Something has happened in Great Britain that is not wholly unlike what happened in the United States with Trump. Vast numbers of previously left-wing Labour supporters switched to support Boris Johnson and elect for the fourth consecutive time a Conservative prime minister.
The scale of this conversion is, in the British context, relatively unprecedented—it is Labour’s lowest number of seats since 1935, and the largest Tory majority since Mrs. Thatcher’s election victory in 1987. Seats that have voted Labour longer than the average life span of most people still changed hands. The seat with the longest history of backing Labour was Rother Valley, just outside Sheffield in Yorkshire. Rother Valley had elected a Labour MP every election since 1918. Neighboring Don Valley went Tory after being Labour for 97 years, as did Leigh in Greater Manchester. Wakefield, also in the North, had been Labour-held for 87 years—until today.
Two things together euthanized Labour support among the British working class: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit. The Labour leader deeply offended the honor of the British working class. Here was a man who despised his own country, a man who couldn’t find anything good in our island story. Here was a man who consorted with Britain’s enemies, with terrorists, with Islamists. Here was a man who fostered a metropolitan culture of self-hate, repudiation, and woke, upper-middle-class anti-Semitism. In addition, this was a man who sought control of the state so that he and his cadre could control and re-write the common norms of thought, belief, and behavior.
Compounding and concentrating all the above was the great postliberal political phenomenon which was and is Brexit. In the eyes of those who voted to leave, it was a vote against all that liberalism has wrought and all that liberalism has brought: a world of rampant social, economic, and cultural insecurity. A world where common values and societal cohesion are threatened by mass immigration and the possible import of hostile beliefs and values. A world where Britain’s rulers favor outsiders over insiders. A world where their values and lives are repudiated and laughed at by a graduate class that has in essence decided they need replacing, or at least coercing, by the language forms and sexual ideologies of the upper enlightened classes.
So now Britain’s Conservative Party, the home since David Cameron of rampant social and economic liberalism, has a new constituency that on balance rejects both. The question for those of us (and I am one) who want a postliberal order that is not founded in the sectarianism of race, place, or class is: What on earth will the Conservative Party do with such a foundation and a base?
Economic liberals constitute the overwhelming majority of the Conservative government. Some are not social liberals, but nonetheless this is the intellectual leadership group that must now formulate an offer for an entirely new postliberal Conservative constituency. In the short term it is unlikely that the Tories can tack to a truly postliberal stance. Unlike Trump, they remain convinced that a new global trading nation will lift all boats, when sadly for developed nations all the evidence is to the contrary. In terms of a socially conservative agenda like supporting the family, the chances are much better. But the real remark here isn’t the efficacy or otherwise of the current Conservative Party to deliver on the needs of its new working-class voters—it is the reality that the party has to deliver on those needs if it wishes to survive.
In politics, reality is salvation. In politics, knowing reality is difficult—but grasp it correctly and one can mine it for generations, producing majority after majority. And the fundamental material and ideational precondition of postliberalism in the U.K. is now in place. For the first time since the nineteenth century, British Conservatives have to serve the working class on its own terms.
Those who voted Conservatism for the first time yesterday do not want and will rightly reject any supply-side Thatcherite nonsense. For they know that under those auspices they will be abandoned once more to insecurity and deprivation. They have explicit demands on culture, on society, and on economics that cannot be met by liberalism. The Conservative majority now rests with these people and another one cannot be won without them. Political reality itself will now ensure that policies and promises must flow from a future where liberalism can no longer serve or guide us.
Phillip Blond is the author of Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It.
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