Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Tories New Plan: Different But The Same

Crivens! Ollie Letwin is hacked off with people mocking the empty suit he works for and he's not going to stand for it anymore! Not when he's got a whole article to tell us how incredibly SMART Cameron is. Hey, isn't that like telling people how handsome you are ?

But let's avoid these minor stupidities and jump straight into the gaping void of Tory ideology.
Cameron Conservatism, so far from being merely a set of attitudes, has a specific theoretical agenda. It aims to achieve two significant paradigm-shifts.
Well, that's me off to a flyer! Of course, the real question is will Cameron be leveraging synergies to reengineer core processes ?
First, a shift from an econocentric paradigm to a sociocentric paradigm. Secondly, a shift in the theory of the State from a provision-based paradigm to a framework-based paradigm.
It all goes back to Marx. Before Marx, politics was multidimensional – constitutional, social, environmental as well as economic. Marx changed all that. After Marx, socialists defended socialism and free marketeers defended capitalism. For both sides, the centrepiece of the debate was the system of economic management. Politics became econocentric.
That Churchill, he was all about the taxes.
But, as we begin the 21st century, things have changed. Since Margaret Thatcher, and despite recurrences of something like full-blooded socialism in Latin America, the capitalist/ socialist debate has in general ceased to dominate modern politics. From Beijing to Brussels, the free market has won the battle of economic ideas.
Brussels as an exemplar of the free market ? Relative to what ? North Korea ?
If the free market is a matter of consensus, the debate must change its nature. Instead of arguing about systems of economic management, we have to discuss how to make better lives out of the prosperity that the free market generates.
Leave aside that the central premise is wrong, this is just the college-educated version of the same reasoning that makes these people think it's cute to claim Cameron is rubbish at basic business. Silver-spoon toting wasters sneering at the proles for aspiring to a better life. It's easy to be contemptuous of money when you've got it by the sack load.

There's a deeper point here though. Don't concentrate on making money, say the Cameroonatics, make the world a better place instead. When the hell did they become mutually exclusive ? There's no better to get rich than to find what the public needs and supply it. If a guy finds a way to cure cancer with vinegar, he'll get filthy rich, but I don't think anyone will mind. True, occasionally idiots end up with undeserved success, such as when they end up leading the Tories instead of being out on the street with a sign saying 'Will Lie For Food', but if we're after social benefits, I'll take a busload of entrepreneurs over any number of sneery, superior rich kids like the Cameroonatics.
The first theoretical advance (the first paradigm shift) of Cameron Conservatism is to see that fact clearly – to refocus the debate, to change the terms of political trade, to ask a different set of questions. Politics – once econocentric – must now become sociocentric.
Hmmm.... Conservatives thinking about social issues ? Now why does that ring a bell ?
But Cameron Conservatism is also an attempt to shift the theory of the State from a provision-based paradigm to a framework-based paradigm. The provision-theory of the modern State is the successor to socialism in the postMarxist era. It is the essence of Gordon Brown’s version of new Labour.
Back in Dilbert country.
The provision-theory accepts the free market as the engine of economic growth. But, just as Clause Four socialism once saw the State as the proper provider of goods and services through ownership of the means of production, so the provision-theorists of Brownian new Labour see the central State not only as the funder but also as the proper provider of public services. They also see the central State as the only possible guarantor of wellbeing through direction and control.
Again, with the 'huh' ? Plenty of folks - Laban for one - have chronicled just how much of the voluntary sector is already on the government's payroll. What's his next idea ? An independent Bank of England ?
The tell-tale marks of provision-theory are to be seen in much of the record of the last ten years – the targets and directives, the reorganisations, schemes and initiatives. Direct government intervention has been brought – with the best of intentions, though often with notable lack of success – to bear on schools and hospitals, police officers and neighbourhoods, local authorities and universities. The State has been seen as the source of enlightened social action, just as it was once seen as the source of enlightened economic action.

The Cameron Conservative framework-theory of the State is fundamentally different. It takes the same place in the sociocentric debate of the 21st century that free market theory once took before it triumphed in, and outdated, the econocentric debate of the 20th century.
Except, in so far as the Tories aren't going to privatise the police, hospitals, councils and schools, the analogy doesn't even get out of the starting gate. It's just same ol' horses, same ol' glue.
The framework theory of the modern State sees government as having two basic roles: to guarantee the stability and security upon which, by common consent, both the free market and wellbeing depend; and, much more controversially, to establish a framework of support and incentive that enables and induces individuals and organisations to act in ways that fulfil not merely their own self-interested ambitions but also their wider social responsibilities.
Since when did Conservatives sneer at self-interest ? Isn't the whole point that Conservatism doesn't require people to self-immolate to fulfil 'wider social responsibilities' ?

We're back to the earlier point: the business of business is business. If they weren't supplying a socially-useful service they'd go bust. Well, unless they secured one of those government outsourcing contracts that Letwin seems so keen on.

True, businesses have to fork over cash for vital services such as killing terrorists, but that's that. It's that double-dipping again. The Cameroonatics want to keep squeezing people and businesses dry with high taxes, then they want to turn round and shift responsibilities onto everyone else, so you'll still pay high taxes, and your kids still won't learn anything but it'll be Tesco's fault for not being socially-responsible.
It is in emphasising this second duty of government that Cameron Conservatism distinguishes itself radically from Brownian new Labour.
Yep, Brown was never that far Left.
Cameron Conservatism puts no faith in central direction and control. Instead, it seeks to identify social and environmental responsibilities that participants in the free market are likely to neglect, and then establish frameworks that will lead people and organisations to act of their own volition in ways that will improve society by increasing general wellbeing.
Muggers should try that. They're not robbing people, they're establishing a framework where people hand over their wallet of their own volition.
The intuitions about human nature that underpin this framework-theory of the modern State are unsurprisingly the same as the intuitions about human nature that underpinned free market theory in 20th-century econocentric politics.
Except for the, y'know, 'free' part of the equation.
The first intuition is that human enterprise, initiative, vocation and morale are the things that lead to progress and sustainable success in the socioenvironmental sphere, just as in the economic sphere.
Gosh, you mean there's a lot of overlap between running a successful hospital and running a business ? Who'd have thunk it ?
The second, allied intuition is that command and control systems eventually fall under their own weight because they stifle enterprise, initiative, vocation and morale.
Bad systems!
And the third intuition is that a framework that leads people to fulfil their social responsibilities of their own volition in their own ways is a much more powerful engine for sustained socioenvironmental success than direct government control.
Is it just me, or is anyone else thinking of the 'cow' joke ? Apparently, 'framework' means instead of the government taking the cows, they'll let you look after them and just take all the milk instead.
Will the framework-theory based on these liberal conservative intuitions come in time to win the battle of ideas in sociocentric politics as comprehensively as its precursor, liberal conservative free market theory, did in the old econocentric political debates?
Leaving aside the possibility of a massive, nationwide, lobotomy: no!
It is too early to tell. But one thing is clear. Cameron Conservatives have both an analysis of the nature of 21st-century politics and a theory of the role of the modern State. To win a battle of ideas is always a hard task. But having an idea is certainly a good starting point.
Pity it's Gordon Brown's idea really. This is the point I keep making. At least with Brown you're getting the real thing, not a warped cover version. All Cameroonacy really boils down to is that they'll keep the elephantine state, but if things still suck, it's nowt to do with them, 'cause they've created a framework, doncha'know ?

No comments: