2000s >> 2007 >> no-1240-december-2007

Cooking the Books 2: Cameron’s hindquarters

Last month Tory leader David Cameron was in Manchester. His speech-writer reminded him of that city’s past associations:

Manchester became great in the 19th century when the words ‘Manchester liberalism’ stood for free trade and capitalism. And of course the city inspired another idea – Friedrich Engels lived here for many years and he wrote about the dark side of the industrial revolution”.

Cameron was there to launch what some might regard as a contradiction in terms: the Conservative Co-operative Movement. After saying he thought it was a shame that the co-op movement had been associated with the political left, he explained:

“there have always been people on the centre-right concerned about the effects of capitalism on the social fabric. Men like Carlyle and Disraeli, following the tradition of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith himself, who recognised at the outset of the industrial revolution that profit was not the only organising principle of a healthy society” (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7084865.stm).

He also repudiated one of Thatcher’s most notorious sayings by admitting that “there is such a thing as society – it’s just not the same thing as the state”.

The free-marketers at the Adam Smith Institute must be cringing and “to the right of Genghis Khan” might be a more accurate description of the views of Thomas Carlyle than “centre right”.

Carlyle (who invented the term “the cash nexus” to describe how capitalism was reducing the relations between people to money ones) and Disraeli (who wrote a novel about there being “two nations” in England) were prominent members in the 1840s of a group of Tories who called themselves “Young England”. Engels did not just write about the dark side of the industrial revolution. He also wrote about “Young England”, in the Communist Manifesto he drafted with Marx:

“Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society. . .In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy were obliged to lose sight, apparently, of their own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophecies of coming catastrophe. . . The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter. One section of the French Legitimists and ‘Young England’ exhibited this spectacle”.

No doubt, as a Tory Toff who went to Eton, there will be a feudal coat of arms somewhere on Cameron’s hindquarters, but much more prominently displayed will be the words “Opportunist Professional Politician” – which workers should equally greet with loud and irreverent laughter.

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