Prospect’s new issue: the Red Tory moment

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Prospect’s new issue: the Red Tory moment

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A Fourth Way for Britain?

A Fourth Way for Britain?

David Cameron should break up supermarket giant Tesco and turn the Post Office into a nationalised parallel banking system, argues influential Conservative party advisor Phillip Blond in this month’s cover story, which unveils a new “progressive” agenda for the British right. Blond, the director of Demos’s new Progressive Conservatism project, argues for a break with free-market Thatcherism, to be replaced by a bold new “Red Toryism” that is socially conservative, sceptical of neo-liberal economics and radically localist; the most challenging new political thesis of the post-credit crunch era.

Has he lost the plot, or is this the way forward for the Tories? The whole article is now free to read online here, so wade in with your views.

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  1. January 29, 2009

    William Brett

    It’s not immediately clear to me how Mr Blond’s theory works to prevent the inevitable march towards monopoly by successful businesses. He advocates the “breaking up” of giant supermarket and mobile phone companies to allow local business to compete. But surely, two or three decades after his localist revolution, a handful of these local businesses (particularly, I would imagine, those based in the southeast) will have effectively won their respective commercial competitions, and will be enjoying monopolies of their own. While Mr Blond’s analysis of our broken society is convincing, his remedy doesn’t address the paradox at the heart of free-market economics – which is that unregulated competition inevitably produces what he calls “modal monopolies”. Without pervasive and continuous state regulation of business (continuous in that it must maintain a presence beyond Mr Blond’s original “break-up” moment), history will be doomed to repeat itself.

    Having said that, I welcome Mr Blond’s incisive analysis, as will, I imagine, all of us Marxists.

  2. January 30, 2009

    Diversity

    Disraeli’s preaching – not his practice – mixed with a good dose of Chesterbelloc and leavened with compulsory localism? Is that the magic potion for 21st century Toryism?

    Phillip Blond may well be right in sensing that it is becoming time to forget the Labour Party and go back to opposing the Liberals; but he will have to od much better to successfully steal the modern LibDem’s clothes.

  3. January 31, 2009

    John Henry Calvinist

    A Fascinating piece…let’s hope Cameron has the brains – and guts – to take its basic message to heart.

    Recently re-reading David Hackett Fischer’s “The Great Wave” as our finanancial systems collapsed, I (again) had the feeling that we might well be at one of his turning points…and, that every one so far acted to partially re-balance power inequities. If so, then whatever statesman first acts to genuinely devolve power (both political and market) in a Western democracy could have enormous influence as the affluent world re-shapes itself…

    Of course, I could be wrong.

    For those interested in such approaches – neither left not right, actually – to my mind, the key reading is Elinor Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons”…which manages to transcend its stated brief and abstract what amount to the effective ground rules for bottom-up governance – see my review here:

    http://www.thenewhumanities.net/books/Book%20Reviews13.html

    I’d also like to add two further thoughts:

    1/ Breaking up huge companies – as William Brett notes – will become an ongoing process…but that’s no reason to repine. After all, it’s a relatively simple matter, given distributed ownership via shares, and could easily become part of business as usual. What’s more, everyone in the company hierarchy (save for the CEO) would benefit – by moving up the ladder – so incentives would not be too much of a problem.

    2/ Phillip Blond – and others – might also do well to have a hard look at James Fishkin’s work, as it offers the serious possibility of a different model for representative assemblies, which would derail the straightforward corporatist influence-peddling which so deforms common-good objectives on all sides of politics today. Again, my review is here:

    http://www.thenewhumanities.net/books/Book%20Reviews30.html

    I hope this was useful, and I look forward to more on the “Red Tory” concept…we badly need institutional/policy models that offer an end run around the failed notions that dominate today.

  4. February 2, 2009

    Bruce Sterling

    I deeply appreciate this invigorating breeze of fresh whatever-it-is. I’m not sure that it’s breathable air — but when it blew through my window, I sat up straight and reached for the keyboard immediately.

    Thank you for this, Mr. Blond. I will be watching henceforth.

  5. February 3, 2009

    Josh W

    Monopolies are created by choice, but they are destroyed by complexity. They will not be killed by artificially breaking them up, that is fighting the tide. They will break when they are blown up from the inside, or rather from the consumer end.

