Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Thinking about Michael Howard’s interview fart over the weekend, I done a twitter and they liked it:

And then I remembered the sheer weirdness of standing in Parliament Square being addressed by Alistair Campbell the other day. I think it’s fair to say I never imagined my life would take that particular turn. But now it makes sense. One of the important political dualities is between the people who represent self-control and the public face, and the people who represent letting it blurt, as Lester Bangs titled. As with all dualities, the advanced student will notice that the point is to use them in combination, whether by presenting radical content as consensus or consensus and conservatism as exciting novelty.

You could call them the Ego Party and the Party of Id, and perhaps the civil service plays the super-ego. After all, are you thinking what I’m thinking? Here’s a party political broadcast on behalf of Michael Howard. Filthy!

Then, as well as perpetrating cod psychoanalysis I’m also doing billiard-ball realism here. Parties are not homogenous. If you realise that one of the major achievements of Thatcherism was the UK becoming a central actor in the European project – ’87, ’92, and all that – it’s perhaps worth remembering that those Normal European Countries people go on about usually have two conservative parties. Very often the divide is based on how Catholics responded to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. One party is founded on the early 20th century social theory and then NATO, the other on the Counter-Reformation and the Occupation.

The UK *gained* two conservative parties during the peak years of its integration in Europe. I don’t really mean UKIP, but rather the continuing fight over whether the Tories would be more like the German CDU or CSU. Would they be a party upholding a Euro-Atlantic multilateral order – the Ego Party – or a basically revisionist movement, the Party of Id? Howard made his choice even while John Major was trying to make the opposite choice stick.

5 Comments on "Are you thinking what I’m thinking?"

  1. The Conservatives under Ted Heath took us into the Common Market. The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher helped to create the Single Market out of the Common Market. Both, presumably were very much aware that this involved embracing the Four Freedoms, including freedom of movement of EU nationals. It is disconcerting, to say the least, to find Conservatives vehemently attacking what they got the UK involved in and helped to develop (though they blame it on “the elite” – a conveniently vague category of actors).

    The Conservative Party learnt two contradictory lessons from the debacle of the Suez Crisis – One was to adapt (and that involved joining the Common Market; the other was to redouble the efforts to hang onto imperial grandeur.

    One of Margaret Thatcher’s skills was to keep these two balls in the air – to keep the Conservative Party together. While playing up the imperial fantasies with the Malvinas War she kept the UK at the heart if Europe and helped develop it as a market with increasingly neo-liberal tendencies. John Major just didn’t have the skills to keep these two tendencies happy (or maybe it would have fallen apart even if Maggie had hung on as leader). Then Blair said that the UK should be at the heart of Europe and the sceptics just got more angry.

    It should be noted that Theresa May hasn’t really slapped down Michael Howard over his musings about sending gunboats to the south of Spain. She’s laughed it off, and made more noise about the wording of a National Trust advertisement than about Howard’s fantasising. I don’t think she can afford to slap down Howard for the same reasons that she cannot go for a Soft Brexit – it would split the Conservative Party.

    Opinion polls suggest that 40% of UK voters don’t know that ending freedom of movement of EU nationals means leaving the Single Market (and thus means that the UK has to find a new set of trading relationships and a new business model). Having seen “control migration” on election mugs they have assumed that this is a realistic policy that doesn’t have significant costs. Nobody has told them the Thatcher was one of the architects of the Single Market that required free movement of EU nationals. I wonder what will happen when they realise these things.


  2. The same is true of the Labour Party – ISTR remarking elsewhere that, yes, right now a well-organised, well-led, disciplined opposition party would be scything through the government, but we don’t have one of those, because we used to have one and everyone decided it was a bit creepy.

    At least the right are not actually irredentist yet. There’s no one out there calling for the reconquest of whatever the Tory equivalent of al-Andalus is (southern Ireland? Hong Kong?)


  3. Hi Ajay,
    Surely the problem with the Labour Party is that it’s picked the wrong line and been outmanouvred on a strategic level? Corbynism was actually quite a good response to Cameron: put some clear red water between the parties, save tax credits (McDonnell’s mult-billion victory over Osborne seems to have gone down the memory hole . . .), and attempt to ride the anti-elite horse into power. Alas! the Brexit vote completely screwed them up: they needed to shift back to being a party of competent managerialists able to prod the Tories into imploding. In policy terms, that’s the place they are now at this week, but it’s too late, because with the 3-line Brexit whip they tried to stay on the anti-elite horse for too long. And they have nearly entirely pissed away the advantages (aside from the financial ones) of becoming a mass party. I appear to have just talked myself into arguing that the PLP coup was justified. Nothing I can say, though, can convince me or anyone else that it wasn’t fatally botched.
    When I start looking for political analogies in Vichy 1944 and Madrid/Barcelona 1939, things are probably not looking good.


  4. Many of the supposedly sensible, moderate, managerialist Labour MPs are pushing out two incompatible sets of talking points:-

    – we’re listening to people’s concerns about immigration
    – let’s have a Soft Brexit

    One of the big difficulties for Labour to attack the government on Brexit is the number of Labour MPs who jumped in straight after the referendum and said “it was about immigration”.


    1. Indeed, it’s not just the Brexiteers that want to have their cake and eat it, it seems to be a large part of the PLP as well.


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