Monday 18 July 2016

Theresa May – Disraeli’s “One Nation” Disciple?

Disrael's Disciple? Just hours before she discovered that she had become the next tenant of No. 10 Downing Street, this stern daughter of the vicarage, the woman who warned Conservatives against becoming “the nasty party”, was addressing the Conservatives of Birmingham. So radically “One Nation” was May’s speech, both in tone and content, that the veteran Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland, accused her of placing “several tanks on to what should be Labour’s lawn”.
IS IT A GOOD THING, or a bad thing, that politicians no longer write novels? Given Steven Joyce’s recent problems with Twitter, the politicians themselves would probably say it’s a very good thing indeed. If Mr Joyce could cause his party so much trouble with 140 characters, then just imagine how much damage he could do with 140 pages!
There was, however, one novelist who turned out to be a simply splendid politician. Long before the days of the Internet, television, radio, or even the rotary press, one Benjamin Disraeli used the novel form to talk about politics in a novel way.
It has long been said that if you want to tell the truth – write fiction. In his 1845 novel, Sybil, Disraeli constructed a conversation in which his truth-telling fictional characters inspired a whole new movement in conservative politics.
A young aristocrat by the name of Charles Egremont declares confidently that Great Britain is “the greatest nation that ever existed”, only to be set straight by a young working-class firebrand, Walter Gerard.
In reality, says Gerard, there are:
“‘Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.
‘You speak of –‘ said Egremont hesitatingly
‘The RICH and the POOR.’”
Benjamin Disraeli - The Founder of "One Nation" Conservatism.

It was Disraeli who first perceived the political impossibility of a Conservative Party dedicated to the maintenance of such glaring social divisions. By 1845 it was clear that the widening of the franchise, begun 13 years earlier with the passage of the Great Reform Act, was an irreversible process. Eventually all adult males (and, who knew, females too!) would have the vote. A party dedicated to the interests of the Egremonts exclusively could not hope to hold office. Disraeli understood that the future of conservatism in Great Britain could only be guaranteed if the Tory party first learned how to fashion – and then govern – a single nation.
Thus was born “One Nation Conservatism”.
One-hundred-and-seventy-one years after the publication of Sybil, Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, shows every sign of uplifting Disraeli’s fallen mantle and draping it fetchingly around her shoulders.
Just hours before she discovered that she had become the next tenant of No. 10 Downing Street, this stern daughter of the vicarage, the woman who warned Conservatives against becoming “the nasty party”, was addressing the Conservatives of Birmingham.
So radically “One Nation” was May’s speech, both in tone and content, that the veteran Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland, accused her of placing “several tanks on to what should be Labour’s lawn”. Indeed, had the beleaguered Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, delivered such a speech it would have been received as further proof of his unelectability.
Here’s a sample: one Disraeli, himself, could have written:
“This is a different kind of Conservatism … It marks a break with the past. But it is in fact completely consistent with Conservative principles. Because we don’t just believe in markets, but in communities. We don’t just believe in individualism, but in society. We don’t hate the state, we value the role that only the state can play. We believe everybody – not just the privileged few – has a right to take ownership of what matters in their lives.”
In that single paragraph, Britain’s second female Prime Minister has turned on its head the “there’s no such thing as society” credo of its first. May’s Birmingham speech signals a new departure for the Conservative Party; and her direction of travel, in part an acknowledgement of the intense feelings that drove Brexit, threatens to outflank her Labour opponents – from the Left.
The fratricidally distracted Left may not have noticed it yet, but the Financial Times’ Janan Ganesh certainly has:
“She is not a reactionary. Nobody who sensed the perceived nastiness of her party as early as 2002, as she did, and challenged the police as often as she has, could be. But if Tory history pits the spirit of freedom against the claims of social order, the one periodically dominating the other before giving way, she might herald the latter’s resurgence … Free-marketeers, gird yourselves.”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 July 2016.


Anonymous said...

She has certainly struck a chord in British politics.
I believe she will hold the Union together, her first port of call to Scotland was telling on her character.
Jeremy will put up a good show against her which should cement his leadership.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn share the same disposition and I believe this augurs well for a Britain without Europe. Hurrah for Britain.

Now Therese and Jeremy 'what about a republic?', what about a vote when the Queen dies?.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, as Zhou Enlai is alleged to have said about the French Revolution of 1789, or 1968 depending on your point of view, it's "Too early to say." She seems to have appointed a fair number of extreme conservatives, and mollifying the right may indeed be necessary to keep herself in power.
And one idiot. For what reasons remain completely opaque to me. And in fact if anyone has any ideas about that I'd love to hear them.

Anonymous said...