    So what is the solution? Monopolies form because we are able to make a list of people offering identical products and pick the cheapest. And by economies of scale and practice the cheapest gets cheaper.

    But what if products are not identical? What if product lines fracture and expand as people get to choose more and more what they buy? Well first of all this could lead to a lack of experience, because everything is first time. So what if there is funding, taxed from everyone in that style of business, to incentivise sharing of experience?

    Then big businesses find that small businesses no longer have anything to fear from sharing knowledge with competitors, because their competitors have (in part) already paid for it. This will mean they have less and less of an advantage from their internal patent machines, and this will likely lead to a return to funding of stand alone research organisations like universities. Now the important rule is that however the money is collected, it must be available to companies that fund it in proportion to their income, unless they choose to pool their efforts. This way as purely as possible the incentive is just for companies to spend their existing money on transferable knowledge-based investment, so that universities must go into partnership with actual end-users to get the funding. Perhaps then it functions best as a form of tax credit, on top of slightly enlarged basic rate.

    This model of diversity is not inherently local; the different companies can be anywhere, but it weakens the international corporation purely by strengthening smaller firms.

    That’s only part of it of course, it is mitigating the flaws of opening up the spread of products while expecting little drop in quality. The next part is strengthening the intermediary standards agencies, in order to enhance the depth of information that can be quickly provided. But such standards bodies will probably need some accountability structure of their own, preferably one that requires them to open up portions of their dealings to their competitors, so that they can regulate each other rather than being examined from above. There is a difficulty here with professionals hiding behind their own specialised languages away from scrutiny, but open recording of their actions and the desire to keep a good reputation should hopefully keep them honest.

  6. February 4, 2009

    Toby Mottram

    If I could only believe that Cameron has the vision and the skill to manage what will be a very difficult period in politics. How will he cope with the disgruntled older voters trying to stop the necessary reverse in their inflated incomes and assets. The last 30 years has eroded the value of most of the personal behaviours that historically have been regarded as essential to health and happiness. If we could only be sure that in 30 years some other Blond will not be analysing why strong local societies have been a failure. Great analysis and makes me want to buy a copy for the archive.

  7. February 10, 2009

    henrique

    Interesting, but as many others who are writing on this, it tends to ascribe to the market what is rather a failure of an utopian ideology born out of a particular form of “rental capitalism” in the US.

    We don’t need go back to such foggy concepts (?) as commutarianism

  8. February 10, 2009

    henrique

    I meant communitarianism of course

  9. February 10, 2009

    Dave B

    ‘Next Left’ is a Fabian Society ‘blog’.

  10. February 12, 2009

    Stuart White

    Readers of this thread might be interested in a further discussion of this article which I’ve posted at the ‘next Left’ site:

    http://www.nextleft.org/2009/02/phillip-blond-on-liberalism.html

    Note to Dave B: yes, ‘Next Left’ is a Fabian Society blogsite. If the implication is that this makes it pointless to engage with the arguments, don’t you think you ought to take a look at the arguments first?

  11. February 16, 2009

    Joe Aston

    Real community cannot be brought about by any project of social engineering; the free human beings who must comprise it are too big for that. There are ways to court that gift surely, but they belong in the spiritual dimension, and by the way it is strange how few of the chattering classes seem to recognise that the prevalent bankruptcy there haunts our economic crisis. Meanwhile our politicians are best advised to concentrate on doing the basics competently, honestly, and justly; maintaining the rule of law and sound money, and trying to prevent people from starving. I fear they have their work cut out at that!

  12. February 22, 2009

    John Bailo

    Thank you for expressing a view I have long sought to articulate! I am an American Republican, but only in the sense of what I hoped Republicanism would be — freedom from the tyranny of Government, and the tyranny of its associated monopoly power.

    My take on it is that the originally centralized states of US and USSR have been fractionating into smaller and smaller corporate states. However, technology has been increasing the power of the individual to the point that these states seem less and less rational. Why do I need a Bureau of Statistics when someone with a Blog puts the numbers right on the web? Why do I need Microsoft when I can download Linux and OpenOffice for free?

