The ‘Red Tory’ Moment

Just a few miles from my hometown sits the Welsh Rust Belt—the south Wales Valleys. Stamped onto those verdant galloping hills is what remains of the industrial revolution’s once convulsing heart. Legions of coal-dusted men once winched down into the pits, day after day after day, chipping away at the other black gold.

Up until the 1980s, the mines employed virtually every man here. Then they closed. And the rot inched toward the bone.

I remember the day she died. Maggie-Maggie-Maggie! Dead! Dead! Dead! was the more cordial of expressions. Margaret Thatcher passed away in 2013. But, here, she’ll never die.

Maggie’s battles with the unions made her name. Depending on your politics, she either saved, or ruined, Great Britain.

Her death blanketed TV screens, papers, and pixels. Grim-faced conservative commentators fought back strange facial contortions. The sinewy flutter of grief. They had never been anywhere near the Valleys. Had they, they’d know that Thatcher, here at least, is immortal.

She is still around. You see it in the deadened eyes of those she left behind. Some shoot Maggie into their collapsing veins. Many swig listlessly on her legacy, as they shuffle around town.

Working-men’s clubs, usually host to a handful, seethed on the day she died. Bedraggled faces of ex-miners, their boys, clotted together. Maggie-Maggie-Maggie! Dead! Dead! Dead!

Of course, this is a wholly one-sided account. Thatcher was one of our most popular prime ministers. And she would shudder at the chaos she created.

But these men paid the price of her creed. Their offspring, tainted by the tumult of the 1980s, remain Maggie’s orphans.

In Merthyr Tydfil, that creed taints every crack. Heroin and super-strength lager lubricate a vague and pernicious malaise. Don’t mention Maggie around here.

One can see why. They never recovered from the “creative destruction” bestowed upon them. They’re now some of the fattest, sickest, and poorest in Western Europe—ailments of the left-behind.

Less than two-thirds are employed. Forty percent of those “on the sick” are signed-off long-term.

Maggie’s orphans were set aside. Their crime was their “inefficiency.” The mines were not “economically viable.”

Perhaps you might see the necessary evil of what Thatcher did. Governments cannot prop up ailing industries. But creative destruction is useless, unless the creative element rewilds the destruction.

The jobs lost here were never replaced. The human cost will never be recouped. Of course, such people just need to move towns. Learn to code. Embrace the gig economy.

Perhaps, this bleak pastiche sounds familiar. After all, I wouldn’t be writing this if Donald Trump was not president. Donald Trump would not be president if not for the Rust Belt. If not for fentanyl.

But there remain those who pretend that Donald Trump is not president. That the economic apartheid he tapped into does not exist. That flat-screen TVs are cheaper now. So, all is well.

Which is why Tucker Carlson’s recent monologue met such derision on the tired-and-busted Right. Tucker dared slaughter the sacred cow of free-market fundamentalism. Suggesting that GDP growth means nothing if siphoned upward.

The swarm of originality missed the point. Tucker’s apparent hostility merely pointed out that we don’t have free markets. And the specter of social rot is not worth the few bucks shaved off of a flat-screen TV. Let them eat Netflix.

Of course, the conservative high-priests charged Tucker with a label featuring less relevance than their shopworn and misguided paeans to the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. Tucker “is not a true conservative.”

But to marry social conservatism with strident criticism of markets gone awry is not new. Here in Great Britain, we would call Tucker a “Red Tory.”

A term coined by political thinker Phillip Blond, Red Toryism, or its cousin one-nation conservatism, occupies a common ground shorn of the extremist libertarian Right, and the pernicious and nihilist socialist Left. The premise: a country has an economy, not the other way around.

What we have right now is the worst of both worlds. A market captured by big business, in communion with an overweening government. Both engorging and fattening the other. And devouring the people forced to play along—and to be thankful.

Discarded in the 1980s, this strand of conservative thought enjoys a renaissance in the post-2008 landscape.

Blond opens his 2010 book, Red Tory, with a bleak diagnosis kindred to that of Tucker’s recent monologue.

The result of the last three decades, he writes, is:

Increasing fear, lack of trust and abundance of suspicion, long-term increase in violent crime, loneliness, recession, depression, private and public debt, family break-up, divorce, infidelity, bureaucratic and unresponsive public services, dirty hospitals, powerlessness, the rise of racism, excessive paperwork, longer and longer working hours, children who have no parents… seemingly immovable poverty, the permanence of inequality, teenagers with knives, teenagers being knifed, the decline of politeness, aggressive youths, the erosion of our civil liberties and the increase of obsessive surveillance, public authoritarianism, private libertarianism, general pointlessness, political cynicism and a pervading lack of daily joy.

Blond’s prescription? To marry the merits of social conservatism, with a “new economics” that “distributes property, market access, and educational excellence for all.” A popular capitalism, if you will.

The final piece in Blond’s jigsaw is for conservatives to cut the umbilical cord of big business. Rejecting the cartel capitalism that allies with the liberal Left to keep borders open and wages down.

Such prescriptions may sound radical. But it is no longer 2012. Surveys show that most Americans are socially conservative, and economically moderate. The Gordon Gekko GOP sits well with few.

Donald Trump knew this. And that is why he is president. And why the Republican party is inching toward the party of middle America.

Republican holdouts, those once convinced Mitt Romney would be president, might want to consider the alternative to fair and level trade, and pro-worker policies.

Though a figure of fun on the Right, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) makes a vocation out of saying silly things and having people take them seriously. Her recent call for a 70 percent tax on the richest Americans sparked a laugh-riot. Yet most Americans actually agree.

And don’t think AOC and company would stop there. Socialism, whether prefixed with “democratic” or not, always ends in penury. Ask the Venezuelans.

Yet to even suggest that unbridled capitalism has many flaws, is met with cries of “Socialism!” Which, perversely, is what those crying will end up with, if they don’t listen.

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Getty Images

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