Progressive conservatism can beat the BNP
The political classes are in a tizz. Buried in every broadsheet, somewhere below the latest revelations about the tat acquired at our expense, are troubled musings on the BNP’s apparent appeal to sections of the voting public. The diagnoses offered up by illustrious commentators vary, but at the heart of them all is a fundamental misunderstanding of what really drives people to vote for a quasi-fascist party of authoritarians and holocaust deniers. Is it expenses? Immigration? Unemployment? The problem is that all of these explanations are posited on the supposition that there is a single strand of public policy, or a particular accident of timing, that can be addressed in order to bring BNP supporters back into the mainstream political fold. This analysis does not go to the root of the problem and will always be self-defeating. My colleague Jamie Bartlett has addressed these issues intelligently and holistically on this blog; he asks politicians to respond more authentically to issues, to confront difficult problems and to develop a coherent notion of the common good. I would whole-heartedly agree, but I would also argue that there is already a political tradition and a set of ideas that embody these desires. That tradition is progressive conservatism.
The BNP do not use racist language in their campaign literature or knock on doors to talk about overthrowing democracy. The BNP may be ignorant but their recent electoral victories suggest that they’re not entirely incompetent. If they have chosen to cover up the racist ideology that underpins their politics, then this implies that they know it is not a vote winner. If racism doesn’t secure the BNP votes, then what does? I would suggest that a general dissatisfaction with the liberal settlement that our ruling parties have coalesced around is what’s to blame. Voters’ anger stems from the economic liberalism that places all economic power in the hands of a remote elite; the extreme personal liberty that enshrines in law a person’s freedom from any criticism or moral judgement; the bureaucratic layers that separate individuals from the services that they need and which turn vague good intentions (like equality) into rigid and dogmatic processes. We will not defeat the BNP by twiddling at the edges or by making superficial changes to electoral methodology. Instead we must construct an alternative overarching narrative; one that radically challenges the liberal settlement.
Progressive conservatism can achieve these ends. A political agenda that is premised on a clear moral hierarchy, a belief in the identity and power of groups, a preferential option for the poor and a passionate defence of communities poses a powerful challenge to fascism by pulling the rug out from under its feet. This is not about pandering to the BNP. It’s about addressing the real anger of voters and showing them that democracy can deliver the changes they want.