The Sunday Poast
The unhappy medium
Welcome to The Sunday Poast, a weekly round up of things I’ve been reading I’d like to share and highlight.
The Sunday Poast will help build up a picture of what the collective mission and purpose of conservatives should look like. That means explaining what road we’re on, how we got there and where we’re going - which I’d like to be a conservative Britain fit for the 21st Century.
On Wednesday I published ‘Two Nation Tories’, the second part of my look at the failures of austerity. It looks at how the lack of capital spending and failure to deliver infrastructure improvements help stall the engines of growth, and how the political choices have entrenched intergenerational disparity. If you’d like to read the series, make sure to subscribe below!
On the Theory Matters podcast a while ago, I said I was a believer in David Goodhart’s Somewhere vs Anywhere paradigm on the basis that the right/left divide of politics, based on people’s relationship to the means of production, has been replaced by a new dividing line along people’s relationship to the effects of globalisation.
On his Substack, Matt Goodwin reveals how the snobbery directed to Lee Anderson reveals the entrenched ‘anywhere’ prejudice against ‘somewheres’, and asks if it’s healthy the domination of a single group of people - and singular viewpoint - is healthy for the nation:
One big reason why many Western democracies have found themselves confronted with one populist revolt after another is precisely because their political, cultural and media institutions have been taken over by an elite graduate minority who tend to share the same backgrounds, went to the same schools, the same universities, share the same values, and routinely look down on those from the working-class, who do not have a degree or hold different values…
In an earlier world, when the big debates in politics were mainly about economic redistribution, the state, inequality, and public services, this cultural chasm between the elites and the masses mattered less. It was concealed and could not be ignored.
But in today’s world, where the big debates are as much about national borders, changing genders, immigration, identity, and who we think we are, this gaping cultural chasm between a far more liberal if not radically progressive graduate elite and the far more culturally conservative masses is far more problematic.
I’m currently reading Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. As Caldwell pulls apart the poor and dishonest ways in which immigration is discussed he references Pierre-André Taguieff’s French term immigrationisme.
This describes the ideology that immigration is always ‘both inevitable and good’, which has reared it’s head again in the debate around Knowsley. In Unherd, Thomas Fazi writes a cogent defence of a national community’s right to have their say on immigration:
That said, opposition to immigration isn’t all about economics. It also has to do with the fact that the majority of voters, unlike the globe-trotting cosmopolitan elites, continue to view themselves as national citizens who want to live in a community with some sense of a shared collective identity. Indeed, several studies show that, for most people, national identity remains the strongest form of collective identity around the world. A country’s national identity may be, to a large extent, an “imaginary” construct. It may also be hard to pin down, encompassing customs, culture, history, language, religion and social mores. But it exists and has very “real” effects, creating common bonds among members of — and giving rise to — a territorially defined community.
But the ideology that immigration is always ‘both inevitable and good’ isn’t shared by the vast majority of the public.
According to new research from UnHerd, that national community know exactly what they think about immigration levels. 57% of Britons agree with the statement “Immigration levels are too high”, compared to just 20% who disagree:
Despite regular reports from survey groups that, as a political issue, immigration is less important to voters since Brexit, today’s results show a very high level of support for reduced immigration across the political spectrum. That 80% of those who voted for the Brexit Party in the 2019 general election, as well as 72% of Conservative supporters, believe immigration is too high may not be surprising. But our data reveals that dominant pluralities of Green voters (47%), Labour voters (45%) and Liberal Democrats (41%) share the same view.
It also appears that immigration inspires broad agreement across different age groups. Of those in the 18-24 age bracket, 42% agree, with only 24% disagreeing (a higher proportion of this group were unsure or ambivalent about the issue). Among the 25-34 bracket, 52% agreed and 20% disagreed.
The debate around Kate Forbes has, for me, illustrated that progressive liberals aren’t actually interested in building a society of plurality they claim, but in enforcing their norms as only acceptable framework for society. Diversity of every kind, perhaps, but opinion.
In The Critic, Sebastian Milbank writes ably on the new Test Act, and the expectation that politicians must prove they hold no religiously conservative views on sexual ethics before being allowed to take high office:
There is now a concerted attempt to exclude religious conservatives from the political process and public life, with informal and formal barriers emerging in law, policy and society. The right to protest, for instance, doesn’t extend to religious conservatives when it comes to abortion “buffer zones”. Simarly, registrars who feel unable to conduct gay marriages, midwives and doctors who do not want to perform abortions, and teachers who do not wish to participate in LGBT education, are all considered by many progressives and activists to be bigots who have no business working in their chosen vocation.
Whatever you think of religious conservatives and their views, if people cannot live by their own convictions on questions of sexual and medical ethics, then the entire notion of liberal pluralism and religious freedom quickly breaks down. We are left with something else entirely.
Earlier this week, in ‘Two Nation Tories’, I bemoaned the fact that ‘austerity saw infrastructure spending cut to help reduce borrowing – despite low interest rates making it an excellent time for the government to borrow.’
Someone pointed me in the direction of this piece by In The Sight of the Unwise from 2021, which has similar themes; namely, the NHS has been allowed to meet day-to-day spending by using its capital budget:
Ever since 2014, the Treasury has permitted the Department of Health to transfer money out of the capital budget to meet routine spending demands. From 2014-2019 at least £4.3 billion of planned capex disappeared in this manner, a figure that does not include underspends of the remaining capital budget in various years (if, like us, you thought the one useful thing the Treasury does is stop this kind of thing, perhaps it’s time to reconsider).
All of this should bring some realism to modern-day discourse about what can realistically be expected from NHS reform. If the NHS is privatized, in full or in part, we won’t really save any money as a nation: healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP will remain stable or - more plausibly - increase. Old people are expensive and healthcare is a superior good with high income elasticity.
The Sunday Papers
Colombia sociology professor Musa al-Gharbi presents interesting evidence that the woke wave in academia and newsrooms has crested. Not receded, but crested. It’s been a long ten years:
A lot of the public discussion of the ‘Great Awokening’ focused on ‘vibes’ and unrepresentative anecdotes. However, as I illustrate in my forthcoming book, it’s possible to measure the changes that have taken place among knowledge professionals in a more systematic way. Interestingly, many of the same types of data that helped substantiate that a significant transformation in discourse and norms had indeed taken place after 2011 now seem to suggest that the ‘Great Awokening’ may have run its course.
Centre for Cities have produced a paper on historic causes of the UK’s housing problem and finds that, compared to the average European country, the UK is missing 4 million homes:
This report uses this new data and other sources to compare British housebuilding and outcomes to that in Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, (West) Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland from 1955 to 2015. It finds that Britain’s housing shortage began at the beginning of the post-war period, not at its conclusion
I’ve got to go, I’m breaking my heart. Thanks for reading, and have a great Sunday.
Thanks for reading The Potemkin Village Idiot! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.