Conservatism vs. nationalism

While conservatism appeals most to those who are already doing well out of life, nationalism, with its emphasis on social justice and common identity, never forgets the ones that globalization leaves behind, writes Christopher Goff.

A traditionalist core dominates centre-right, conservative thinking in Britain. There is the traditionalist Conservative Party – the main party of Government in the UK – while a more radical branch of conservatism is currently represented by the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The emergence of a separate party representing more radical, or populist, conservative thinking is a fairly recent phenomenon, and one which has come on the back of the Eurosceptic movement to extricate Britain from its membership of the European Union. Many predict however, that once Britain's departure from the EU has been finalised radical conservatism will be reabsorbed back into mainstream conservatism.

So, what's conservatism all about? Well, British conservatism is essentially a movement founded on middle-class sensibilities and which works to maintain the liberal-Establishment. At the top of the conservative tree you have the rich who, and as you have no doubt already guessed, want to remain rich. These are the people who agitate for a reduction in the amount of sate interference in the way that businesses are run and for a reduction in the amount of taxes they have to pay, and needless to say, most of these people own businesses.

But then there is also the middle-class rump of conservatism comprising well-off people and whose primary political objective is one of keeping as much of their wealth as possible. And if you want to know what makes these people tick, you only have to think back to the recent Richmond Park by-election which was won by the Liberal Democrats. The constituency of Richmond Park in an affluent area of West London was, and indeed still is, solidly conservative. However, realizing that Britain's exit from the European Union has the potential to affect how much wealth these people have is something which made lots of them vote Liberal Democrat instead of their usual Tory Party preference in order to signal to Theresa May and her government their desire for a 'soft' Brexit in their belief that this option is the one that offers the best chance of them keeping as much of their wealth as possible. That these people are intensely motivated by self-interest goes without saying, and they care precious little for those people born in the UK and who have seen their chances of ever getting a council home or a decent job lessen with the arrival of every new wave of immigrants that Britain's membership of the EU has brought.

As I have already indicated, low taxation is a key element of conservative thinking. In comparison to some other European countries the rate of tax paid by UK citizens is quite low, and so what this has lead to over time is the creation of high levels of private wealth, but alongside which operates an impoverished public sector. And what this means in practice for example, is that while the Germans and the Italians and the French and the Spanish get access to good systems of free healthcare, British people have to suffer a National Health Service that barely functions. So, while public sector organizations in the UK tend to work, that's about all they manage to do. None of the public services in the UK, or at least not any that I can immediately think of, work well since they all suffer from the same problem of chronic underfunding. And while the high levels of private wealth you can find in affluent districts like Richmond Park mean that lots of people in the UK get to drive around in expensive cars – quite unlike the situation in lots of other European countries, I might add – what these same people find is that they spend a lot of time driving over poorly maintained roads full of potholes because these exact same people keep voting for political parties which promise to take as little of their wealth from them in the form of taxes as possible. It is a simple analysis: pay low rates of tax and not before long you end up living in a country where nothing works.

Tax cuts, deregulation, fewer rights for employees, free trade agreements, reduced social welfare spending, freer movement of workers and capital … these are all things that characterize modern conservatism. However, the big problem with all these things is that they work against the disadvantaged, and indeed this state of affairs has not gone unnoticed, not even by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, and who recently spoke about the failings of capitalism in a speech of his he gave at Liverpool's John Moores University on 5 December, 2016, and where he said: "Globalization is associated with low wages, insecure employment, stateless corporations and striking inequalities" adding that there are "staggering wealth inequalities" in many advanced economies. Carney went on to highlight the need for politicians and central bankers to act on these failings before people begin to lose faith in the global system of capitalism, citing Prime Minister Theresa May's recent criticism of what she referred to as "stateless corporations" that avoid paying their fair share of taxes while at the same time demonstrating little in the way of responsibility to communities.

For any nationalist listening to Mark Carney, his speech will have sounded like a bromidic sermon. Your average nationalist is acutely aware of the shortcomings of capitalism, as is also it seems President-elect Donald Trump and who has vowed to scrap the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership once he enters office in January [2017]. Indeed, the recent election of Donald Trump is the biggest sign yet that thinking on globalization is beginning to change.

During his speech in Liverpool, Mark Carney even mentioned that word which is music to the ears of nationalists: "redistribution". And while socialists advocate the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor via a system of welfare benefits, nationalists desire the creation of an economic system which encourages a much wider ownership of productive property, with the end aim of creating a more equitable economy favouring many participants over just a few. Indeed, this idea of giving individuals more of a stake in the national economy has always been an important element of nationalist economic thinking.

One could almost say that the nationalist ideal of the unification of capital, ownership and production within national boundaries is in fashion. While of course the global economy is here to stay, its existence does not rule out the possibility of realigning the system of global capitalism so that some of the power is taken away from the stateless corporations that Mark Carney spoke so disparagingly about during his speech in Liverpool, and then given to smaller businesses. Yes, globalization has been great for millions of Chinese or Indians who might now work in factories making the things that Europeans used to make, but while members of the liberal-Establishment might talk in terms of how globalization has 'lifted millions of people out of poverty' nationalists care far more for the welfare of their own kind as opposed to the welfare of people living in far-off lands that most of us will in our lives never visit. That members of the liberal-Establishment feel that they owe people in countries like China or India anything is rich when these same people seemingly care so little for their own kind, born and then raised in this country with little hope of ever acquiring a well-paid job or an affordable home.

In stark contrast to liberals, what nationalists care for most are those people born in the UK and whose genes have been swirling around in this part of Western Europe for the longest period of time – the first ones in, so to speak – and they certainly do not feel that they owe recent immigrants from countries like Poland or Pakistan anything – not a roof above their heads, not a job, not welfare benefits, not free healthcare, in fact not even as much as a ticket to the local food bank. On the other hand, conservatives unfailingly view immigrants as 'workers', and even continue to do so if these people never actually manage to contribute anything to the economy of a country once they have arrived. As a good example of this centre-right way of thinking, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly spoken of the impending labour shortage that the German economy might one-day face and in part uses this as justification for allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants into her country seemingly oblivious to the financial and social cost of accommodating them in the first place.

It is a misconception to think that nationalism represents the next notch along a sliding scale from conservatism, or that conservatives and nationalists are ideologically not that far apart. Instead, nationalism possibly represents a revolt against conservatism more than against anything else, including even Marxism that is, because there is probably nothing more important to maintaining the liberal-Establishment that nationalists so despise than conservatism.

Copyright © Christopher Goff
Tag: Politics
Uploaded: 12 December, 2016.