After Theresa May spelled out her philosophy in the Conservative manifesto, it has become common for pundits to label her as a Red Tory. Many point to Phillip Blond’s innovative work with ResPublica as the source of Red Toryism, but its true origin lies in Canada.
The term was originally coined in the 1960s by Gad Horowitz, a Canadian political scientist, to describe the Tory tradition which had grown in opposition to liberalism in Canada, and in turn prevented the emergence of a major socialist party. It is a communitarian form of conservatism which is distinctly different from the more libertarian forms of conservatism which have flourished in the United States. Red Toryism’s closest analogue in Britain is One Nation Conservatism.
Up until the free market revolution during Brian Mulroney’s tenure as Prime Minister in the 1980s, the Canadian Tories favoured the power and independence of the nation state. Sir John A. Macdonald, a Father of the Confederation, was the first and greatest practitioner of Red Toryism. Macdonald built a strong Canadian nation state through a “National Policy” of protective tariffs and national infrastructure projects.
A century later, John Diefenbaker, the last significant Red Tory Prime Minister, tried and failed to exercise a Canadian foreign policy independent of American influence during the Cuban missile crisis. It was this episode which provoked George Grant, a Canadian political philosopher, to write Lament for a Nation, a classic statement of Red Tory philosophy.
These Red Tories believed that the state should act as the guarantor of the social order. Economic and cultural nationalism underpinned their approach to state intervention, especially in their desire to resist the Americanisation of Canadian economy, culture and politics.
Christianity is also a crucial part of Red Tory philosophy. High Church Anglicanism provided Red Toryism with its need to pursue the common good. It bears some similarity to the influence of Catholic social teaching on Christian Democratic thought in Europe, as well as the English school of distributism.
Red Toryism is now largely defunct in modern Canadian politics. There are centrists in the Canadian conservative movement but they do not hail from the same Red Tory philosophy which flowed from Macdonald to Diefenbaker. As anti-globalism spreads across the Western world, it is strange that Red Toryism has not undergone a revival in its birthplace.
In Britain, however, Red Toryism has found a new lease of life. Brexit represents a “quiet revolution” for May which goes beyond discontent with the European Union. It was also a rebuke of the political classes for their failure to respond to the the economic and cultural divisions created by globalisation. In order to heal these divisions, May has provided her party with a communitarian conservatism rooted in her personal patriotism and Christian belief.
There is always a temptation among British conservatives to look to America for inspiration. Conservatism in the world’s most powerful nation cannot be ignored, but it is not the only, nor necessarily the best, source of political wisdom. As a parliamentary democracy with a welfare state, Canada has more in common with Britain. Canadian Red Toryism is a fascinating tradition which has gained a new relevancy in an age when political discourse is being defined by the clash between globalism and nationalism.
In a shock result, Andrew Scheer was elected as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). It is the first time the CPC has chosen a leader since Stephen Harper was elected to lead the newly formed party in 2004.
While Maxime Bernier, the longstanding favourite to win, ran on a libertarian platform with enthusiastic millennial support, Scheer narrowly won with the support of social conservatives and centrists. Scheer pitched himself as a pragmatist who could unite the movement in the same vein as Harper. His election represents a narrow victory for continuity Harperism over radical change.
It is not surprising that Harper should still be seen as a model for success. During his leadership, Harper united libertarians and social conservatives with centrists in a successful coalition after years of Liberal dominance. This is remarkable given how from 1987 to 2003, this movement was split between the populist Reform Party of Canada (later rebranded as the Canadian Alliance) in the Western provinces and the moderate Progressive Conservative Party in the Eastern provinces, until the two parties merged in 2003 to become the CPC.
What makes this election result so interesting is how it contrasts with the development of conservatism in the United States and Britain. Anti-globalism, anti-politics, and populism have yet to go mainstream in Canada. Canadian politics still operates on the traditional Left-Right axis of big government versus small government.
Justin Trudeau embodies the same Third Way liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and has found a fellow spirit in Emmanuel Macron, France’s new President. Scheer is emulating the conservatism inspired by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, which Harper used to transform the CPC into a serious electoral force. In his victory speech, Scheer defended the Harperite view of conservatism:
“Conservatives have and always will be the party of prosperity, not envy. The party that always represents taxpayers, not connected Ottawa insiders. And we are the party that believes that there is more to society than just government.”
