From One Oxymoron to Another

The think-tank Demos has switched from New Labour to ‘Progressive Conservatism’. Philip Blond has journeyed from ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ to ‘Red Toryism’. Now the two have joined forces and both Right and Left have been taken in

How do you get from the Communist Party to David Cameron’s “Progressive Conservatism”? Via Martin Jacques, editor of Marxism Today, the CP’s theoretical journal, from 1977 to its timely demise in 1991, when Jacques resigned from the party and looked for a new home.

Finding no existing place congenial, he set up a thinktank, Demos, in 1993. Its mission was to reinvent the Left – or progressivism as Jacques now preferred to call it – for a post-Marxist, post-Soviet world. During the 1990s, Demos played a vanguard role in the creation of New Labour.

Fast forward to 2009, and the New Labour project has transparently hit the buffers. As Jenni Russell put it in the Guardian, “Anyone who cares about the future…can spend the next year hoping impotently that an increasingly irrelevant Labour administration will change its nature. Or they can recognise that the most important political question we now face is how to influence the shape of the next Tory government.”

Demos wants to be part of this fun and in January launched a “Progressive Conservatism” project. David Cameron attended the launch and extolled the undertaking. Demos has found Philip Blond, a theologian whose academic career has taken him from Peterhouse, Cambridge, to the University of Cumbria, to head this exciting new enterprise.

Blond’s particular shtick is Red Toryism – a concept borrowed from Canada, where it described the left wing of the old Progressive Conservative Party. That party was wiped out in the polls in 1993. What does Red Toryism amount to? Essentially it is “socially-committed” Anglicanism in politics – or Notting Hill at prayer. Blond has long had a penchant for fashionable oxymoronic terms-before Red Toryism it was Radical Orthodoxy, a postmodern Christian theological movement which argued that all discourse must be grounded in our collective Christian heritage. The political conclusion of all this postmodern dialogue is conventional caring, sharing left-wingery.

Blond’s Red Toryism consists of lots of stuff about community and the evils of monopoly – and the desire to find what could perhaps be termed a Third Way between individualistic capitalism and amoral socialism. So we are left with anti-capitalist, post-modern religiosity. Not too many takers, one might think.

But progressive opinion has taken up Red Toryism with considerable relish. It has made the cover of Prospect, the New Statesman has pronounced it the most exciting idea to come out of the Right for many a year and the Guardian says it should be taken seriously. Everyone seems excited by it-everyone on the Left, that is.

For the sake of his students in Cumbria, we hope that Blond’s foray into politics does not take up too much of his time – for, as he puts it on his web page, he “has developed a ground-breaking interactive teaching style that has resulted in an unprecedented increase in his students’ performance and intellectual confidence”. One would not want them to miss out on such a rich feast.

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