As the Labour leadership race comes to a close I thought it’d be interesting to look at something that has seemed a common theme during this election, and that is name calling. The level of name calling between people of different wings of the Labour Party has been almost impressively destructive, but there one thing that got me thinking. When supporters of Owen Smith claim that everyone who voted for Jeremy Corbyn are in the SWP or are Trotskyists, they are so frustrated by the current situation of Labour that they have lost grip on reality. The reason I say this is that if everyone who supports Jeremy Corbyn was a Trotskyist, they would have organised a revolution by now. When Corbyn supporters have accused Blairites as being Red Tories this has angered the moderate wing of the party. What some don’t realize is that Red Toryism is actually a real thing, so is it fair to call these left-wing neoliberals Red Tories?
Red Toryism is an ideology that has historically been prevalent in Canada but has it’s philosophical roots in Disraelian One Nation conservatism and the radical Toryism of Randolph Churchill. The overarching principle of Red Toryism was that it is politically inexpedient to oppose every reform measure proposed by every political party, and so adopting progressive views in some areas allows conservative political parties to adapt to changing circumstances without seeming unreasonable. Red Toryism looks at a balance of individual and collective rights and is therefore contrasted with the libertarianism and/or neoliberalism of many modern conservatives.
The general policy approach of Red Tories is support for a paternalistic government, continuation of traditional institutions, and modern proponents of this philosophy have gone so far as to support the existence of a welfare state. Because the roots of this ideology have its roots in traditional conservatism, Red Tories are largely unconcerned with wealth inequality and a class system provided those at the top abide by social conventions like noblesse oblige.
The approach to government of New Labour was one of internal centralisation and external decentralisation. The policy of New Labour was to decentralise power to English regions and the constituent countries of the UK, but in Westminster Blair favoured a more presidential system. I’m not going to comment on whether on not this technically qualifies as a form of paternalism, but there were a number of policy initiatives that could be seen that way. Liberal interventionism in foreign policy, the continuation of the Drug War, and counter-terrorism legislation like identity cards all could be considered as somewhat paternalistic.
Further, Blair favoured the continuation of the Church of England as an established church and is a monarchist, both of which are not especially left-wing positions and would definitely fit into a Red Tory manifesto. Blair also didn’t introduce higher taxes on wealthy individuals, again a policy that many ideological conservatives would agree with. On the subject of the welfare state, it is undeniable that Blair did support the continuation of the welfare state, which isn’t a criticism but Red Tories would also go along with this policy
The friction that exists within the Labour Party is stoked by labels like ‘Red Tory’ and I would argue that it is incumbent upon people on the Left to only use such labels if they are accurate. For example, I don’t call Jack Straw a Blairite because I’m trying to insult him, I’m doing so because he holds the same ideological outlook as Tony Blair. Given the evidence I have laid out I would say that in some cases it is fair to label some people within the Labour Party as Red Tories. However this term shouldn’t be universalised.
The moderate wing of the Labour Party is split between left-wing neoliberals and, evidently, Red Tories. The former are the ideological children of Thatcher who are seeking to put a compassionate face on brutal individualism, some of whom are also socially conservative. The latter are people who are more paternalistic in their view of politics and wish to continue traditional institutions and customs despite belonging to a socialist party. At the end of the day this is just one man’s opinion, but if Red Tories do exist in the modern Labour Party then I wouldn’t be surprised.