For now, Scheer will follow the Harper playbook and focus on what Conservatives oppose in order to unite the party and win gains in the 2019 general election and return his party to power in 2023. But his leadership will be tested by divisions within the conservative movement over issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, and climate change, many of which were suppressed by Harper during his steely leadership.
It also remains to be seen if Canadians will start expressing the same discontent with globalisation which has been given voice by populists in other Western nations. If anti-globalist politics does come to Canada, then it could undo an already fractious conservative movement in the same way it has split the conservative movement in America.
Instead of complacently relying on Harpersim, it would be more advantageous for Canadian Conservatives to ask themselves tough questions about how to become a post-Harperite party and address the new challenges posed by globalisation. The alternative is a return to a fragmented centre-right in Canada. Scheer’s success as a leader could be defined by how willing he is to take on this task.
Articles of the Week
A city of Northern grit, Northern wit – and undefeatable spirit by Chris Deerin
Why Roger Moore, one of the last true Englishmen, was the greatest James Bond by Tim Stanley
Islamists are very clear about what they want – we just aren’t listening by Douglas Murray
It’s time we talked about Corbyn’s patriotism by Iain Martin
Why police cuts weren’t to blame for the Manchester attack by Alex Massie
Cartoon of the Week
Clip of the Week
After campaigning was suspended in the wake of the atrocity committed in Manchester, the democratic process has slowly begun to recommence. As well as focusing on UK police and intelligence efforts to hunt down the terror network behind the bombing, Theresa May will have to return to the business of fighting an election.
In the remaining two weeks of the campaign and beyond, it is crucial for May to learn the right lessons from her Government's biggest misstep since the Spring Budget. Despite the social care U-turn and last weekend's wobble in the polls, the Conservatives still enjoy a healthy lead ahead of Labour. May's credibility appears to remain intact but bruised. There is still a chance that May can recover lost ground before June 8th and win a landslide victory.
The social care U-turn should not distract from the Conservative manifesto's strengths. Many of the pledges are popular with the public, such as increasing NHS spending by £8 billion, raising the national living wage, and reducing immigration. It is still a sober and serious document which identifies the key challenges facing modern Britain as well as presenting realistic policy solutions and shunning political gimmicks.
The philosophical mission stated in the manifesto also remains sound. Conservatism needs to shed its image as a defence of privilege and elitism at the expense of the lower middle- and working-classes, the people who are “just about managing”. Intergenerational inequality is still one of the “five giant challenges” of our time. Perhaps the original social care pledge was a case of prime ministerial overstretch, but to retreat from tackling this problem would be unwise and detrimental to the future of the country.
Where the social care policy did put a foot wrong was by disturbing the delicate balance of class interests that May needs to maintain. The promise of inherited wealth is as much a symbol of aspiration for middle-class Conservative voters as it is a symbol of privilege for working-class Labour voters. May can only win a landslide majority for her mandate of change if she is able to carry votes from across this social spectrum.
What has also become obvious is the need for more inclusive collective decision-making in Downing Street. Nicky Timothy and Fiona Hill are two talented and trusted advisers who have been key to May’s handling of domestic policy, Brexit, and the Union. However, there needs to be greater input from the Cabinet. Regardless of the original social care policy’s merits, the fact that it was inserted into the manifesto at the last moment with little consultation is a serious cause for worry. Vetting policies before they are published will help avoid humiliating U-turns as well as allowing loyal ministers, such as Damian Green, to defend policies without the fear of it being dropped shortly afterwards.
May also needs a parliamentary power base. Conservative MPs will be loyal so long as May is a winner and delivers what they want. Opposition to, or the lack of support for, Philip Hammond’s NIC proposal proved how shallow the loyalty of some MPs are. It seems that there is not a large group of Mayite MPs to help defend May’s agenda when it hits turbulence. Some progress is beginning to be made as Chris White arranged a dinner meeting in 2016 for fellow Mayite MPs, including Tom Tugendhat, Philip Lee, George Freeman, and John Hayes. After June 8th, more could be done to rally new MPs around the defence of Mayism.
