The Divine Right-Of-Wings

October 7, 2006

by Martin ‘HStorm’ Odoni

Sometimes I find the delusions of extremists amusing. Sometimes I find them amazing. Sometimes I find them disturbing and dangerous. With the ineffable Peter Hitchens, the loudest and most loathsome of the Daily Mail’s ranting right-wingers, I can never be too sure.

Well I can be sure that I find him and his views loathsome, I’m just never sure how dangerous he actually is. He is pompous, overbearing, withering, patronising, self-righteous, intolerant, narrow-minded, homophobic, xenophobic and nationalistic. (He insists that this doesn’t make him a racist. He isn’t anti-black – apparently – therefore he isn’t a racist.) I honestly think he pictures the gates of heaven marked with a sign of the Swastika.

What appears to make him a danger is that his perspective is not all that remote from many others, and that means that, even though they don’t agree with him on the whole, they could well be prone to drifting toward him.

I can take some reassurance from how clear it is that it’s not just his politics that are deluded; his entire view of modern Britain is hopelessly skewed. He truly believes that he and people like him are in the majority, ‘The Conservative Moral Majority’, he calls it.

It seems he wants the Tories to abandon the new, moderate platform of David Cameron and embark on a sweeping program of the hard-right. He wants a right-wing Tory Government that will clamp down hard on immigration, ‘re-establish’ British independence by withdrawal from the European Union, introduce large-scale tax cuts for their own sake, and abolish the minimum wage. Hitchens sees a wide desperation around the country for a change of direction in British politics, and he believes that Cameron’s decision to move the Tories to the left to battle on the same sort of ground that New Labour and the Lib-Dems occupy is a mistake.

What Hitchens completely refuses to recognise is that what he’s suggesting isn’t new, nor is it clever. The Tories went into the last three elections on such a xenophobic, we-hate-poor-people-single-mothers-and-foreigners program, and look what happened. Two thrashings, and one other decisive defeat by a tiring Government mired in corruption and in-fighting. People don’t want a return to Thatcherism, they’d rather have ten more years of New Labour than that (although many of us find it hard to spot the differences between Thatcherism and New Labour anyway), and whilst it’s true that people are disillusioned with and tired of the present Government, it’s not because they want a radical lurch to the right. Most people’s disappointment with New Labour is that it hasn’t been far enough to the left, that it hasn’t been ambitious enough in improving conditions for the British underclasses, given what it could have achieved with the enormous majorities it had from its first two election victories.

Now I’m not saying for a moment that I’m convinced by Cameron’s new ‘Liberalist’ approach. It’s a lot of everyman rhetoric – literally establishing an Old Etonians’ reunion club dressed up as confused Socialists – and precious little substance; painfully reminiscent of Tony Blair’s posturing when he became Labour leader in fact. But there’s no doubt that at least Cameron’s making the right noises; in that sense the Tories are now some way to the left of Labour. The overwhelming majority in this country are not particularly conservative, at least not in the sense that Hitchens means. They are liberals, and want a middling, careful, steady approach to Government. They are distrustful of extremism, and only tolerate an extreme as a lesser-of-two-evils when extremist parties are all that is on offer.

Hitchens doesn’t want to believe this. He feels sure that the Tories would succeed by returning to all that xenophobic ‘Save-The-Pound’ codswallop from the Hague years. He argues that the real reason it failed before was a ‘lack of conviction’ in the way that the Conservatives pursued the program, and that if the party were to be wholehearted and unanimous in supporting it, they would succeed. He even feels that the Tories have a duty to become a hard-right party, as the jockeying for the middle ground has effectively turned the country into a one-party state; with such similar policies across the board, it makes no real difference who wins elections anymore. The Tories, says Hitchens, have a duty to give people an option for a far-right party to support.

He misses a number of key points in this though. For a start, those far-right parties he cites already exist. They’re called UKIP and the BNP (among others), and they would serve his desires all-too-well. He sneers in response to that that he means a big party with a serious chance of winning. The arrogance of this remark is beyond belief though, for he is saying that the far-right have a divine right to drag the rest of British Conservatism with it.

Also, he is getting things dangerously back-to-front, by assuming that the electorate is there to serve the party, and by taking for granted things that are glaringly absent these days. His view is that the Conservatives are a large party, therefore everyone who votes for it will always vote for it, so a hard-right program would get in by default. This not only flies in the face of recent history – middle England has been voting fairly solidly for Labour over the last ten years instead – it is pretty unlikely to work in practise anyway. The reason why the parties who are to the right of Thatcherism are small is because very few people in this country agree with their policies or what they stand for. While the Tories remained out on that wing, they were getting thrashed as well. Had they stayed there much longer, the Lib-Dems’ belief that they could take over the position of second party in the House of Commons might well have come true, leaving the Tories as a small, insubstantial minority party. In other words, the moment this ‘big party with a serious chance of winning’ adopted Hitchens’ program, it would cease to be a big party and would cease to have a serious chance of winning.

But beyond that, we must look at and address his point about the Conservatives over the last ten years ‘lacking conviction’ in pursuing the policies of the radical right. He says that they need just show more belief and determination in such a program and it will work. What he doesn’t explain is how this is to be achieved. Surely, if the program didn’t inspire the Tories very much in the last couple of elections, something pretty big has got to be done to force them into line and get them on board a hundred per cent. They didn’t want that platform in noticeably great numbers before, any more so than the wider electorate did, so why should we assume that they’ll suddenly just change their minds and back it to the hilt now? Hitchens offers no explanation for why he thinks that will happen, nor ideas on how it can be made to happen. He’s just certain it will.

Like all neo-Tories (because that’s effectively what he is), Peter Hitchens lives in a world of his own. It’s a world where the British Empire still dominates a quarter of the planet, at least spiritually and intellectually, where the powers of Europe are a papist menace to the shores of ye sceptred olde isle, only held off by our indomitable bulldog spirit, and where all talk of a fair society is the conchy-talk of anti-establishment wreckers. His ideas should not be taken seriously, even for a moment.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the man himself shouldn’t be. This is because, whether we like it or not, he does have a wide audience who read the Daily Mail, and many of them can be swayed toward his point of view, sometimes simply if they’re having a bad day. And that is why, with Hitchens, I am never sure whether to be amused, amazed, or genuinely disturbed.

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