To Vote Conservative or Not to Vote Conservative? Reflections on Matt Goodwin vs Peter Hitchens – The Daily Sceptic (2024)

There is a simple dilemma facing us as the election approaches. This is what I will call the Goodwin-Hitchens dilemma. The dilemma, for those of you who want to vote, is whether to vote for Reform or vote against Labour.

I call this the Goodwin-Hitchens dilemma because there is no question to my mind that the cases for each side have been stated most effectively by the academic political scientist Matthew Goodwin and the journalist Peter Hitchens: not least in the debate that Unherd hosted last week, ‘The Alternative Election Hustings’, where Goodwin and Hitchens spoke against each other, as well as against Rod Liddle and some others who presented quixotic, charming or alarming but ultimately irrelevant arguments in favour of other parties.

There is a consensus that the Conservatives have, over the last few years, performed poorly and ended up in a tangle. This was perhaps inevitable given their attempt to ride through Brexit. But it was certainly complicated by their capitulations to many standard administrative Leftist policies, most obviously concerning COVID-19, but also concerning Net Zero, Immigration and Diversity. These have unstuck the historical Conservative party as its subtle or cynical habit of capitulating to these while pretending not to has worn so thin that it has put itself in the position of having to admit that it is in fact in agreement with Labour — hence vote Labour — or that it has gone completely wrong — hence vote Reform.

The wonderful thing about this consensus is that it is almost universal. The entire nation is bonded together as effectively as if Henry V and Churchill and Harry Kane had formed a triumvirate. I see Labour and Green pundits using the same rhetoric of “decline” and “a need for change” as Reform and all but the most rigor-mortised brain-in-an-Egyptian-vase Conservatives. And of course now, as everyone anticipates a change, we see everyone working up a history of modern Britain in which the last 14 years are treated as a block, so that Nick Clegg and George Osborne are supposed to be part of the same rot as Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Just as everyone came to revise their estimation of 1997 in terms of the War in Iraq and the Financial Crisis, so everyone is coming to revise their estimation of 2010 in terms of Cost of Living and the Boats. Here in the Daily Sceptic we may deplore the evident absence of any discussion of COVID-19 but, let us face it, no politician ever wants to admit responsibility — except ostentatiously, for their achievements — and the truth is that what really happened during COVID-19 is still so embarrassing that it will have to be left to some future A.J.P. Taylor to tell the story at a time when everyone is willing to receive it.

Anyhow, back to the dilemma, for it is about whether we want to be positive or negative, whether we want to try to work for a long-term reform of politics — and accept that the worst that could happen has happened—or try to prevent the worst that could happen from happening. Our assessment of this depends on how serious we think it is that Labour will entrench a set of antipolitical protocols that will lock in a foolish administrative Leftist politics. Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not: perhaps, like all governments, it will do a certain amount, but then discover that the system of mediations running downwards from the monarchy, acrosswards from the institutions, and upwards from media and mass, will clog and clot its progress, and generate a situation of unexpected vicissitudes which will require the sort of headless-chicken virtue-signalling improvising which is nine-tenths of politics nowadays.

Goodwin has a point. If Labour has happened, if the thing is done and dusted, then a vote for the Conservatives will be a wasted vote, because it will appear to ratify the Bad Old System of the Uniparty or Blob — or what I prefer to call (having a taste for 18th-century language) the Court — in which Labour is the kamikaze wing of the consensus and the Conservatives are the carpetbagging wing of the same consensus. If we ratify this system then we are still stuck in the 1990s or 2000s: a mythical world in which we enjoy voting for or against Tory ‘scum’ and Labour ‘silt’, with no one doing anything about the quality of the water in the river of our politics. The problem with the Hitchens position is that although Labour is appalling, and even more appalling for lacking the decoration of hypocrisy which reconciles so many of us, at times, to the Conservatives, the Conservatives are pretty appalling too, and logically at the moment a vote for Conservatives just seems to be an admission that we are more half-hearted and cynical than Labour, while mostly agreeing with them. Hitchens’s reason for voting Conservative is very Hitchensesque, but, alas, it still ends in a vote for the Conservatives.

But Hitchens also has a point. This is because Starmer is extremely Blairite in one and perhaps two respects. He is Blairite in one obvious way, and this is in the positively Mandelsonian attempt to avoid letting Labour startle the pigeons. No one in Labour will disturb those busy dirtbirds of the City of London. Labour wants economic stability. This is New Labour redivivus: respectable, anti-Corbynite. And Starmer is perhaps Blairite in a second respect — if Hitchens is right — in that there is a conspiracy of the Latter Day Trotskyists to pretend to be sweet and reasonable when in fact they are committed Gramscian Marchers-Through-The-Institutions and intend to tie up the nation in a lot of what we now call lawfare, DEI, SDGs and goodness knows what else — with all sorts of newly recruited Thought Police to steer us along in our new comfortable conformity. If this is so, and it certainly seems at least possible, then Starmer’s regime may seem to be the telos of everything that has happened in the United Kingdom ever since the phrase ‘political correctness’ was first heard, whenever that was (let’s say, for sake of argument, the 1990s). Equity, Trans, Zero, Crisis, Economy, Ophobia, Privilege — everything will be bundled together in a grand Amazon packet and ‘delivered’ in such a way that it cannot be refused, even if we have to break down our doors to get the whole multi-purpose, rainbow-coloured, naughty-stepping, swear-boxing, procrustean-sleeping, brain-chipping, knee-bending, heat-pumping machine into the house.

But both sides have their problems.

Goodwin might be contributing to our doom. If Hitchens is right then there is no long term. The short term — Labour — will become the long term once Labour establishes its politics in the constitutional frame of our system.

On the other side, Hitchens might be contributing to our doom by condemning us to an unreformed system in which there is no likely that anyone will even be able to envisage opposition to the current Court of the higher-educated — half the population, remember.

What to do? No advice here. Historically, sceptics were always high-and-dry sorts who said — like Sextus Empiricus or David Hume — that one should not seek to change the world but, rather, go along with its traditions even if one personally was not entirely comfortable with them. Michael Oakeshott, a recentish sceptic, used to shrug his shoulders whenever asked a question about politics and say, “I don’t find it necessary to have opinions on such matters”. This sceptical doctrine, of course, was held at a time when societies were traditional. And we no longer live in a traditional society. Which is perhaps why sceptics are having to come out of the woodwork, the ivory tower, or the garden to say, “What the hell is going on?”

Good luck!

Dr. James Alexander is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey.

Tags: Conservative PartyDemocracyGeneral Election 2024Keir StarmerLabour PartyReformSocialismUniparty

To Vote Conservative or Not to Vote Conservative? Reflections on Matt Goodwin vs Peter Hitchens – The Daily Sceptic (2024)
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