GS, Boris took the lead on Brexit in the Conservative Party, knowing that if Brexit came about David Cameron would be gone. He achieved that part of the script. He did not achieve the second part of the plan namely that he would be the next PM of Britain. Theresa May outwitted him but she did reward Boris with the Foreign Ministers job which I thought was a inspired decision of Theresa Mays.

Boris is a very smart political leader who will assist and make Britain stronger in the post brexit era.

You live in the past in your political thinking, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and all brexiteers intend to live in the future for a successful Britain.

Stop calling Boris an idiot, it makes me believe that you are the idiot.

greywarbler said...

I have been reading a book published 1944 by Men of the Trees, Richard St Barbe Baker. That group set out to prevent the wholesale slaughter of old tree forests round the world, and to foster support for groups protecting and planting trees in many countries.

He fears there will be a lack of thought for the future in planning. "With the passing of government by the aristocracy...power without a sense of responsibility for the future is too often taking its place....[hoping] the new governing classes...realise...the importance... Universal franchise has obvious and serious defects when reviewed by thoughtful people, especially when it is extended to those who are entirely unproductive and depending entirely upon the government for support.
...I believe we need a new aristocracy - an aristocracy of mind and understanding capable, like foresters, of taking a long view of world affairs."

Perhaps after this last shake-up, that new aristocracy will arise in a coalition between between the thoughtful in the Conservatives and Labour.

Labour's constituency are among the increasingly unproductive and dependent members of Brit society, who are unable to think their way to a better future but were convinced that the present, in the EU, was unlikely to deliver it. Any more austerity on the Brit captive dependents being denied work and honest wages because of global price gouging will burn the fingers of the politicians who try and sell them a slogan that being poor and proud in this great empah is enough for any British yeoman.

Keith Shorrocks Johnson said...

I am in the UK at the moment and it is clear that there is no effective 'official' opposition. UK Labour has made itself irrelevant with Angela Eagle promising to unite it in one breath and then immediately talking of infiltration at branch level by 'dark forces'. The Lib-Dems have been decimated and Scotland stands aside. And the Brexit issue has been part-civil war within the predominant Tory party - a civil war that is also being fought out in the heavily Tory dominated Old Media. In my assessment, May is a thoroughgoing born-to-rule Tory who is just [like Cameron] trying to head off division within a party that is so powerful within England and Wales that it risks splitting into ruing and opposition sections. Don't believe for a minute that real social change and income, wealth and power distribution to the 'Other England' is being considered - as always May [like Disraeli] is playing the One Nation theme just to conscript the hobbits for battle-fodder.

Anonymous said...

Note that Margaret Thatcher herself took power quoting St Francis of Assisi (and the 1979 Tory platform was anything but radical). Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

It always annoys me slightly to see the "no such thing as society" quote trotted out (no pun intended!) as supposedly encapsulating Thatcher's views. She wasn't quite the Randian individualist she is often painted as. Rather, she thought a healthy and cohesive community was of vital importance, but that it was an emergent phenomenon created by individuals from the bottom up, not from above by government, as this quote from the famous 1981 "not for turning" speech illustrates:

"Without a healthy economy we can’t have a healthy society, and without a healthy society the economy won’t stay healthy for long. But it isn’t the State that creates a healthy society ... And a healthy society isn’t created by its institutions either. Great schools and universities don’t make a great nation any more than great armies do, because only a great nation can create and involve great institutions ... and a great nation is the voluntary creation of its people, a people composed of men and women whose pride in themselves is founded on the knowledge of what they can give to a community of which they in turn can be proud."

As for May, the rhetoric all sounds very nice and noble, but as Guerilla Surgeon says, much remains to be seen.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Dear anonymous. I'm not saying that Boris isn't as cunning as a shit house rat, because he is. But how can he be Foreign Secretary, when he has in the past loudly and publicly referred to "picanninies" "watermelon" and "cannibals". Now that's hardly thinking of the future, and is redolent of the past that most people who dislike Britain dislike it for.
When you're Foreign Minister you're supposed to be onside with furriners. And that sort of thinking isn't going to get him onside with anyone except white Europeans. Now that might be enough for you, but I doubt if it's enough for Britain, considering she's just separated herself from the white Europeans and gone out into the wider world. Better to shuck the colonialist/racist attitudes pretty smart I think.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Of course Boris isn't an idiot.

pdm said...

Theresa May seems to have got off to a very good start although the sidelining of George Osborne may come back to bite her as he proved to be an extremely effective and capable Chancellor.

Off setting that is her excellent move - if I have understood correctly - in not appointing a Climate Change Minister. Commonsense from the top at last.