Why even left wingers need conservatism

The undoing of the Telegraph mirrors a broader crisis in conservatism, which could leave a gap for Ukip to fill


To echo Professor Jay Rosen at New York University, the resignation of Peter Oborne from The Telegraph is ‘one of the most important things a journalist has written about journalism lately’.

The fact that the paper, or so Oborne accuses, could no longer decouple its advertising arm with its news content wing is itself huge news – something that should make us worry about journalistic standards more broadly.

The clickbait culture of such stories like the women with three breasts, which lo and behold was not true, along with the absence of big stories like Tesco false accounting, and even bigger ones on HSBC that Oborne himself worked on and was forced to send his research elsewhere, together spelled doom for the kind of independence that The Telegraph was typically noted for.

It would be too easy to say that The Telegraph is just a hymn sheet for whatever the Conservative party says at any given time (hence being dubbed the Torygraph).

After all it has given its support to the party through thick and thin, in times when the party has managed to capture the nation’s heart (somehow), and even when support slumped and other newspapers and their owners were throwing their weight behind Tony Blair.

But the paper was a lot more than that. It challenged the Conservative party from a small ‘c’ conservative position wherever it could. The Telegraph has never been afraid to attack David Cameron from the right, for example, and it’s no surprise that Cameron in his early days as leader of opposition, and then PM, that he looked for allies in liberal Guardian-reading Tories, rather than the high Tories and villa Tories among the Telegraph’s readership.

Though it doesn’t directly affect me, for example, a left winger and Labour supporter, I have always worried about what would happen in the absence of conservativism on two fronts: the drift of working class conservatism into other political expressions, namely with Ukip; and the further empowerment of neoliberalism.

As Phil Burton-Cartledge said in a blog post last night, the undoings of the Telegraph, with its high profile resignations and messy affairs with editors (with a lot of sub-editors cleared out of the newspaper’s towers), sort of resembles a crisis in conservatism more broadly. But with the view now, certified by Oborne in his resignation letter, that the Telegraph has lost its way – maybe indefinitely – another intellectual crisis of conservatism is forthcoming.

After all, where now will independent-minded conservatives, who don’t simply regurgitate the party line at CCHQ, look to for their daily news feed? Sure ConservativeHome is very good, but it doesn’t have the reach. Tim Montgomerie speaks his mind, but perhaps he is still too much like ‘think-tank’ material. Philip Blond? Well, the same problem again.

The next election, whether we like it or not, will rest a great deal on arguments around what it means to be centre-right and fiscally responsible, particularly in regards to carving out a dividing line between the Conservatives and Ukip.

Depending where in the country you are, Ukip will try to be the political chameleon, changing its colours where it suits them. But the real battleground is capturing real right-wing politics from that shadly liberal David Cameron.

But while you’ll find no love of Cameron from me, Ukip represents a very dangerous set of politics, quite distinct from conservativism proper, and more aligned to dog-whistle politics of the far right, or libertarianism where the crassness of money and power matter more than shared values and the retention of traditional institutions.

Say what you will about the Telegraph, but it was never given to the vice of market liberalism, or the city slickers and their contempt for ‘family, faith, and flag’, to borrow a phrase. That was, perhaps it could be argued, until the Barclay brothers took over, with whom according to Oborne a lot of the problems at the paper become most apparent.

Which leads me to my other worry about the absence of conservatism and the stranglehold of neoliberalism. But rather than explain what this means in detail, I’ll simply quote Oborne himself:

“The coverage of HSBC in Britain’s Telegraph is a fraud on its readers. If major newspapers allow corporations to influence their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy itself is in peril.”

I think the Oborne resignation letter was important because it told some very stark truths: primarily that the Telegraph was not truly independent. Rather than making me jump for joy, this potential black hole for small ‘c’ conservativism worries me. Perhaps there is life left in Blue Labour? But we shall see.

Carl Packman is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward and the author of Loansharks: The rise and rise of payday lending

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45 Responses to “Why even left wingers need conservatism”

  1. robertcp

    I am not sure which party represents moderate conservatives in 2015. The Lib Dems?

