There’s a very good article by Ed West on Unherd today called “Why Conservatism is Doomed” which I highly recommend. The thesis of the piece is that despite winning the general election, conservatism is dying as an ideology as liberals take over more and more of the establishment. I agree with some of the points in it and even the stuff I disagree with made me think. Where I most disagree is that the crisis of conservatism does not equal the coming triumph of liberalism – I think it signals the deepening of a sort of ideological nihilism that is bound to get worse before it gets better.
The first decade of the 21st century was dominated by a politics of technocratic managerialism in politics. Parties across Europe huddled into the centre with anything outside of a small ideological pool considered extreme and therefore shunned. New Labour and Cameroonist conservatism were the dominant forces in Britain as a result. Then came the financial crash and a slow but sure adjustment to this that exploded into life in the middle of the 2010s with Corbyn and Brexit. Everything turned on its head – managerial technocracy was suddenly what no one wanted. The extremes were hunted in for solutions once again.
The problem with this, as we are now experiencing, is that these extremes were shunned for a reason – all of them had been tried in the previous century and failed. This was why for a long time no one on the left used the word “socialism” – the fall of the Soviet Union had rendered the ideology assumedly obsolete. Yet when looking for an alternative to Blairism, all the Left could do was reach for socialism again out of lack of anything else being available. On the Right as well, the attempted use of nationalism and other hard-right forces to further their own means eventually blew up in the Cameroons’ faces as voters continued to reach for something more and more authentically of the New Right. What we have now is anything practical being shunned while the solutions that everyone is championing we already know do not work.
This is what I mean by conservatism’s failure in the face of a populist brand of right-wingism not equalling liberalism in the ascendancy. What we actually have is the abolition of any meaningful ideology. This would be less horrible if it were not for the fact that it seems like most humans need an ideology to guide their actions. Years ago, I recall reading atheist scribes denouncing faith and urging people to get rid of religion and live instead by the light of reason. But it turns out if you rid your society of Christianity, more or less at least, some other quasi-religion just takes its place (this is not a pro-Christian argument, to be clear here; just an acceptance that having no religion doesn’t appear to work as atheists expected). With the decline of traditional faith, the Left has become a religion in Britain, one that sees those who do not accept their faith in full as evil; the Right is becoming more and more like it in this respect, sucked into a game of tit for tat.
The dominant themes of the day are neither conservative nor liberal. Brexit certainly isn’t either, nor is the increasing volume of dogma on either side – the Right and their anti-metropolitan liberal elite rubbish which is fast becoming straight up anti-thought; the Left with its demonisation of those who do not agree to their ever changing demands on what can and cannot be said. We had an election in December in which one side was promising to get Brexit done while promising to spend a lot of public money, while the other side promised to spend a lot of public money and have a referendum “of sorts” to get Brexit done. The idea that the centrism of the 2000s has now given way in the 2020s to a real ideological debate is nonsense – both conservatism and liberalism are on the ropes, replaced by grumpy reactionary nationalism on one end and far-left, socialist authoritarianism on the other.
The hope is that people quickly tire of the non-solutions offered by the likes of Corbyn and Trump and more stable forms of conservatism and liberalism can re-invent themselves. I don’t see how exactly it happens from here, but I think it probably has to. The alternative is too scary to consider.
n a few weeks time, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge.
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here: