Why we need the Good Right – and what we can learn from them

There are enough real and substantive changes that can be made to our society without dismissing the other side as beyond the pale


Tim Montgomerie has what seems like a fun role in our current public discourse. In attempting to cajole the centre-right into an agenda both electorally popular and socially just, he gets to play about with a malleable political ideology – conservatism – and bend it to the needs of the day.

And, as his new project (launched with Stephan Shakespeare) The Good Right illustrates, he’s pretty good at it. When the left descends into sub-Guardianese about right-wingers being ‘evil,’ promotes the more mindless reaches of identity politics, or defaults to calling the coalition all the names under the sun whilst fudging on its own solutions, being Tim Montgomerie looks kind of alright.

As Hopi Sen rightly noted, the left does have this slightly aggravating and certainly ‘persistent tendency to see our motivating principles as more noble, more pure, than that of our political opponents.’ And yet, if you’re reliant on the IFS declaring the other side is a few percentage points different to you on the big fiscal questions of the day, then the  other side is probably not all that evil. Wrong, sure. Evil, no. As Mark Ferguson has pointed out, if right wingers are innately evil, why are so many of them rather nice?

To be honest, I’m quite partial to the more intellectually curious of such types, and some of this has made it into my work. One person reviewing the manuscript for what became my book One Nation Britain found it ‘good – though it reads like a love letter to Harold Macmillan.’ I took this is a compliment.

But there is this progressive tradition that runs through British politics from Lloyd George and the graduated income tax, via Macmillan’s calls for a minimum wage in the 1930s and actual delivery in office in the 1950s to the broad postwar agenda generally dominated by Labour. All parties contributed to this, as did Whitehall, local authority and private sector alike.

Yes, Thatcher broke this chain (albeit through the dastardly means of being democratically elected three times), but strains of small ‘c’ conservatism have been at the heart of most successful political movements in this country – not least the Labour Party, as Martin Pugh has argued in his recent history of the movement. For all its seemingly oxymoronic nomenclature, Blue Labour remains in essence a good thing.

Fundamentally, there are enough real and substantive changes that can be made to our society without dismissing the other side as beyond the pale. Cancelling the bedroom tax. Re-stimulating the quagmire of our housing market. Upping the minimum wage. Rebalancing our economy through shifting investment to the north of England. These are all tasks Labour are rightly prioritising.

The left doesn’t need Crosby style negativity on top: rather than what the Tories have got wrong, what will Labour get right? Admittedly this requires details above and beyond the Greens, but Labour is aspiring to form a government in eight weeks time. And, in any event, the Good Right notably goes big on all but the first of these anyway.

On one specific policy – making a shift from income to wealth taxation – Montgomerie and Shakespeare definitely have a point, albeit one usually propagated by that arch lefty Thomas Piketty. As Piketty shows, the story of the next hundred years will be returns on wealth exceeding those of earned income. A beefed up HMRC going after unearned returns on assets – principally via increased property and inheritance levies – should be territory the left is all over. Labour could have outflanked the right here.

But instead we’re back in prime minister Brown territory. Hide from a ‘death tax,’ back to a 50p top rate, and, to be fair, a dribble of wealth taxation through the much caveated mansion tax. These are not the worst policies: better than doing nothing, but they are slightly suggestive of Labour’s lack of imagination. If Myleene Klass can turn that water into wine and boost our economy then we’ll talk about tax relief, since she hasn’t earned it, actually, it’s the type of inherited asset Labour should be looking at. I jest, but only a bit.

In claiming Balls and Miliband learnt nothing from their time in the Treasury and were responsible for crashing the economy, David Cameron is of course being nakedly political. But other than borrowing TV debate era Clegg’s mansion tax, you could be forgiven for thinking both Eds are indeed trotting out the same tunes.

Certainly the media is definitely to blame for much of this default ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stuff. Journalists allowing politicians no time to think before leaping to the next question. Interviewers treating every question as if it hangs alone rather than being part of a pretty complex political tapestry. Inducing blind panic from a politician rather seems to be the goal of the inquisitor. Little wonder that our politicians resort to well worn clichés, insults, or selectively misleading stats. PMQs is the tip of the iceberg with modern politics, not the whole problem.

And so amidst the white noise, the Good Right should be praised for trying to make that side of the political spectrum actually think about its raison d’etre in the modern world. In a period of #longtermeconomicplan and ‘Red Ed’ stuff from the right, that’s no bad thing. But it should also be a call to arms for the left. Ed Miliband is often held up as a geeky wonk – if anything, a bit more consideration of what a future Miliband administration has as its topline goal might not have hurt. But we are where we are.

So much of the modern left combines pretty cringeworthy networking and engaging in ‘valuable conversations’ with the same fifteen members of the twitterati rather than actually taking a hard line on something substantial and sticking to your guns. In that sense, oddly, Labour remains more conservative than the Conservatives.

Let’s be clear: if Labour win they will naturally be buoyed and change will happen. But if they rest on their laurels in government, the Conservatives elect someone not typically Tory as leader, and a Good Right focused Conservative Party is able to draw ex-UKIPers back to the fold, 2020 may be a very different matter. The Good Right may arrive just too late to stop Miliband gaining power, but it might just tip him out of Number 10 in five years time.

Richard Carr is a lecturer at the Labour History Research Unit, Anglia Ruskin University, and a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. He has recently published a book, One Nation Britain

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

22 Responses to “Why we need the Good Right – and what we can learn from them”

  1. Cole

    The whole point about the right is that they’re evildoers (even if some of them are personally ‘nice’, and some lefties are unpleasant). It actually is a moral choice. Otherwise, why bother?

    I guess people in think tanks and universities don’t think this way about politics. If you bother to analyse what conservatives are actually doing – or planing to do – you’ll understand this isn’t some game for Oxbrudge graduates.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    They’re not nice. They’re trying to present screwing other people over as a good thing. It’s surface charm, no more, not morality.

    Labour are right wingers, these days.
    And it’s the lack of choice which afflicts British politics.

  3. damon

    ”… descends into sub-Guardianese about right-wingers being ‘evil,’ promotes the more mindless reaches of identity politics”

    This site’s got an awful below the line commentator doing far worse than that – he’s ruined the place for the time being. I’d have thought some moderator might have had a word with him.

  4. DexterGordon

    Labour, ‘right-wing’?! So where do the liberty-loving pro-controlled-immigration UKIP fall on your spectrum, Mr Wolfeson?

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, if you bother with policy analysis. You know, facts.

    UKIP are not “liberty-loving”. They’re standard pro-rich vulgar libertarians, pro-Corperate and for plenty of controls on what the poor are allowed to do.

    I mention gay marriage, freedom of religion and the NHS in passing, there, as examples. A party lead by a Banker, for the Bankers.

    And they’re for blocking the borders, since we have controlled immigration *today* – another example of liberties which they oppose – from four freedoms down to just one (the fourth, freedom of capital).

    UKIP are to the right of the Tories. This can be seen very clearly in the EU Parliament – there’s a moderate right bloc, then to the right there’s the bloc the Tories sit in, and then to the right of THAT there’s the bloc the UKIP sit in.

    But facts.

  6. Guest

    Oh yes, there are facts spoken. It’s “ruined” that you’re challenged, that discussion is had, that you can’t scare everyone off and ensure your ideological dominance.

    You want censorship of non far-right views. You’re so AFRAID of Jews being able to speak. It’s sad on your part.

  7. damon

    What are you going on about Jews all the time for ffs?
    My background was Catholic. Using your childishness I’d be accusing you of hating Catholics.
    Daft as a brush or just trolling for reactions.
    You’re one or the other Leon. Or maybe both.

  8. madasafish

    The whole point about the right is that they’re evildoers (even if some of them are personally ‘nice’, and some lefties are unpleasant). It actually is a moral choice

    So Rotherham Council was run by the Tories? And the Tories killed all the patients at Mid Staffs.. and invaded Iraq on a pretext.?