  2. Asteri

    The establishment MSM is against independent minded, dissenting, right-wingers as much as they oppose the left. Just look at how that the likes of Peter Oborne, Peter Hitchens and David Davis are reviled by the center left and right alike. If you oppose neoliberalism, refuse to worship the cults of Thatcher of Blair and oppose foreign interventionism, you are going to be a hate figure amongst the media establishment and they are going to be out to get you.

    Case in point, the editor of this site was bashing Oborne on Twitter last night for opposing invading Syria.

  3. subtleknife666

    “centre-right”? Where does that come from? The Tories are a hard-line right-wing party.

    Look at the mainstream centre-right parties elsewhere in Europe. They are far less reactionary and regressive.

    Look at what happened at the European Parliament. The British Tories left the mainstream centre-right group because it was far too sensible and moderate for their taste, and went and joined a bunch of loony right-wing nationalists and neo-fascists.
    Which was not at all surprising, knowing the kind of people the British Tories are.

  4. damon

    ”Ukip represents a very dangerous set of politics, quite distinct from conservativism proper, and more aligned to dog-whistle politics of the far right.”

    Who are these dogs people talk about? The white working class?

  5. sw2boro

    Anyone who finds far right themes appealing, so obviously not decent working class people, whichever identity politics box you wish to squeeze them into.

  6. Gary Scott

    The problems we see with THEM are the same problems facing US. The press is too cosy and takes what its given. Investigative journalism is now the preserve of the internet. Too often papers will print ‘planted’ stories in favour of their own world view. Likewise the major parties are seen not to serve the people who vote for them and little difference can be seen between them. This isn’t specific to the UK but across Europe there is an increase of parties on both the left and right with ‘populist’ ideas. Newspapers and political parties have forgotten what they are and who they serve.

  7. Gary Scott


  8. damon

    And ”far right” means anyone who might want stronger controls on the numbers of new immigrants coming to the UK?

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    You can see it in the EU Parliament.

    The moderate right bloc is the EPP. Instead, the Tories sit as one of the primary forces of the considerably smaller ECR bloc, alongside such parties as the Law and Justice (the other major party), the Finns Party, etc.

  10. Guest

    Very few people believe in that without also holding far stronger notions and being strongly capitalist. Moreover, very few are willing to admit the catastrophic economic anti-trade viewpoint they hold.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    There’s respect given where it’s due – for example, David Davis has a great deal if integrity, as much as I disagree with him.

    Oborne, even with this resignation, is nowhere near that. Hitchens? LOL.

  12. damon

    Very few you say? How do you know this? Do people in a democracy not have the right to say how many people should be let into the country to live among them?
    I’m in a country now (Sri Lanka) where they charge foreigners large sums of money in entrance fees for visiting temples and the like, and where nationals can go in for free. As much as £20 to go in and visit one temple complex, per day. It’s meant that I have missed out on seeing some of these places because of their dual pricing/rip off foreigners system.
    But it’s their way here. If you are white you must be a foreigner, and you must pay big money or you can’t go in.
    Can you imagine such a system working in a country where white people were the majority?
    As for immigrating to Sri Lanka, I think they have very strict rules on that too.
    I’d be tempted to if it was possible. Its much nicer than England.

  13. subtleknife666

    Hmm… I’m not sure NuLabour can be described as moderate Conservatives, since they are pretty Thatcherite and there’s nothing remotely moderate about Thatcherism.

    Look at that huge swath of public spending cuts NuLabour voted for the other day — wasn’t it 30 billion or something? Meekly following the Tories into the lobby.

    Conservatives, indeed, but not so moderate.

    Oh, and Leon, yes, thanks for that confirmation.

    It seems that after the upcoming election there will be quite a few progressive MPs in the Commons for a change, instead of just two or three. Perhaps a Plaid Cymru/SNP/Green bloc will be able to remind the former Labour Party that it was once a moderately progressive party.

  14. Guest

    Polling, among other things.

    That you defend promoting hatred and violence on the basis of “democracy”, as you abuse a right you’d deny others. That’s all there is to it – you putting yourself ahead of the rules the 99% would be limited to.

  15. subtleknife666

    There are already very strong controls on the numbers of non-EU immigrants entering the UK.
    As for the EU, we’re members of a club, and millions of UK nationals are enjoying the benefits of that club membership by living and, in many cases, working, in France, Spain, Germany and so on.
    If the UK leaves the EU, the status of those UK nationals elsewhere in Europe will look pretty dodgy. They’ll become non-EU migrants and presumably subject to the stringent controls already in place against others having that status.

  16. subtleknife666

    “Far right” tends to refer to neo-fascists and neo-nazis. The Daily Mail types, the racists, xenophobic loonies, Islamophobes and the haters of immigrants. Have you got that now?

    UKIP is the BNP (plus a few far-right Tory mavericks) with nicer clothes, a better image, much better PR and a leader who, unlike Nick Griffin, is quite a clever politician.

  17. robertcp

    I agree that a Labour government kept in power by Plaid/SNP/Green MPs might be our best hope for a progressive government.

  18. robertcp

    My opposition to intervention in other countries could be described as conservative, although I would not support coups against democratically elected governments unlike many conservatives.

  19. robertcp

    Lol! It could be argued that Miliband has moved Labour from extreme conservatism to moderate conservatism.

  20. kaptain krip

    ask a disabled person if the torie s are centre right or hard right guess what rhey’ll say

  21. sarntcrip

    ask a disabled person if the tories are hard right or centre right THEIR BULLYING OF THE DISABLED WOULD STRONGLY SUGGEST VERY HARD RIGHT

  22. sarntcrip


  23. damon

    Daily Mail types you say? You must hate British people then as those kind of people are in the mainstream of the society. You know, like people who live in suburbs etc. And in villages and small towns.

    As for ”haters of immigrants” where are you getting this from? There are some of course, but not even UKIP supporters tend to be like that. Wanting Australian type controls doesn’t men you hate my Irish mother. Or indeed the Asian family next door.
    People who like to conflate these things as being the same are very dishonest.

  24. damon

    Tell me this then, as I’ve never really understood it. How did so many west Africans come to be living in the UK? Was it asylum seekers first followed by family members? Students who overstayed?
    There maybe more restrictions now, but there obviously were ways for people to get to Britain one way or another. We are even developing a South American population in London now.
    It doesn’t bother me particularly, I even attended a South American carnival in Burgess Park in south London a few years ago. There were thousands of South Americans there. How did they get permission to come to the UK in the first place. Many will have come on EU passports I think as Spain hands them out to South Americans quite freely.

    And then there is the fraud of the asylum system. So many people lied on their asylum applications that the system crashed.
    People say that Europe is tightening its entry procedures, and the result is more boat people coming from North Africa. We don’t send them back in the main, as you can see if you travel around Europe and see African guys sleeping in parks.

  25. subtleknife666

    I’m as mainstream British as anyone and I’ll treat THAT rubbish with the contempt it deserves.

  26. damon

    With they contempt they deserve you mean?

    Btw, did you see this, about Channel 4’s fantasy programme about UKIP gaining power?


  27. subtleknife666

    Please don’t put words into my mouth, Damon.
    I said “with the contempt it deserves” and that’s what I meant to say, all right?

    I’m not interested in Channel 4 or in its crap about UKIP.

  28. damon

    OK, sorry. It’s just when people start going on about dog whistles and ”Daily Mail types” and people who have voted UKIP, I usually think they are calling all those people scum.
    Not the newspaper itself, but the people who buy it. Ordinary people who are not right on enough to get this website or the SWP.

  29. subtleknife666

    Glad we’re conversing with less animosity. 🙂

    The Daily Mail is racist, misogynistic and fascist. Its anti-immigrant propaganda is somewhat subtle.

    Nonetheless, I have to concede that not all its readers are like that. I actually have a friend who gets the damn thing delivered seven days a week. Makes me shudder to look at it… the sports pages are ok, though.

  30. damon

    Of course the Daily Mail is pretty rubbish.
    But – and it’s a big but in my opinion, they are closer to a majority view of issues like immigration than you will read about in the Guardian with Hugh Muir etc.
    Unfortunately that’s just the way it is. Not everyone likes the new way many parts of our cities are now.
    If you don’t spend much time in them, passing through places like Tottenham, East Ham or parts of Birmingham must look like inhospitable places.

    Even the excellent writer on racial matters, Kenan Malik talks about how complex the issues of multiculturalism etc are.