    So, the technical state and associated bureacrats seems less and less to justify its existence. That is why I view Obama as the last desperate grasp of the techno-bureaucrats and their centralized states rather than something new. Obama is an all out war against the future…a future which Bush saw and pushed us towards. Obama thinks he can put humpty dumpty back together again — the New Deal state of decades ago. But the Internet is at the point where capital does not need Wall Street or the DOW companies to work — what we need is banking at the broadband level…a world where finally the town, the family, the real entrepreneur can acquire capital as easily as the false entrepreneurs of mergers and acquisitions could.

  13. March 2, 2009

    Dane Clouston

    Don’t pretend you are a One Nation Red Tory in favour of an Opportunity Society if you accept that it is OK for some to receive £50,000,000 Unearned Capital free of tax, as Rupert Murdoch’s children did recently, while others never inherit any capital at all.

    Redistribute the receipt of gifted and bequeathed wealth in each new generation.

    Replace the exemption-ridden IHT by a Capital Donor Tax, at a flat 10%, to record all giving and bequeathing of capital.

    Introduce, in tandem with the Capital Donor Tax, a progressive cumulative lifetime Unearned Capital Receipts Tax, starting at 10%, payable after deduction of Capital Donor Tax paid. Most recipients will have no more tax to pay.

    Give every UK-born British citizen at the age of 25 a British Universal Inheritance of 10% of the average wealth of every adult and child in the UK, financed by and subject to the progressive Unearned Capital Receipts Tax.

    Such a universal Asset Welfare State measure will increase entrepreneurial activity, home ownership and equality of opportunity, and therefore equality of outcomes. It will reduce alienation, crime and policing costs and financial and social exclusion. It will reduce the need for and cost of the Income Welfare State safety net. It will increase a sense of progressive national community and identity, much needed at the present time.

    Along with good education and health for all, it will bring about a more genuine ‘Opportunity Society’.

  14. March 25, 2009

    Uli vom Hagen

    Thanks for trying to resurrect the Red Tory movement. I enjoyed reading your text because it made me wonder about the notions of community and equality.

    The pro hierarchy approach for democratic societies remains up-to-date the central challenge for any kind of Red Tory agenda. Must a new Red Tory go beyond the conservative fixation with hierarchy?

    The public good and a virtue-oriented discourse play in republicanism a particular importance. Classical republicanism emphasises that the approximate equality of individual wealth is the precondition for a virtuous citizenry and polity. The social practice of equality or equity might be achieved through the traditional values of deference: by kindness, regard, mutual respect, and compliance with another’s wishes are we able to deal with the differences between us.

    Trough the disposition to respect the dignity of others can one achieve the inclusiveness that an egalitarian society depends upon. Trough a civic stewardship that is informed by deference and which shows responsibility for the commonwealth might it be possible to organise societal leadership without repressive hierarchy. Civic stewardship includes personal responsibility for taking care of public property and public affairs. Among those traditions are the social virtues of kindness, solidarity, selflessness, and joyfulness.

    However, this process of social regeneration cannot happen through moralistic pondering, but only through acts of practical deference and creativity. Democracies have to provide the populace with the egalitarian opportunity to engage with others in settings that are unaffected by economising considerations. These requirements would have to be fulfilled by a new Red Tory agenda that is informed by a Red communitarianism.

  15. July 24, 2009

    William Elliot

    It is all very well to talk about localism and decentralising power (moves which I would certainly applaud) but we must remember that there lies at the heart of this mess a broken political system. It is our flawed constitution, which has enabled both the State-Socialist and the Market-Liberal models to exist for so long, and has allowed Governments to get away with doing so much damage. If the Tories really have had a change of heart, and if the Blond-agenda is to have any hope of success, then this social and economic restructuring must be accompanied by a constitutional restructuring which entrenches genuine local democracy.

  16. August 10, 2009

    Bruce Smith

    Phillip Blond’s conscience, perspicacity and energy has provided a catalyst for us all to start re-thinking the reasons for the lack of virtue in our political and economic systems. However, I am inclined to agree with Stuart White that Liberalism is a broad church and the Socialist/Communitarian Liberalism of LT Hobhouse and RH Tawney is a million miles away from the Libertarianism of Milton Friedman who so unfortunately inspired Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan to begin the neo-libertarian nightmare that has given us the Sub-Prime Recession. Hobhouse and Tawney recognised that for Liberty to have any Virtue it was necessary to have Tolerable Limits. The debate is now about the best type of institutions and processes to provide those Virtuous and Tolerable Limits.

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Mary Fitzgerald
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