The State, Britishness and Community
In my previous post I covered why I liked what Conservatives stand for in Health, Education and Defence, and above all, in terms of Freedom, and what that means to me. In this post, I’m going to cover what it means to me to be a conservative in reaction to other political concepts. I’m not going to cover being British in much detail here, but I may as well start with it. In addition, I am indebted to @sharonashambles on Twitter, who suggests I create clearer links between my own beliefs and the Tory manifesto.
In fact, sod the manifesto. This is supposed to be about why I’m proud to be a Tory.
Britishness and Conservatism
I’m a British Citizen, and I’ll not bother dealing with the ginks who gainsay that. But there’s a valuable gut feeling within the Conservative Party that we don’t apologise for our Britishness, and we don’t need to. We’re not nationalistic about it, we don’t believe that being British is necessarily ‘better’ than any other nationality, but we’re fairly sure that our history is, on balance, something to be proud of, learned from and cherished.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t be clear about where we screwed up; we should remember what British forces did in Amritsar, remember the waste of human life represented by the Somme, and remember the events of Bloody Sunday, for example.
There is no ethnic or racial basis to the sense we have of Britishness, and we should acknowledge that Ireland and India have really got their shit together now in a way they just didn’t back when the UK was in charge. (On the other hand, the inhabitants of those two examples haven’t exactly come to terms with the reality of the historical role the Empire and UK played in their development, and that seems like a sign of continuing political immaturity. Anyhoo.)
Britishness for me is about diversity, tolerance and respect. I have a desire, not yet realised, to make the UK the fairest place on Earth. But fairness isn’t about equality of outcome, it’s about equality of respect and treatment.
My Britishness isn’t jingoism, and it isn’t blind nationalism. I think there is nothing British about the BNP; they represent an almost inexplicable rot, a derangement of what it is to be British; a transplant of Nazism to the UK which has no purchase, though it may score some fleeting hits from time to time.
Community vs State
In recent years, the big difference between conservatives and the centre-left has been the clear difference between community and state. The tools and instruments of the state are blunt and often hard to target; the social services system, the police, the local authority are key tools of population management which help keep citizens legal and the environment inhabitable. But the need for those services to do their thing has increased massively with the collapse in any real sense of community in parts of the UK. Without community, which is inexpensive and organic, there’s nowhere to turn but articifial, expensive government.
It used to be that families and friends would form communities which essentially regulated themselves; there were problems with that system as well, of course, and community can be a suffocating thing in which to exist, but, by and large, they worked. As we became more individualistic and more materialistic, and as industries and lifestyles changed, our units of community (extended families etc) became more dispersed and atomised, to the extent that communities broke down, all over the country.
We feel less and less like we belong to something, and less and less like we have roles in other people’s lives and they in ours. The balance between celebrating individuality and freedom tipped over. People are selfish and act in their assessed self-interest. It became sorta natural, where no other real obligations existed, to dispose of community, marriage and parental responsibility.
Now, Conservatives respond to that by saying “Oh, bugger, we went too far there, in general marriage is good but not being married isn’t a problem, let’s see what we can do to alleviate the issue and promote community.”
Labour respond by suggesting that questioning the reasons for the breakdown of society is a form of bigotry; when we say ‘In general, if you’re having a kid it’d better, ceteris paribus, for the parents to be married’ they say we have no right to comment. They blame various social dynamics and spend some money to build a community centre, or they just spend more money on police and send social services in. In short, they think the state should intervene more in people’s lives as a first principle, and that the community has a subordinate role to play, or some role in the ether.
And when we say ‘community’ they scream ‘Thatcher said society doesn’t exist’ like that means something relevant. We seek an accommodation, with an understanding that there are problems which might need government support for community, managed by the community, outwith the blunt instruments open to the state.