    And just because I haven’t spoken to anyone all day, apart from locals who ask where I’m from and what I’m doing etc, I just feel like saying that I’ve relocated to a different town in Sri Lanka today, by taking two buses over a hundred km. It was fun. I’m now back by the sea south of Colombo.
    Sri Lankans are the nicest people I have ever come across.

  31. subtleknife666

    I’m sorry to say I’ve never been to Asia. I must remedy this at some point. I’m 60… so many places to go, so little time and money… *sigh*

    The majority view. Hmm. Well, the right-wing media have succeeded in convincing many people that immigrants, asylum-seekers, people with brown skins, Muslims and so on are a Bad Thing.
    In fact immigrants make a huge contribution to the UK economy and I have no problem living next door to people with skin of a different colour or a religion I don’t share.
    I rather like the spicy cooking smells I can sometimes detect.

    My nephew recently got onto the first rung of the property ladder by buying a flat in Ilford. My Daily Mail-reading friend said “Oh dear, he won’t be seeing many white faces there”. I was at a loss for words and didn’t reply at the time.
    Knowing my nephew well, he won’t be bothered by the ethnic makeup of his neighbourhood! Next time it comes up, I’ll mention that fact.

  32. damon

    So far in Sri Lanka in nearly three months, I’ve averaged less than £100 pounds a week.
    Often less. Rooms have averaged at about £7.50 a night, and food and transport is so cheap it’s almost negligible. My bus rides today came in at under a pound and my main meal of veg rice and curry was 60p.
    My biggest extravagance is buying a big jar off coffee every couple of weeks (as I have my own kettle with me). I’m not that much younger than you myself, and intend to spend as much time as possible overseas like this. It was a bit of a cold winter I heard.

    As far as the other stuff goes, well yes – I agree with the spirit of it.
    Integrated multicultural communities can be a success.
    My own Irish mother has become very friendly with several of the Indian neighbours who have moved in around her in the last decade. It might help that its all semi-detatched houses so they are people who want to get on in the world. It might be different if she lived in a struggling area that was tatty and full of transient short term residents.

    As for cooking smells, I’ve got to learn how to make some of the curry dishes I have here.
    Just simple dhals and curried runner beans and other veg side dishes.
    It’s my favourite food in the world and I’ve been eating it once or twice a day, every day I’ve been here.
    Anyway, are we about done here?

  33. Guest

    Oh yes, of course you claim that isolationist anti-trade views are widely held.

    As usual, you then bang on about foreigners are better than the British as you *trumpet* that you’re doing what you’d deny others.

    YOU are not welcome in some places because of your hostility to the people there – or at least you think so.

  34. Guest

    Ah yes, it’s fine for the rich to do things the poor can’t be allowed.
    As you keep trumpeting about how you’re doing things you’d deny others. On and on!

  35. Guest

    Right, of course in your world, which obviously bothers you immensely, it MUST be that all the Other here came illegally, as you talk up your myths, not bothering to check basics.

    As you call allowing people to escape your kind of government a fraud, when even the UKIP’s Dear Leader strongly supports asylum. And I see, your objection is that there’s not enough poverty so it’s only “African” (bias more) people sleeping on the streets and not British people.

  36. damon

    Leon, you are just making stuff up.
    I don’t give a monkey’s who lives in what part of the world and in what numbers.
    I’d probably vote for ” open borders” of the kind that the online magazine ”Spiked” advocates.

    Do you understand that Leon? Those probably are closest to my own personal opinions.
    Why should I care what happens in Britain? I won’t be alive to see the long term future, and I’m sure it will all work out OK one way or another.

    You keep misrepresenting everything I say. If I defend the right of people to vote UKIP without being demonized, you insist I must be a supporter of their’s.
    It would be the same as me defending the rights for people to draw Charlie Hebdo style cartoons, and you insisting I was a Muslim baiter.
    Can you get that point?
    You are slightly annoying Leon.

  37. damon

    Leon, you’re having a go at me just for saying what’s said in surveys.

    This is from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University.


    You probably think they are a racist outfit because they say things you would deny.
    From that link:

    Immigration is generally unpopular
    Despite uncertainties involved in measuring and interpreting public opinion, the evidence clearly shows high levels of opposition to immigration in the UK. In recent surveys, majorities of respondents think that there are too many migrants in the UK, that fewer migrants should be let in to the country, and that legal restrictions on immigration should be tighter.

