The Sunday Poast
All the Views What's Fit to Print
Welcome to The Sunday Poast, a weekly round up of things I’ve been reading I’d like to share and highlight to 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 - ideally, a conservative Britain fit for the 21st Century.
This week I wrote a piece for CapX called ‘Spartan Britain’. In it I argue that he failure to deliver enough housing risks rendering the propertyless a helot class, that home ownership is a cornerstone of conservativism and - if Conservatives want to reclaim the political, economic and moral benefits that go along with it - then we need a focus on home ownership, not home owners.
The green agenda has aims that are both laudable and necessary: the reduction of the impact humans have on the environment. But one of the great mistakes we have made in pursuing this agenda - and in particular the Net Zero element - is a sole focus on emission reduction, rather than how to meet our goals without declining living standards.
In Perspective, Fred Skulthorp looks at the rising wave of anti-ULEZ activism and asks if, fuelled by declining trust in media and institutions, there might be a new populist rising stirring on the green front.
In the wake of the pandemic and the supposed collapse of populism, many writers on both the left and right have said its demise might well have been exaggerated. Thomas Fazi, in particular, has suggested that populism vs centrism remains a defining feature of British politics, with the one third opposed to lockdown inspired by an enduring distrust of media and institutions. If the populist energy of mistrust, apathy and discontent with the political class hasn’t died, then the recent protests and disruption in the quiet shires of England should raise an eyebrow. From energy policy and net zero to the implementation of green living policies, is there a future populist revolt stirring on the green front?
Judging by recent events in the Netherlands, this possibility doesn’t seem far-fetched. In March, Caroline van der Plas’ Farmer-Citizen Movement shocked the country’s political system by winning a landslide victory. The background to this electoral coup was a month of farmers’ protests against the government’s plans to meet EU climate targets by reducing nitrogen emitted by farms. It was an issue the party was able to link to government ineptitude, the housing crisis and even frustration over the government’s covid policies. These threads were tied together with a powerful narrative that presented an existential threat to a way of life beyond the cities once again threatened by an out of touch elite.
Given the almost wholesale progressive takeover of institutions it’s important that future Conservatives recognise that the state must do a lot less, but perform that significantly more limited role significantly more capably. But after 13 years in government, Conservatives have found themselves in the ludicrous position of funding artwork that criticises Conservative ministers and appointing opposition activists to positions in public life.
In The Critic, Poppy Coburn has written a deep dive into the radical progressive take over of the charity sector, which is increasingly well-funded by government to oppose government policies.
Attempts to reform the sector from the Right have broadly come to nothing. Conservatives have the reins of the Charity Commission — Orlando Fraser, the current chair, is the son of the Tory MP Sir Hugh Fraser, and stood as a Conservative party candidate in 2005. Prior to him the chairman was William Shawcross and then Tina Stowell. But leaders can do only so much within an unbalanced legal framework. And by placing conservative voices at the head of industries that lean left, the Conservative party left itself open to accusations of “stoking a culture war”.
The Charities Act (2011) is indisputably biased towards left-leaning organisations operating under the “promotion of equalities” clause. Migration Watch — a group that questions mass immigration as the cure for Britain’s ills — is a company limited by guarantee. The difference between it and a group such as Praxis is that they are allowed to be defined as “promoting racial harmony”, while Migration Watch is boxed in as a lobbying organisation. It’s my human rights campaign versus your culture war politics.
The rising price of housing has a multitude of effects - including a decline in fertility, as reported last week. But it is also removing families entirely from some areas, including urban centres.
In The Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty weaves an alarming tale of the deracination of London, which has become so expensive people are leaving as they look to start a family. You might argue if that’s a problem as they can always leave, but what happens when this phenomenon is replicated across the country?
A city without children is not some dystopia; it is the new reality. At the Centre for London, senior researcher Jon Tabbush has analysed 20 years of census results, and found families with kids have gone missing across the centre of London. Since 2001, Lambeth has seen a 10% drop in households with at least one school-age child; in Southwark it’s 11%. Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Islington: they are all losing young families.
