December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I thought I'd put up as its New Year's Eve, one of my favourite poems, Thomas Hardy's Darkling Thrush, written as 1899 closed into 1900. Its an important poem, one of the readings I give it is a hopeful one- though at times the current moment and the future look bleak, they looked bleak in the past as well. One of the mercies of being human is that we cannot know the future and whatever it is will surprise both the most mordant of our fantasies and the most hopeful of our prognostications.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited ;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

December 29, 2009

The Machinist

The Machinist is a film in which the work of the cinematographer is obvious. The film is all grey slates and slats. The film is deliberately industrial- we are seeing not merely a machinist's story but a machinist's life. Machinery metallically grinds against itself. Christian Bale has even turned his body in this performance (he lost sixty pounds from a fit frame to play the title character) into a machine, you can see the bones as they jut into each other and connect just as you can see the inner workings of the machines on the factory floor. The rain glances off the truck (and it must be a truck at that) and renders the world outside grey. The inside of Trevor Reznick's flat is grey, metallic and dark. He reminds me more than anything of John Hurt in 1984, the same wizenned frame, the same haunted eyes, the same bony body. As in 1984, the way that we know that the leading male character is sick in his head is by comparison with the female characters. When we first see Christian Bale he is in bed with a prostitute played by Jennifer Jason Leigh called Stevie: Stevie's normal stomach contrasts with Bale's bony contours and renders the shot even more terrifying. We see this film through Trevor's eyes and through his eyes it is significant that only the two important female characters, Stevie and a waitress in an airport cafe, have anything that ressembles beauty or softness- the rest of the world is grey and dull.

In some senses it does not really matter what has rendered the world grey and dull for Trevor and I will not unfold to you the plot. It is important to note here that Trevor, like Leonard in Memento, slowly reveals that he cannot see the world in the same way that others do. So for example, he believes that there is a man on the shop floor called Ivan that none of his co-workers can see and his bosses say doesn't exist. Ivan is the reason that Trevor was distracted and by mistake committed a hideous error with a machine. Slowly we grasp that Trevor's world is different and distinct from the worlds of others: his co-workers draw away from him, he alienates his friends if they exist. Either the world is a vast conspiracy motivated to get Trevor for some reason, or there is something wrong in the way that he perceives the world. What matters here for the film is not which of those options is true, though we do find out, but what Trevor makes of this. His wizenned appearance, his gaunt face are responses, replies to a world that he cannot quite believe in. He cannot sleep and has not slept for over a year, he does not trust anyone bar Stevie and his experience is fractured, as is the film, into shards. Trevor's world is rendered to him in a series of events, stochastically, rather than in a stream.

Whatever happened to Trevor has changed his attitudes to his world as well as changing his world. He becomes aggressive. The kind of worker who knows his rights and is ready to object when they are touched. His aggressiveness carries over into imagining conspiracies so for example he accuses the victim of his accident of instigating it in order to destroy Trevor's world. He finds it difficult to extend human sympathy- whatever happened to Trevor destroyed his sense of empathy. One of the crucial differences between Trevor and the sympathetic female characters is that he lacks what they have, a basic interest in other human beings. His aggressiveness carries into blaming others for the world in which he exists, lost in the darkness of this world, Trevor turns that darkness outwards. As he becomes increasingly distressed, he becomes increasingly violent, increasingly angry that whatever it is that is happening is happening and around him everyone becomes increasingly repelled. Trevor causes his condition to deepen and his condition causes him to hate further causing his condition to deepen yet again.

The resolution of what is happening to Trevor is believable and links to the plot. In a sense we realise the film is an exaggeration and possibly an unrealistic one. The central point though is not about the cause or explanation of whatever is happening but it is Trevor's sense of impending darkness. The film's power comes from that rather than from the explanation.

