I’ve always thought of the split between conservatives and liberals (which I think is the essential divide in all politics, everywhere in the world, regardless of what’s actually on offer) through a simple analogy. Go back to the Palaeolithic era of our development as a species and imagine that there must have been a constant fight between those who felt that staying in one place, no matter the risks that might pose long term, was the right thing to do. “Why should we leave? Everything we have is right here. Let’s stay by the fire where it’s warm.” This is the essence of the conservative position. Things are working – why fix them? Another group of people would have been saying in the meantime, “But we can’t know how long resources will last where we are. We need to explore new terrain to keep alive.” So these folk left and explored, while the others stayed behind, by the fire.
Problem with those who want to leave the nest and go for a walkabout is, it doesn’t take long before arguments regarding direction begin to emerge. “Let’s head for the mountains,” say one half, while the other half say, “No, let’s head for the valley.” In many ways, the dispute between these two points of view are more vicious than that between either half and the fireside dwellers. You can imagine wanting to stay in one place, remaining warm; there’s something intrinsic in that. But wanting head for the mountains/valley when it’s obvious that hilly/declining terrain is the way forward? That’s inexplicable.
The mountaineers v the valley dwellers represent the liberals v the socialists, just in case you hadn’t worked that out yet. The antipathy between the two sides in a modern day setting can be represented by this anecdote: Labour conference, Manchester, 2014. A fringe event about pluralism, and Emily Thornberry, in a few months time from this incident to become semi-infamous due to a tweeted photo of St George’s Cross and a white van, told the crowd a “joke”.
“There’s a Tory councillor and a Lib Dem one standing by the edge of a cliff. Which one do you push off first?”
If you’re normal you’d probably answer, of course, neither; I don’t readily take part in the senseless murder of other human beings based on their party affiliation. Anyhow, Emily’s answer was:
“The Tory – business before pleasure.”
I bring this aside up as it beautifully demonstrates the psychological divide in question. It would clearly, from the thrust of the joke, be more pleasurable to off the liberal than the conservative, but as the Tories are the actual enemy, when all is said and done, duty calls.
This comes back to a split about how each side sees the free market. While the Tories like capitalism, from a socialist point of view that’s no big one since Tories are supposedly wrong about everything. But liberals can’t be dismissed quite so easily, as they are clearly not conservatives. The liberals seem to think that capitalism can be a progressive force, if used correctly, which is so much worse to a socialist that the Tories take on the whole thing: “Hey, life’s shit, we told you so. Now come sit round the fire again. You know it’s good for you.”
Can this divide ever be bridged? Probably not. It is, in a way, the essential one in the struggle for mankind’s destiny. The conservatives always lose eventually, since humankind has to move on at some point; the real fight is about direction of travel from there. So liberals and socialists will almost certainly battle it out for some years yet (see: Labour leadership contest, 2015, Corbyn victory).