Bringing about transformative change is never an easy task. It takes a great deal of time and patience. Margaret Thatcher needed two terms as Prime Minister to change her party and her country. There will be resistance to May’s mission, and the social care U-turn is a serious blow. This is not the end of Mayism but it has exposed organisational flaws which May will have to address if she is to successfully transform the Conservative party.
I have written a piece for The American Conservative about how Theresa May reshaped British Conservatism in the Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017. You can find it here.
As political commentators come to grips with “Mayism” and the political brain behind it, May’s joint-chief of staff Nicky Timothy, there has been much discussion regarding the legacy of his hero Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain, however, is not the Late Victorian politician Theresa May most resembles. May appears to be in a similar mould to Lord Salisbury who was the architect of the political realignment which allowed the Conservatives to dominate the late nineteenth century.
Lord Salisbury was the first Conservative to recognise a major social trend in British politics. Since the early 1870s there had been a growing number of suburban, middle class, Anglican voters moving from the Liberals to the Conservatives. Lord Salisbury exploited this by demanding a redistribution of seats bill in exchange for allowing William Gladstone’s reform bill to pass through the Conservative controlled House of Lords in 1884. Crucially, the Redistribution of Seats Act separated suburban and inner city areas into different constituencies, which in turn broke the Liberals’ hold over urban borough seats. The new suburban seats shifted the electoral balance of power decisively towards the Conservatives.
Growing middle class support for the Conservatives was then given a shot of adrenaline by the Liberal schism over Gladstone’s Home Rule scheme for Ireland in 1886. The Liberal Unionists left on the grounds on that Home Rule would undermine the sovereignty of Parliament and lead to the disintegration of the Union. There was also a growing uneasiness with the rise of radical collectivism in the Liberal Party, which would come to the fore in the party’s 1891 Newcastle Programme.
There was no guarantee that the Liberal Unionists who joined the Conservatives would not return at some point to the Liberal party. This delicate alliance could not have endured and thrived without the statesmanship of Lord Salisbury. He was able to draw together the two parties, first through informal cooperation in 1886 to 1892, then a formal coalition in 1895 to 1902. Conservatives and Liberal Unionists would use their shared patriotism and hostility to radical collectivism as the ideological foundation for their successful electoral appeal to the middle classes as well as their eventual merger in 1912.
The Conservatives have changed many times since then. Britain fought two world wars, lost her empire and gained the welfare state. It is inevitable that a successful party should look very different after a century. That being said, there are some features which are fundamental to the Conservative party’s identity. First and foremost, it is a patriotic party. Conservatism’s popularity and success has always depended on preserving the prestige, security, and identity of the United Kingdom. That is how Lord Salisbury was able to assemble a successful electoral coalition in defence of the Union.
In 2017 the Conservatives face a similar moment of realignment. Brexit has caused a schism in British politics which could allow May to cleave the working-class vote away from an unpopular Labour party led by a widely distrusted leader, and attract the unionist vote in Scotland against the SNP. By promising a patriotic pro-Brexit and pro-Union government, May is emulating the Conservative leader who did so much to found the party she leads today.
Ruthless pragmatism runs deep in the Conservative party’s DNA. For almost two centuries the party has repeatedly changed and adapted according to circumstance. It is an ability which allowed the party to dominate the twentieth century.
In the wake of Brexit, the Conservative party is undergoing another period of change as Theresa May crafts the next stage in Tory modernisation. It is a process which has been developing, with varying levels of success, since the catastrophic 1997 defeat.
May’s blue-collar rebrand of modernisation differs from David Cameron’s more liberal emphasis on issues such as poverty, diversity, and climate change, but that is not the whole story. After the financial crisis, a lot of work was done to advance a blue-collar conservatism which could help the Conservatives shed their image as “the party of the rich”.
Organisations such as Blue Collar Tories, Renewal, and The Good Right appeared during the Cameron-era and produced a number of policy ideas. Nick Timothy, now May’s Chief of Staff, outlined his blue-collar conservative philosophy on Conservative Home as a columnist from 2015 to 2016. Today there is the Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists group, admirably led by Rob Halfon MP, which continues to promote a pro-working-class agenda.
These efforts did not go unnoticed by the Cameron governments. Cameron’s six years in power saw generous increases in the personal allowance, freezes in fuel duty and cuts to beer duty, the introduction of a National Living Wage, and the creation of Metro Mayors. It is a strong foundation on which May’s government can build and use to transform the Conservatives into the new workers’ party.
May’s brand of blue-collar conservatism has already made serious headway over the past year. In a recent YouGov poll, the Conservatives stood at 49% of working-class voters while Labour lagged behind with 32%. The triumphant by-election result in Copeland earlier this year, a Labour-held area since 1935, was the first concrete sign that May’s Conservatives can make a serious breakthrough in Labour’s working-class seats.
What makes this success so surprising is how May does not enjoy a significant Mayite base of support in the conservative movement. May’s popularity largely flows from her personal attributes. As the daughter of a vicar and a living embodiment of provincial Britain, May appeals to people in a way which Cameron, as the son of a stockbroker and a product of Britain’s elite, could not. By leading an almost presidential-style campaign, May is speaking directly to the “ordinary working people” she needs to give her a landslide victory next month.
Even if May does achieve an electoral breakthrough, future success can only be guaranteed if her government has lasting achievements which secure the loyalty of working-class voters. Failing to do so would undo the progress which has been made and confirm many voters’ belief that the Conservatives care only for the privileged few.
May can deliver lasting change with the help of the broader conservative movement. An intellectual voice for Mayism provided by journalists, policy thinkers, and academics is needed to help produce policy ideas and defend them in the public arena. If Mayites do not emerge soon, then May will find it extremely difficult to bring about a much-needed realignment in British politics.
Today’s Labour manifesto has been torn to pieces by most of the media. It is an uncosted wish list of hard-left policies which has further wounded Labour’s credibility as a party of government.
Labour’s retreat from the political mainstream under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell has also created an historic opportunity for Theresa May to make a major ideological land grab, but Labour’s decline did not begin with Corbyn or today’s manifesto. The rot set in during Ed Miliband's tenure as leader.
In a landmark conference speech in 2012, Miliband outlined a vision for the Labour party inspired by the philosopher Lord Gasman and his Blue Labour concept. Lord Glasman argued that the Labour party had to move on from the economic and cultural liberalism of the New Labour years. Instead, Labour needed a communitarian ideology which curbed both the economic and the cultural excesses of globalisation.
Miliband embraced the economic narrative of Blue Labour by promising to tackle the inequalities which he believed undermined social cohesion. However, he neglected to address the more socially conservative aspects of the Blue Labour project, particularly the relationship between national identity, immigration and the European Union. This left Labour’s working-class base vulnerable to UKIP’s populist message.
Nigel Farage spoke to the concerns of working-class Labour voters and won them over while most Labour politicians like Miliband took them for granted. Some openly scorned people for their attachment to national identity, the most memorable example being when Emily Thornberry, the then Shadow Attorney General, posted a dismissive tweet during the 2014 Rochester by-election about a house with England flags on display.
Instead of learning from these mistakes after the 2015 election defeat, Labour has doubled down on an internationalist socialism which alienates working-class voters by twice picking Corbyn as its leader. Miliband’s leadership was a missed opportunity to return the Labour party to its roots as a party of civic patriotism and ethical socialism.
The SNP has already demolished Labour in Scotland. Labour’s grip has weakened in its Northern and Midlands heartlands where many working-class Labour voters broke the habit of a lifetime by voting for UKIP. May is now ruthlessly exploiting this weakness.
As well as embracing Brexit and promising to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands”, May is also adopting the economic elements of Milibandism. A cap on energy prices, a new generation of council housing, and an expansion of workers’ rights have been announced over the past few weeks. Nick Timothy, the Downing Street Chief of Staff, has had conversations about policy development with Lord Glasman.
If May wins seats across the North and the Midlands, then the parliamentary party will be transformed. New Conservative MPs will be representing left-leaning seats which had been held by Labour for decades and support May’s new vision for a more interventionist Tory economic policy.
Miliband's failure to reform the Labour party has made him the accidental architect of May’s new Conservatism and Labour's likely defeat next month. Corbyn’s manifesto is just the final nail in the coffin for the Labour’s historic role as Britain’s workers' party.