December 28, 2009

Review: Lord Broghill and the Cromwellian Union with Ireland and Scotland

Lord Broghill was one of the most important figures in Cromwellian Britain. He was one of its architects. Broghill served Cromwell in Ireland as a general, in Scotland as Lord President of the Council there and lastly in England as an MP. In Ireland, he was a key figure in the Cromwellian conquest, rallying Munster to the English cause and allying the Protestants of Ireland with the New Model Army rather than with Ormonde's royalists. He became a staunch patron of the Protestants of Ireland in the Cromwellian regime and an advocate for their interests, an ally of Henry Cromwell and an opponent of the radical courses designed by the New Model Army. In Scotland he devised a policy which he hoped would bring into being a constituency for the Cromwellian regime amongst religious moderates who had given up the hope of a Stuart restoration. In Parliament, Broghill was one of the principle agents behind moves to give Cromwell the crown and restore what might look like a traditional and legitimate regime to power. These three strands of Broghill's career might seem to be incompatible- they are actually related and part of the skill of Patrick Little's biography of Broghill is that he shows that the peer had a consistent strategy to acheive peace.

What Broghill seems to have desired was the protection of the Protestant interest in the three Kingdoms. The war in Ireland was a war with three sides: a royalist army commanded by the Marquess of Ormonde, a Catholic army commanded by Owen Roe O'Neill and Thomas Preston and a Parliamentary army commanded by Michael Jones and later Cromwell. Sides changed subtly through the war but the key point here is that Ormonde was willing to do a deal with the Catholics, but Jones and Cromwell were unwilling to do so. Broghill sided from the early 40s onwards with the Parliamentarians because he beleived that they would secure the future of Protestant Ireland and not, as the royalists might, make concessions to the Catholics. Broghill's politics were motivated like those of his father by the preservation of the English governing interest in Ireland and ultimately the King, by allying with the Confederation of Kilkenny (the Catholic party) might jeapordise that. If we read that purpose through Broghill's career, his politics seem straightforward rather than complicated: when the Parliamentarians were expelled in 1660, Broghill returned to the Stuarts on the grounds that they were the only remaining English party and only with an English party could the Irish Protestant Grandees remain in control of Ireland.

Such a policy makes sense as well, as Little argues, of Broghill's preoccupations in Irish politics during Cromwell's regime. Broghill believed in maintaining the Old Protestant interest. The English Parliament during the civil war had issued IOUs to its soldiers secured on Irish land- at the end of the war in Ireland in the 1650s, a competition arose between those like Broghill who wanted to reclaim their lands and acquire more for their service in Ireland and others who wanted to redeem their IOUs. Broghill stood with the planter aristocracy rather than backing the New Model's claims on Irish land and the controversy burst into public at various points- most notably in the pamphlet wars between Vincent Gookin (an ally of Broghill's) and Marshall General Richard Lawrence. Such a perspective though also makes sense of Broghill's policy in Scotland. In Scotland Broghill backed the moderate Resolutioners against the extremist Protestors, as Little explains this was part of Broghill's strategy for achieving moderate Protestant unity against Catholicism and against the extremist Quaker and Fifth Monarchist Rabble. In England this came through too in Broghill's attempts to get Cromwell to claim the crown- by claiming the crown Cromwell's regime would become a traditional and legal regime and would begin a process of unifying Protestant Englishmen across Britain.

What Little acheives in this biography is a kind of synthesis of Broghill's ideological outlook. It is a fascinating study because it shows how Broghill's motivation in the civil war was inherited from his father's generation- the 1st Earl of Cork wanted to maintain Protestant unity in supporting England in Ireland and Broghill's policies were all designed to support that achievement. Little reminds us that we should always look at politicians- especially dynastic ones- through the prism of the previous generation. Furthermore he shows how Broghill's network of relatives allowed him entrees into the other three kingdoms- through his wife's Howard relations and her ties to Scotland- that influenced his conduct there. The most interesting part of the book to me was a sophisticated analysis of Broghill's finances. Because his Irish estates were devastated by the wars, it was not until 1657 that Broghill actually acquired financial certainty. Before then he was reliant on loans, selling his English estates and most importantly salaries from the Commonwealth and later Protectorate. One of the consequences of the English civil war was to create a massive fiscal state machinery that could mean that someone like Broghill would survive on salaries alone for twenty years- the same was even more true of those who unlike Broghill had no inherited wealth and several like his ally Phillip Jones built up massive fortunes and estates through office holding.