  38. subtleknife666

    There are genuine asylum-seekers and then there are those who try to cheat the asylum system. Just as with benefits, those who cheat should suffer the consequences — in the case of fake asylum-seekers, that would be getting sent back to their home countries. Just as with benefits, those who are NOT cheating should not be demonised by the Cameron regime and the right-wing media.

    We should be VERY careful before sending people back, and I fear the UK authorities are not always being careful enough. If a guy claims to have been persecuted in his home country because he’s gay or the opinions he’s expressed don’t please the local despot, well, let’s be very careful not to send him back to be tortured or hanged. On the other hand, it’s difficult to prove a negative, isn’t it? How the heck do you try to prove a person has NOT been persecuted?

    It’s not easy, none of it.
    But when the Daily Mail etc. are busy portraying asylum-seekers and benefits claimants as evil parasites, well, it makes my blood boil and I want to pick up and throw something heavy!!

  39. damon

    Ha, I’m going to be more left than you now and say that I don’t think all asylum seekers who lied should get sent back. When they tightened up other immigration possibilities, that became a way to get into western Europe. So people lied – apart from nearly breaking the asylum system, so what?
    My sister worked with young Afghan lads who even used to lie about their age so that the council would be forced to provide for them when they were deemed as vulnerable teenagers.
    And they all have Taliban stories, even ounces from places controlled by other factions.

    On the boats coming over from Libya now there is a total mix. Not all are from war situations.
    Probably a minority are. And even then, we only take the young and strong who manage to get to Europe.

    If it was only about asylum, then you could say that Sri Lanka is safe now. I was in the Tamil part just a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised how peaceful it was. I thought it would feel like an armed occupation, but it was nothing like it. Even the new prime minister has said all Sri Lankans can return without fear of persecution. But I don’t think Tamils in the UK should have to leave.
    Although there’s no reason they shouldn’t perhaps. Plenty have been coming back and forth for years anyway.
    In my opinion, asylum is a bit of a scam, and was never designed to take substantial numbers of a region’s population in. Maybe some groups will have to be resettled in the West, but it can not be that we empty regions of whole ethnic groups. Or that a Nigerian in fear of Boko Haram should first think of leaving for the UK rather than another city in their own country.

  40. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes yes, keep trying to misinterpret things, Lord Blagger.
    Everyone must hold your anti-trade, isolationist views, blah blah.

    Those studies are heavily self-selecting and there is widespread misinformation.
    Moreover, the economic costs are not discussed. “Do you wish your salary to drop 30% or more” is part of the discussion.

    Except you’re happy for that.

  41. Guest

    You are a genocidal loon, Lord Blagger, who routinely calls for killing the workers.

    You evidently DO care, deeply. Your late excuses now are excuses.
    And they are excuses – you’re protecting UKIP, etc.

    I’m not the kind of fool you want me to be, Lord Blagger.

  42. Guest

    Oh right, just send back a whole bunch of asylum seekers to be killed. You’re all good with that, “lying” (i.e. applying) isn’t your criteria…you’ll excuse oh…the ones whose ideology suits you, eh? Maybe the ones who support, oh, the old regime? And as you note, you only want the young and strong – good Social Darwinism.

    Your sister “worked” to prove that people were, what, older than they claimed so they could be sent back to be killed. Right. You keep talking about how it’s so evil they tried to escape the Taliban.

    Keep trumpeting how you support rights which you’d deny others, as you call being able to escape from your sort of society a scam. Or your Dear Friends, like Boko Haram, as you highlight here.

    Broken? Broken are your morals.

  43. Guest

    “those who are NOT cheating should not be demonised by the Cameron regime and the right-wing media.”

    And how will you achieve that sort of impossible knife-edge? Not only that, but your right have not even tried, won’t try and you’re a useful idiot if you think they will ever try.

  44. Guest

    So you want LESS controls on non-EU. I see. Because that’s what you’re talking about. For example, not counting students in immigration at all, easing the points-based system…

    And it’s dishonest to deny a very strong correlation? I see.

  45. jmayall

    ‘liberal Guardian-reading Tories’

    are you sure such things exist..?

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