The Sunday Poast
An establishment for alternative intellects
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.
On Wednesday I published the final part of my look at the failures of austerity, thinking about why its legacy is important & what warnings it offers to conservatives today.
I also made my debut in CapX, arguing the culture wars are the Right’s Vietnam and asking why a Conservative government is funding an entire sector weaponised against conservative values to the tune of £20m every day.
Building back better borders
Rishi’s plan for an ‘amnesty in all but name’ is a practical mistake as well as a political one. Clearing a backlog by amnesty will act as a further pull factor for migrants, which will make the backlog even worse in the long run; the answer to the overwhelmed immigration system isn’t a short term fix to make the numbers look better.
In the Telegraph, Tom Harris argues that politicians aren’t being honest about asylum, and until we have a plan for failed applicants Britain has an open border:
Where do they go? What is their legal status? Who supports them? These are the questions that would remain even if, as critics of the government insist, more “safe routes” to asylum are opened up. There is a case for doing so, but only if we are prepared as a nation to accept that safe routes themselves will still produce an undefined number of people who cannot establish their right to stay here.
Both main parties insist that they reject the notion of “open borders” (though in Labour’s case the rhetoric has occasionally contradicted its formal position). That obliges both Labour and the Conservatives to explain what should happen to failed asylum applicants. Demanding more efficient processing, more Border Force guards and better trained Home Office personnel is all well and good, but those “solutions” don’t address this one, desperately difficult question.
Building back better local government
I’ve said for a while that as a councillor, your primary challenge is to mitigate the fallout from structural problems or policies that are beyond your power to change.
In a new substack (featuring a not-entirely favourable mention of the council I’m on), Simon Cooke argues that it’s even worse than that, and without reform to funding for social service local government will continue to be hamstrung:
What changed wasn’t the desire of councils and their councillors to make cities and districts better places but rather the wish of central government to direct what those councils were able to do, and the collapse of a funding model designed to deliver visible services and palpably unable to provide social services at scale. As a result, local government is being pushed into larger structures in order to cope with the pressures from social care and a broken public pensions system.
If you exclude education and policing from local government spending (the former is under the aegis of Police & Crime Commissioners not councils and for the latter councils acts as a bag of money working to a national formula), social care costs amount to over half of council expenditure. For county councils which don’t have housing, planning and refuse collection functions, the proportion is even higher reaching 70% for the most exposed councils. This, not the desire for better government, is what drives devolution proposals in England and is why we see the setting up of huge, unwieldy unitary councils (I hesitate to call them ‘local’) like North Yorkshire.
Building back better renewables
Last week’s post Two Nation Tories looked in part at the degradation of British infrastructure under Cameron, in particular the inability to drive energy projects through - which has left us producing less *total* energy than 20 years ago.
On his Substack, Sam Dumitriu looks at the streamlining of the Spanish development process for renewables, and points out that it could happen in Britain too:
Britain Remade’s analysis of data on major infrastructure demonstrates the growth in planning red tape. In the space of a decade, document counts have tripled while almost half of all decisions are delayed. Britain’s economy may not have grown much over the past decade, but the same cannot be said of the length of environmental impact assessments and environmental statements. In fact, 10,000 plus page counts are common for renewable projects.
As a consequence, building a new solar farm can take 4 years and a new offshore wind farm can take more than 12 years. In normal times, this state of affairs would be inconvenient. But we are not in normal times, Europe is in an energy crisis and climate deadlines are fast approaching.
Building back a better property-owning democracy
Somehow, I’ve only just come across James Vitali’s work. I’m enjoying his fantastic work on housing immensely especially because he isn’t just another anti-NIMBY writer; his work is a lot stronger in laying out the moral case for tackling intergenerational disparity through home ownership.
In this piece for Unherd he shows exactly why I like reading him so much. He looks at the little-known Conservative Noel Skelton, ‘arguably the most important Conservative thinker you’ve never heard of’, and lays out a philosophical outlook the Tories would do well to pick up again:
“To make democracy stable and four-square” was the goal for Skelton. And his means for achieving it was his most famous coinage: “property owning democracy”, a vision of society in which the wage earner had “property and status”, and in which private property would serve as a vehicle for the moral and economic development of the individual. Far from his ideology dying out in a democratised age, Skelton argued, property ownership would make conservatism and democracy mutually supportive. The teetering “stability of the social structure” would have a new prop. And it would also teach responsibility, self-sufficiency, and pride — values which inculcate a one-nation sense of shared obligations, and which recoil from state dependency. For a still-rigidly hierarchical party, it was a remarkable intellectual and ideological innovation…
One hundred years on from Skelton’s articles, the status of the property owning democracy today is one of decline. Skelton’s vision has become perverted — no longer a stabilising ideal, but a destabilising symbol of inequity. How can young people support capitalism when they are unable to become owners of capital? How can a sense of intergenerational obligation be sustained when younger cohorts appear to be denied the economic opportunities of previous generations? Currently, property ownership is undermining both democracy and conservatism, not reinforcing them, stratifying society into mutually resentful camps along economic lines.
Building back a better right
It’s time to be honest with each other - open kimono time, as I like to call it. The Tories are odds-on to be ousted from No.10 at the next election.
As a big C Conservative, I can’t say I welcome opposition. But in The Critic, Ben Sixsmith asks if an oppositional mindset might do the right some good:
For activists, commentators and artists broadly on the right, though, being freed from the delusion of power might be healthful. No longer need they squander time and energy imagining that they might reach the ear of government. No longer need they jump onto the roller coaster rides of optimism and despair that followed Brexit or the 2019 election of Boris Johnson. A quick plunge into the icy waters of complete political irrelevance might sober them up.
Losing their (at least theoretical) association with the ruling party might give right-leaning thinkers and institutions a more coherent attitude towards themselves and their goals. They may become more explicitly oppositional, while also able to imagine positive ambitions without having to twist themselves into political pretzels in an effort to squeeze them through Westminster. Of course, ambitions are nothing without some amount of power — but people have to be worthy of power to put it to effective use.
The Sunday Papers
In absolute scenes, research from Unherd shows that a supporting a reduction in house prices has a relationship to both age and rurality:
We also tested the statement “I want house prices to come down”, which was met with overwhelming agreement across the country. 63% of the population agree with the statement and only 14% disagree. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most dramatic driver of opinion here is age: 60% of 18-24 year olds strongly agree, compared to only 16% of over-65s.
As a compromise, let’s not build any houses anywhere.
Meanwhile, Nick Timothy and Gavin Rice, authors of The Conservative Reader, are off to lead a venture at UK Onward on the Future of Conservatism. They’ll be producing three papers this year, the first setting out ‘the case for national community Conservativism’. I’m a big fan of Nick and Gavin and their work may prompt a sorely-needed intellectual restoration of the Conservatives:
Looking beyond the next couple of years, the Conservative Party must renew itself and what it has to offer. History shows that parties in government can find it difficult to do this. Times change, and so do our challenges. Some policies work, but some fail. Some just go on existing, not making much difference to anybody…
To establish how to meet these challenges with confidence – to help the Tories to renew and look to the future – we are launching a new project, the Future of Conservatism, which will provide the party with the intellectual foundations – the analysis and the policy ideas – it needs.
There’ll be no Sunday Poast next week as I’m on holiday, but you get what you pay for and this is free so what are you complaining about? However, there is a post scheduled for Wednesday, arguing that the biggest threat to conservatives is becoming America-brained and begging - pleading - British conservatives not to import the Republican model of opposition.
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