This biography is about someone who is little known today- Broghill would never be mentioned in any of the history channel documentaries about Cromwell that are put on. But he was crucial to the period- it is often forgotten just how important the old Planter aristocracy were in Ireland to the Cromwellian settlement- often forgotten as well how much Cromwell in England bartered between men like Broghill and more radical individuals especially about the crown in 1657. Broghill's career ended in frustrated irritation when Cromwell turned down the crown and Richard Cromwell's career failed, he became a key figure briefly under Charles but only in Ireland and after the fall of Clarendon in 1667, his old enemy Ormonde dominated the King's counsels, and yet Broghill is an important figure when we come to consider the nature of the English Revolution. In Ireland, for men like him and Sir Charles Coote (his only Old Protestant rival), Protestant unity trumped an old association with the crown: vulnerable to the Catholic threat they subordinated everything to fight for Protestantism in Ireland and you cannot understand the Irish dimension to the English civil war without understanding the context Patrick Little so clearly sets out.

December 23, 2009

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Its not often that you get a film which provides a survey of a fundamental intellectual distinction in English law: nor is it often that such a film is set in a Japanese prison camp during World War Two. Bridge on the River Kwai however is the first and is set in the latter locale. It is about the distinction between equity- the law of right reason- and law. The film is suffused with law. Its basic situation is legal. Colonel Nicholson leads a detatchment of British soldiers into a Japanese prison camp- there Colonel Saito the Japanese commander orders the men to start buildiing a bridge across the River Kwai. Saito tells Nicholson that he must work alongside his men, Nicholson cites the Geneva Convention and resists this order. Eventually Saito desperate as he cannot command Nicholson's men brings the British colonel back to command his troops, conceding that no officer need work on the bridge. Secondly Nicholson now makes his decision to build the bridge- he makes the decision to relocate the bridge to a more secure point, to put his better engineers in charge and to drive the British soldiers on to work on the bridge. In that he is successful and he produces a bridge for the Japanese which excells the bridge that they might have built themselves.

The plot therefore is dual- but both plots are based around a conflict of laws, a conflict between legality and equity. In the first case Saito is legally entitled to do what he does. He does not believe in the Geneva Convention but in the cult of Bushido. For him Nicholson and his British officers are cowards who do not merit any consideration- they have led their men to defeat and so must suffer alongside the men the humiliation of defeat. The Geneva Convention for him is no law- just as it was not for the Japanese who did not sign the convention until after World War Two. However during the course of the project he comes to realise that building the bridge will be impossible without Nicholson's cooperation. The Colonel manages to outlast Saito's tortures, manages to cope with them and survive. Furthermore his men are demoralised and will not work for Japanese officers, they mar more than they make and whilst Saito cannot discipline them, if they die there will be no bridge, he also must get them to work more efficiently. It is reason rather than legality therefore which suggests to him the milder treatment for the Colonel and his officers: Saito gets what he wants through following a rule of equity, showing sympathy rather than cruelty and motivating the men to work properly.

Colonel Nicholson faces the other side of this dilemma. From the first moment we see him talk in the camp, we see that he is an enthusiast for law. He will not escape, he tells Commodore Sheers, an American in the base, because his superiors ordered him to surrender: to escape would be to disobey their order. The Colonel believes fundamentally that he is there to make sure that his men obey their duty as narrowly and legally considered. They are prisoners of the Japanese, prisoners are supposed to work for their keep and therefore he makes even the sick work. He raises the bar that they have to work towards- raising the levels of their output. He reccomends more effective methods to the Japanese, partly because he wants to be seen to be obeying them and wants it to be seen that British methods are better than Japanese ones. Partly though Nicholson believes that without law there is no civilisation: it is not for him to question the law merely for him to implement it. What that ends up doing is constructing a bridge that will take Japanese trains forwards to reinforce the frontier. Nicholson ends up, as his physician tells him he is, as a collaborator.

Saito and Nicholson go through the same journey in the film. You can see this in their attitude to men: both of them compel the sick to work, both of them compel men to work harder than they might, both of them believe in discipline, both of them are officers. There are illuminating conversations midway through the film in which we sense that they are both frustrated that the ultimate result of their efforts has not been greatness or tangible success but mid ranking mediocrity. Neither can see why. Saito and Nicholson only realise towards the end that their fatal flaw is to exchange judgement for a rule: in Saito's case the rule of what he is allowed to do brutally to his prisoners, in Nicholson's the rule of what prisoners are expected to do for their commanders. Both of them are task orientated: Saito wants the bridge done, to hell with the prisoners. Nicholson wants to demonstrate the bridge will be finished quicker, to hell with the ultimate aim that the bridge is there for. Both of them have their heads down scanning the ground in such a way that they lose sight of the ways that their actions are counter productive. When Nicholson's physician derides them as mad, this is what he means- they have lost sight of their direction in the world, focussed as they are on an immediate goal.

