Matthew Groves was the Conservative candidate for Plymouth Moor View in 2010., and has recently launched his own blog, “A voice from the Shires”.
To many who grew up in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s victories over the restrictive practices and harmful economic policies of the socialist consensus of the post-War era, such a question as that in the title of this blog must seem absurd. Globalisation, so the neo-liberal believes, is the ultimate victory of the free market over the protectionist and socialist policies of the social democratic model.
The aim of this blog is not to look at globalisation from a neo-liberal perspective however, but from a conservative perspective. The argument that will be made is that while globalisation is anathema to the old-fashioned socialist, to the genuine conservative the negative effects of globalisation are sometimes indistinguishable from what we feared about socialism.
For surely what was the worst about socialism was the homogenisation of life through the exercise of power by a large bureaucratic organisation? The question is: does it matter whether that homogenisation is the result of a large bureaucracy or a large, multinational corporation? Both lead to the sense of powerlessness that the individual feels in the face of a large organisation.
If we think about what is really at the core of conservative values, is it not a belief in the traditional, the small-scale, the local and the social? Society is not purely determined by economics or politics, as the old-fashioned socialist believes; rather, it is about civil society, the family, traditions and norms of behaviour, and indeed religious faith and custom. These valuable social assets are exactly what socialism aimed to attack. It distrusted the voluntary and customary ties that bind society together, and tried to replace them with the state.
All was to be national or even international rather than local; homogenised rather than heterogeneous. The customs that led people to behave well and look after their neighbour were looked upon as bourgeois, and distrusted because they allowed society to function independently of the state.
Whereas global capitalism does not seek to disrupt custom and tradition by design, as a consequence of its hyperactivity it also erodes the ties that bind us – the customs and values that sustain society. Global capitalism effectively homogenises all nations, as Starbucks and McDonalds replace the local, indigenous businesses. All high streets start to look the same in a way that would have pleased Lenin.
Immigration becomes necessary, as there is a need for cheap labour, with all the cultural implications of the loss of a shared identity and shared customs (what the developmental economist Paul Collier refers to as the loss of mutual regard). Free movement of labour is as vital to global capitalism as free movement of capital. As the conservative author John Buchan makes one of his characters quip: “Capital has no fatherland.” People have to move to find work in the flexible job market in a way that breaks up communities and families even more effectively than 1960s values and the liberalising legislation of that time.
The Conservative Party can look to a great heritage of thinkers, from Edmund Burke, through to G K Chesterton and Russell Kirk. We have our own canon of deep thinking and letters and do not simply need to rely on nineteenth century liberals. If conservatives do not stand up for family, country and church, who will?
A policy that so clearly furthered conservative values was the sale of council housing. It allowed people to set up on their own independently, to make their own homes and take responsibility for their own lives and their families. Private property is what we should fight for and the extension of private ownership. It is the small businessman, the shopkeeper and the farmer rather than the plutocrat that we should be looking to support. Leave the plutocrats to New Labour, which was even more estranged from the values of tradition and localism than the old-fashioned socialists (who at least had roots in the little platoons of the trades unions, before they themselves became too big).
Conservatives must be careful not to become advocates of a very non-conservative force – global capitalism. Rather, this blogger believes we should aim to be on the side of the individual against the corporation and state bureaucracy, we should be on the side of the smallholder against the big agri-business and we should be on the side of the local High Street against the out-of-town supermarket. Let’s not abandon conservatism to the Left!