Technical Politics Editorial
Localist voices are a rare breed in British politics.
Occasional – verbal, exclusively verbal (!) – sops to community-centred social life tend to get mown over by a view of the British state as an appendage to some greater global body politic, and a view of individual local communities as an object of metropolitan urban planners’ social engineering fantasies.
The most famous of these sops is perhaps John Major’s infamous “warm beer” quote said ironically enough in defence of a project that made no secret of its purposes in undermining British political autonomy.
Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’ and, if we get our way, Shakespeare will still be read even in school.Wikiquote contributors, “John Major”, Wikiquote (accessed 6 February 2020).
At the time, ‘Establishment radicals’ at the Independent attacked our ‘Establishment radical’ Prime Minister for his nostalgia and ‘eternalism’, complaining that their reality was more M25 and muesli than county grounds and warm beer.
In the intervening years, the country has been driven “forward” (whitherever that is!) by third-way Blairites, Islington liberals and Boris’s global britainists, with the refashioning of Brexit as some form of neoliberal proto-globalism being the most dastardly piece of political chicanery of recent times.
Into which morass stepped Danny Kruger, the newly-minted Conservative MP for Devizes with his maiden speech to Parliament last week:
…The 21st century will reward countries that are nimble, agile and free, but Brexit is about more than global Britain; it is a response to the call of home. It reflects people’s attachment to the places that are theirs. Patriotism is rooted in places. Our love of our country begins with love of our neighbourhoods. Our first loyalties are to the people we live among, and we have a preference to be governed by people we know. That impulse is not wrong; it is right.
Kruger offers a refreshingly different vision of what Brexit is for.
While the globalists and global britainists are arguing for a transfer of control upwards, and economic nationalists argue for a strong, centralised state, Kruger seems to be offering a localist, ‘quasicommunitarian’ vision of Britain’s future, albeit one fraught with contradictions.
Take this as an example of the latter:
As we finally get Brexit done this week, it is right that we are considering how to strengthen local places, especially places far from London. I wholeheartedly support the plans to invest in infrastructure to connect our cities and towns—the broadband and the transport links that will drive economic growth in all parts of the UK.
This seems to be an oxymoronic call-to-arms.
Better broadband, improved transport links and increased economic growth facilitate globalisation, not local autonomy.
George Wade achieved what neither Agricola nor Edward Longshanks could in Scotland by running a road into the Scottish Highlands, destroying the clan system (at least for the time being!)
True strengthening of local places requires less integration and connectedness, rather than more, something sadly that no one is advocating for. (Any MP with the courage to make this case would, one suspects, soon find themselves getting rather familiar with the inside of the Whips’ office.)
If localists are a rare breed in British politics, communitarians or ‘societarians’, if you will, are even rarer:
Just as important as economic infrastructure is what we might call social infrastructure: … Never bureaucratic, and never treating people as statistics … Social problems demand social solutions, not just a state response. Of course we need the police, the prison system and the probation service—we need them very badly, and we need them to be better—but, just as important, we need the social infrastructure that prevents crime, supports victims and rehabilitates criminals.
The Government have a great mission as we leave the EU and try to fashion a UK that is fit for the future. This mission represents a challenge to some of the traditional views of both left and right. The main actor in our story is not the solitary individual seeking to maximise personal advantage, nor is it the central state enforcing uniformity from a Department in Whitehall; the main actor in our story is the local community.
Many are the voices championing big business (particularly on the right), big government (particularly on the left) or libertarianism, but few are those with a vision for society at large.
Over the course of the past hundred years, corporatism has driven local businesses out of business and gutted high streets and markets, the welfare state has deprived communities for their responsibilities to the poor and needy, and the cult of the individual has stressed personal fulfilment over duty and self-sacrifice.
In all of these movements, the forms of social organisation that have suffered are society in general and local communities in particular.
Capitalism, individualistic social liberalism and the diabolically misnamed ‘socialism’ have gutted our social institutions. Mass culture has replaced local culture. The internet is replacing the pub. Smartphones are replacing conversation.
Worse, we are building cities that are decentred and devoid of a culture of their own. Local government-finance ‘cultural festivals’ can never replace heritage of community that is rooted in place and time.
We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed. Capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.
Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences. […]
As we advance at speed into a bewildering world in which we are forced to ask the most profound questions about the limits of autonomy and what it means to be human, we may have reason to look about for the old ways and to seek wisdom in the old ideas that are, in my view, entirely timeless.
Kruger is right to say that in abandoning our Christian heritage, we will be abandoning the source of our present liberties. It is clear from the present debates about the value of unborn life, the crimes committed against trafficked women and children, and the fate of the terminally ill that Christians have an invaluable viewpoint based on a high view of the value of a human life.
In attacking identity politics, he is going after the new form of particularism that has taken hold in the West. Unlike localism, which ensures that the rooted will always be able to have a sense of belonging and solidarity in community, modern identity politics advocates for destroying organic communities and displacing people into rootless cosmopolitan metropolises where they are divided against each once more by an elaborate series of privileges and penalties known as the ‘intersectional hierarchy’. At best, with a strong universalist ethic, cities can become isolating or just plain dog-eat-dog.
Rather than being inclusive, this artificial cosmoculture polarises by people that their external characteristics are what matters. It looks on the outside, not the inside.
It cares not for the content of people’s characters.
It is divisive and inimitable of true culture and community.
Neither big business, big government nor Randian individualism offer any hope.
Let’s hope that Kruger is able to continue advocating for his broader vision for the local, for community and for society at large.