thatcher was her ability to translate this capitalist message into the language of everyday struggles experienced by ordinary people.
For Thatcher, fiscal responsibility was a statement of how taxpayers should be trusted to run their own lives, and spend their own hard-earned money, free from interfering elites in Westminster. Cutting taxes and spending did not just boost economic growth and revenue, it was also moral. This argument was put in simple and effective terms which ordinary people across the country could understand. Thatcher believed “Everyone has to live on a budget, the government has to live within a budget, and our good housekeeping has made our economy sound and strong”.
Another enduring legacy of Thatcher’s free market populism was the “property-owning democracy”. Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy scheme and advert campaigns, such as “Tell Sid”, to promote the privatisation of utilities and industries. The result was a substantial increase in the number of homeowners and shareholders in Britain. Economic power would be transferred from the state to ordinary people. It was a seismic shift in the British economy which rewarded aspiration and provided opportunities in a way which socialism can never match.
The free-market revolution of the 1980s restored economic prosperity to the country after the decline and decay of the 1970s. But the fall of the Berlin Wall has ushered in an economy with fewer opportunities, and more problems for ordinary people. Multinational corporations easily avoid paying taxes and “too big to fail” banks are bailed out for crashing the economy. People are working longer hours for less money, less likely to own a home, and face a rising cost of living. The problem is cronyism, a capitalism which is undermined by the relationship between big business and big government.
Theresa May has acknowledged these problems during her tenure as Prime Minister, and attempted to use state interventionism to build her own brand of populism. But it failed to win a convincing victory against Corbyn’s socialism at the ballot box. As Conservatives reconsider their mission and their policies, it would be worthwhile to examine how Thatcher’s free market populism succeeded in restoring Britain’s prosperity and pride. It is the Conservative party's best chance of creating the next generation of capitalists.
Articles of the Week
After the Grenfell Tower disaster, it’s time for a total rethink on tower blocks by Clare Foges
A Speech to keep Brexit on track and Corbyn out by Andrew Lilico
The Tories wooed working-class voters very successfully by John Curtice
What are the Tories for? by Fraser Nelson
Young voters won’t buy into the Conservative Party if they can’t buy houses by Robert Colvile
Cartoon of the Week
Clip of the Week
The loss of her parliamentary majority has fundamentally changed Theresa May’s mission as Prime Minister. For the next two years, May will try to fight tooth and nail to fulfil Vote Leave's promise to take back control. Whether or not she makes it beyond this year’s party conference is a different matter, but May is determined to carry on.
May’s major Bills in her first (and almost certainly her last) Queen’s Speech are all related to Brexit. This was always going to be the case given the need to pass the Bills before March 2019 when Britain formally exits the EU. May is sticking by her Lancaster House speech. British sovereignty will return over trade, immigration, laws, territorial waters, agriculture, nuclear safeguards, and international sanctions. This is all in line with the government’s plan to leave the customs union and the single market.
Some tweaks have been made to May’s Brexit plan. The government’s tone on Brexit has softened as the Queen’s Speech made a commitment to “secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union” and “build the widest possible consensus on the country’s future outside the European Union.” Despite the toned down rhetoric, Brexiteers will loudly support May for fear of a leadership contest leading to a new “soft Brexit” Conservative leader or triggering an election in which Labour wins a majority.
This will be a two-year long legislative slugfest which exposes divisions across the two main parties over Brexit. Although both the Conservatives and Labour pledged to leave the single market and customs union in their manifestos, there will be resistance from the backbench MPs opposed to what they call a “hard Brexit”, including the Tory awkward squad led by Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, and at least 34 Labour MPs. The House of Lords and the Scottish Parliament also have the power to derail the Brexit Bills.
As a lifelong Eurosceptic, how far will Jeremy Corbyn go in collaborating with the Conservatives to implement Brexit? Since the election campaign ended, Corbyn and the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, have repeated their manifesto pledge to honour the Brexit result. Attempting to thwart Brexit, by for example blocking the Repeal Bill, could risk the wrath of their pro-Brexit working-class supporters who left UKIP for Labour two weeks ago.
Domestic policy in the Queen's Speech was an entirely different affair. For the past year, May has been crafting her analysis of how the failures of the political class led to the Brexit result and what can be done to correct these failings. The manifesto which addressed these problems and formed the basis of May’s mandate for change has now been shredded. With the loss of a majority, and the bandwidth being consumed by Brexit, this is unavoidable. Policies such as grammar schools, the so-called “dementia tax”, and cuts to pensioner benefits will not see the light of day.
But while the details of Mayism have been changed, the general direction of travel has not. Measures were announced to put an industrial startegy into action through technical education reform and infrastructure investment, inject fairness into markets such as energy and housing, tackle social problems related to domestic violence and mental health, and respond to the challenges of extremism and terrorism. These are all worthy, if unambitious, proposals to help improve the country and keep the flame of Mayism alive during and beyond the Brexit process.
Conservatism is at a crossroads. Instead of witnessing the beginning of a Tory renaissance under a Mayite revolution, Conservatives are questioning whether or not their party even has a future. The Spectator has declared this moment as “The dying of the right”. It is an existential crisis which May is not capable of resolving in light of her failed election gamble. But May could, perhaps successfully, steady the party through the Brexit process and be remembered as an honourable, albeit flawed, Prime Minister.