England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Red Tories?

UPDATE: “Red Tories” feature in the New Statesman

There’s little doubt who’s making the biggest splash in think tank world so far this year. Philip Blond, director of the Demos Progressive Conservative Project and self proclaimed Red Tory, has got everyone talking about his essay in this month’s Prospect. More importantly the inside gossip is that he has the ear of David Cameron who spoke at the launch of the Demos project and whose Davos speech on Moral Capitalism seemed to pick up on a lot of Blond’s language (much to Simon Heffer’s fury!!).

In essence Blond’s argument is that:

‘Insofar as both the Tories and Labour have been contaminated by liberalism, the true left-right legacy of the post war period is, unsurprisingly, a centralised authoritarian state and a fragmented and disassociative society […] the current political consensus is left liberal in culture and right liberal in economics. And this is precisely the wrong place to be.’

To move away from the liberal consensus, persistence of class and the triumph of monopoly and speculation that he believes have characterised recent decades Blond wants to forge a new communitarian civic conservatism drawing on a pre-Thatcherite tradition of Tory thought going back to Burke and extending through Ruskin, Carlyle, Chesterton and Belloc.

In real terms he believes that this means developing ‘a full blooded “new localism” which works to empower communities and builds new, vibrant local economies’. Blond makes four specific suggestions for an incoming Cameron administration:

  • Relocalising the banking system using the Post Office.
  • Setting up new local investment trusts devoted to investing in the localities they serve and forcing local government to deposit public funds in them.
  • Devolving local procurement to local bodies .
  • Recapitalising the poor and breaking with big business.

There’s a lot to argue with in Blond’s polemic but there are three reasons why I think it is interesting and worth reading and thinking about carefully:

  • This sort of analysis would simply not have got any air time a year ago and shows an opening up of the intellectual landscape which is exciting.
  • It’s interesting to reflect on how localism can emerge from very different strands of political thought.
  • If (and it’s a big if) Blond is as influential as some say perhaps the approach of a Cameron government in power will be more radical than the forthcoming Green Paper suggests?

We’ll watch this space but in the meantime it would be interesting to know what people thought of this new Red Tory Localism. Dangerous nonsense, brilliant innovation or pie in the sky?