The rise of progressive authoritarians

Recent years have seen the rise of what might be termed the ‘progressive authoritarian’ movement on everything from race, gender, sexuality and religion. It seeks to impose, via government, its view on the world. It is in favour of quotas and targets for minorities (including women, despite their lack of minority status). Issues like gender pay gaps, poverty rates being higher for certain religious groups, or disparity in arrest rates are simply viewed as discrimination. To not accept this, and try to discuss whether or not wider causes might contribute to these issues is a sign of your latent racism, sexism, homophobia – or whatever other prejudice progressive authoritarians decide.

They firmly believe in the power of Government. They want to silence anyone who dissents from public life, and for legislation to enforce their views. They are ruthlessly political correct, and seek to tear down those who oppose them or seek wider debate as bigots. My all-time favourite progressive authoritarian has to be Joyce Thacker, Rotherham Council’s Head of Children’s Services, who was paid £130,000 a year – and presided over and was implicated in a cover-up of the mass abuse of young (largely white) girls whilst removing children from UKIP supporting foster parents. My favourite piece of progressive authoritarian legislation is the Equalities Act, which allows for a subjective definition of ‘hate crime’ in order to record it as such. Progressive authoritarians believe through Government action and suppression of debate a new utopia can arise. They are utterly wrong.

Progressive authoritarianism is not popular

Many minorities are not in favour of the progressive authoritarian approach. As a gay man I find it deeply disturbing, as do many BME Conservatives. There is a difference between the view that we should seek to encourage, for example, disadvantaged groups, whether white, black, female, Muslim, LGBT or so on into particular professions, or build up supportive networks (such as Women2Win in our own party) that support different groups to overcome hurdles or such problems as mental health, and the progressive authoritarian idea that all outcomes are based solely, or even largely, on discrimination.

Where differences in outcome in areas like poverty or health exist there are often good reasons that explain much of this and are due to the choices of individuals involved (different religions see different female employment rates in particular, while LGBT people are more likely to use drugs, smoke, and have a higher number of sexual partners). Often the solutions are more complex, and fixing them requires us to take action that makes people uncomfortable, not just soft options like better mentoring but, say, on crime and younger BME groups, requiring inner city BME pupils to accept that the discipline created by the (often white) staff in their school is for their benefit; disrupting gangs (stop and search), and focusing on issues around family breakdown in parts of the black community. It is not just as simple as blaming discrimination.

The British Election Survey post-2015 found even most young people, those most likely to be progressive authoritarians, were not fans of extreme identity politics, a key element of such ideas. Of those with a view aged 18-24 just 17.5 per cent thought that attempts to ensure BME equality had gone not nearly far enough (broadly the progressive authoritarian view), 18.6 per cent thought attempts had not gone far enough, and 24 per cent thought attempts had gone either far enough or too far. Among those 26-34 the biggest group was too far or about right (37 per cent), followed by not far enough (22 per cent), with just 21 per cent saying not nearly far enough. On gender equality, then of those aged 18-24, 28 per cent thought the attempts had gone too far, 11 per cent about right, 14 per cent not enough, and just 19.2 per cent not nearly far enough – with few believing in a radical feminist critique.

Identity politics may eat itself but it might win power first

You might think that a coalition based on fermenting grievances among some groups for Islamophobia and among others around radical sexual and sexuality politics (to take an example) was unsustainable and incoherent. You would be right. The current row around transgender rights and feminism are just one example. But this is to mistake the point of progressive authoritarianism. It is not to build a coherent platform but a coalition of grievance against the existing order, and then to seek to promote Government intervention to fix it. It is why in the long run, progressive authoritarianism is always the ally of top-down socialists.

A moderate liberal and conservative coalition is not perfect but it is broadly coherent

It is perfectly possible to be either a modern liberal or conservative and believe that all minorities should be protected, that free speech is important, and people should be free to live their lives and believe what they want, and even supported in the case of groups like trans individuals who need support from the NHS to change gender. The two main areas of disagreement between liberals and conservatives in the next few years are likely to be over immigration and less harmful drugs – though even here it is unlikely there will be radical moves in either direction from current policy. But as progressive authoritarians are hugely overrepresented in culturally influential positions are likely to dominate much of the political bandwidth and raise issues on their terms, they will end up pushing liberals and conservatives together, since both have more in common with each other than with the progressive authoritarians.

But some Conservative MPs – including Theresa May – have progressive authoritarian tendencies

We come, however, to the nub of the issue ,with such an electoral and political coalition against progressive authoritarians. Some Conservative MPs, including Theresa May, have strong progressive authoritarian tendencies. May has often taken a progressive authoritarian view of the world, from her disastrous decision on ‘stop and search’ in the name of political correctness, to the misleading gender pay gap statistics she forced companies to publish (at a time when for those under 40 there is effectively no gender pay gap).

This is in line with May’s general authoritarian streak (witness the appalling 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act) though, to be fair, she did oppose all-women shortlists and helped found Women2Win instead. Other progressive authoritarian examples among our MPs abound – for, example the rush on trans-rights and attempts to silence those who raised issues around some of the complexities. Even where we are not adopting progressive authoritarian policies, we can help feed their narrative – witness the rather bland attempt to argue that all communities have extremists (ignoring the very disproportionate numbers of Islamist extremists given the size of this community) or by sweeping examples of failure in places like Telford under the rug.

We need to fight progressive authoritarian views not back them. The rise of ‘woke’ politics is an attempt to delegitimise out alternative views among young people. Each year the quangocracy and academia becomes a little bit more taken over by progressive authoritarians who entrench their views and push out alternatives. Progressive authoritarianism is both a deeply illiberal and unconservative notion. If the Conservative Party wishes to survive and thrive – both its conservative and classical liberal wings – it needs to fight back against progressive authoritarianism rather than attempting to defeat it by copying and accommodating it.