As Camden council’s leader Georgia Gould says: “People are either being pushed out before they can have babies – or they’re choosing to leave.” This goes way beyond the rite of passage of couples swapping their city-centre flats for a suburban home and garden, she says – it is now happening at speed and scale beyond anything her officials imagined. In outer London Barking and Dagenham, there has been a 34% increase in households with children: the kind of jump any local authority would struggle to handle. A similar story can be told all around the perimeter of the city: its children and its future are being formed on its outskirts.
I’ve always thought of the culture war as the right’s Vietnam. With the Tories in power, conservatives were supposed to have decidedly superior firepower; yet since the ‘great awokening’ began in 2011, the war has not so much progressed as ground on, with increasingly little to show for it.
T’was ever thus: in Unherd, Alwyn Turner writes about how Thatcher’s disinterest in the arts, and failure to make cultural arguments in her favour whilst in power, meant that since she left office her history has been largely rewritten:
It’s been a long, strange affair, this relationship of Thatcher with the arts. She knew it sort of mattered, which is why, in her first conference speech as Tory leader in 1975, she denounced “those who gnaw away at our national self-respect, rewriting British history as centuries of unrelieved gloom, oppression and failure”. (The context made it clear that she was talking specifically about the BBC.) But it wasn’t really important enough, and there were so many other dragons to be slain.
So while she was busily rewriting the political norms on public ownership, trade unions and the economy, she was losing all the cultural arguments. And since cultural artefacts have a longer shelf-life than do inflation rates, they have increasingly shaped the memory of Thatcher. The further we get away from her, the more public attitudes are shaped by hostile depictions of her and her policies. She still looms large, even for those born after her defenestration in 1990, but she’s seen more and more negatively.
The reason I started the SP - in fact, my main driver for writing in the first place - is I think there exists a desire for a politics that wants to change Britain’s course and that desire can be fulfilled by a new form of conservativism. But new forms will require new underpinnings.
In The Critic, James Vitali writes an excellent follow-up to his piece ‘The content of conservatism’, published in February. For too long conservatives have accepted the false idea that theirs is not really an ideology and has no coherent philosophy. James is doing some real spade work is setting that right.
Here is the vital distinction between a conservatism laden with meaning and value, and a contentless conservatism that simply seeks to slow down progress towards the kind of society advocated by non-conservatives. A genuine conservatism requires the conserving of those things that make the particular society we live in, well, particular. It requires this not because such things correspond to some abstract ideal, but because they constitute the defining characteristics of a community in which people historically have lived good lives. Those who are content with a society defined by the values of socialists or liberals, but merely wish to reach such a state of affairs gradually, are not conservatives at all.
Where does this leave conservatism today? What is its future? To return to the passage from Disraeli with which we started, change is an inevitable part of human existence. Yet what makes the conservative approach to change distinctive is its commitment to managing change in such a way that it preserves and maintains those things of great value.
The Sunday Papers
Not quite a paper, but on his Substack Matt Goodwin has started a deeper dive into the origins of his ‘New Elite’ which many critics of his (who are shockingly unfamiliar with the concept of achieved social identity) would do well to read:
As economist Paul Collier points out, the effects of the revolution coincided with the rise of a new elite who simply appeared less interested in upholding the strong sense of obligation to others, national belonging and ethical purpose which had characterised some of Britain’s leaders in years gone by.
Whether on the left or right, Britain’s rulers were now completely focused on pushing through a revolution which reflected their values, interests and priorities but showed little interest in everybody else. And, soon, much of this would have profound effects on politics, clearing the way for an almighty backlash against the new elite.
A new paper from the IFS examines the reasons for the growing level of intergenerational disparity in the UK, as well as the frightening scale of it:
Those born in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s have about 20-25% more wealth than those born 10 years earlier, when compared at the same age whilst, for younger people, that generation-on-generation growth in wealth has stopped.
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