    Try living in the real world..

  9. Guest

    Oh yes, your “real world” where there’s no Child Protection or NHS in the first place, and you’re hand in hands with dictators and tyrants.

    Quit the fake moral kick, it’s purely about bashing the moderate right for you.

  10. Guest

    Because of your posts.

    And yes yes, you’re a good little Christian, you’ve said so, as you make up nonsense, showing your PC collectivism – you talk about people in general terms, I talk about your views.

    As you again demand I fit your PC categories, Lord Blagger.
    There can of course be no legitimate disagreement with your views in your world.

  11. damon

    I’m not a Christian btw, just from a family that was.
    But head case, it was you who brought religion into it by insisting I had a problem with Jews just because I didn’t support the heavy bombardments of Israel’s ”Protective Edge” last summer.

    Discussion on these kinds of forums can not stand up to your bull in a China shop crashing about and throwing out accusations and insults left right and centre.
    It’s very self-centered of you to do so as it wrecks a space for discussion. Pillock.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Oh, you’re a Satanist. Well, and? I don’t judge.

    Why are you talking to yourself, as you spew more Jewhate, predictably, as you defend Hamas again. In the same post as you tried to deny your views.

    *You* personally are so fragile that you can’t handle arguments, can’t handle debate. So you cry, whine and try for censorship. Thanks for signing your post appropriately – it really does show your views.

  13. Sparky

    Would it surprise you to learn that there are people with different political views to you who believe just as passionately as you that their views are morally correct?

  14. Sparky

    You use the word ‘hate’ more than all the other contributors on this site put together. Why do you think that is?

  15. Guest

    You make up things more “factx” than all the other right wingers on this site pit together, as you don’t think but spout propaganda. It’s you, Lord Blagger
    (And your accuracy standards)

  16. Cole

    The Tories enthusiasticalky backed Iraq (a lot of Labour MPs actually opposed it). And in what world did any politician ‘kill’ people in Mid Staffs? Of course the Tories do dislike the NHS. They voted against its creation, and are now privatising great chunks of it. If they’re in charge after May, you can be sure they’ll dismantle most of it.

  17. Cole

    They’re certainly less ‘right wing’ than under Blair. And there clearly is a real choice between Labour and Conservative.

  18. madasafish

    So teh Tories were the Government? Hmm.. I must have missed that.

    The politicians effectively hushed up North Staffs deaths – nearly 1,000 – see Burnham’s refusal to hold an enquiry..

    As for privatisation: the facts are Burnham privatised more than the Tories have done.

    I note you don’t comment on Rotherham… I wonder why not…?

    You really should live in the real world…

    and as for dismantling it, Burnham made the same claims in 2010 and guess what.?. it’s still here.

  19. Leon Wolfeson


    If you look at their policies, they’ve shifted strongly right on economics, immigration, welfare…

  20. Cole

    I can’t be bothered to deal with all of your silly points, but let’s just take one. Are you denying that the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs voted enthusiastically for the Iraq war – a much higher proportion of them than of Labour MPs. It’s a fact, and you can’t wiggle out of it by making fatuous comments. Hint: the standard right wing response is ‘we wouldnt have voted for it if we’d known all the facts, we wuz misled etc’ – which of course no-one believes.

  21. Cole

    How very tolerant. But to put it simply: we’re right, they’re wrong. Evildoers always have some damned excuse for what they do.

  22. madasafish

    So you believe that that the lies from Tony Blair are acceptable because Tory MPs believed Tony Blair was telling the truth? Yes: they are guilty – of believing the PM was not lying.

    You really don’t have any idea: Governments govern and take the can for their decisions: what the Opposition do or say is irrelevant.

    But then those who support the left are always right and it’s all the fault of the evil Tories..
    As for fatuous comments: tell me what about Rotherham was fatuous? Maybe raping a few hundred children is in your eyes: ? It was evil and those who knowingly shut their eyes and did nothing are evil as well.

Leave a Reply