As I said above what this ressembles is the debate about equity and legality in law- whether the important thing about law is what it is designed to do- justice- or what it is- law. Neither Nicholson or Saito realise what the equity of their own situation is before they lose control of it: one of them loses his life, the other loses his camp and both lose what they lose because ultimately they forgot the real purpose of their activity and concentrated on the quickest way to acheive their duty.

December 22, 2009

Review: The Noble Revolt

John Adamson's most recent book fulfils several of the criteria to be a good history book. Firstly it is well written. Adamson's style is filled with verve and confidence. Secondly it is about an important subject. The years 1640-1642 are amongst the most important and exciting to study in English history. They saw the first rebellion in England since the Essex rebellion of 1602, the first large scale rebellion since the rising of the Northern Earls under Elizabeth in 1569. Charles's rule broke down first in Scotland, then Adamson argues in England and finally in Ireland. The final breakdown led immediatly to civil war in England- a civil war that eventually consumed the entire three Kingdoms that Charles ruled and ended with the deaths of many thousands of his subjects, including in 1649 the death of the King himself. By that point the originators of that revolution had been replaced themselves- some had died, some had fallen away politically from the centre of power and others had even defected to the King. John Adamson's book does not focus on how the revolution developed until the execution of 1649 (I presume that this is what his next volume will do), it focusses on the original problem- why between 1640 and 1642 did Charles's rule break down, particularly in England?

This is unusually for modern histories of the period an anglocentric approach. Ireland and Scotland are interesting to Adamson as they illuminate a central English story. The central English story that Adamson wants to tell us is about the way that a small group of nobles coordinated from the House of Lords opposition to the King. This started before Charles had summoned the Short Parliament- a Parliament that these nobles had forced him to call- and it continued right up until the outbreak of civil war in 1642. The opposition to Charles was led by a small group of nobles (the Earls of Warwick, Northumberland, Bedford, Holland, Bristol, Leicester, Essex, Viscount Saye and Sele, Viscount Mandeville and more) and assisted by a semi-autonomous group of 'clients' in the House of Commons (John Pym, Sir John Clotworthy, Oliver St John, Sir Walter Erle and others). This group did not always agree- some even like Lord Bristol ended up as royalists, others like Bedford sought for a peace deal with the King and died before they could decide which side of the civil war they would have fought on, others like the Earl of Warwick became stalwart Parliamentarians and of course there were some minor figures around the outside (Oliver Cromwell, John Lilburne).

Adamson stresses that this group came to negotiate with the King for a particular type of settlement. That settlement was what Adamson calls a Venetian oligarchy- we could describe it to borrow Patrick Collinson's words as a monarchical Republic. What these men wanted was a state in which Charles had lost the power of the executing or making policy, choosing his own ministers or using his own finances: Parliament led by the natural councillers of the realm- the nobility- should be in the position to govern the Kingdom. Adamson suggests that this ideology had with it theological baggage- noticably ideas about purifying the church and divesting it of what were seen as Laudian innovations. Adamson in my view underplays this aspect of the story because he makes it secondary- he underplays how crucial religion was to the outlook of these men. They wanted a constitutional settlement not merely for its own sake but for the sake of religion. Obviously there were some who did not believe this- Henry Marten is a good example. But many, in England or Scotland, would desert the cause if it seemed to desert the divine, they could accept politically it was not always a priority and reading Adamson one should be careful to distinguish between the political and the principle. Oliver Cromwell may have accepted in the Parliament of late 1641 that root and branch reform was not going to happen immediatly, that did not stop him believing later that the subject of the war was 'our Civil Liberties as men, our Spiritual liberties as Christians' (Carlyle Lomas Volume 3 151).

Adamson underplays religion in part because of his concentration. He has always been interested in the politics of courts and peers rather than the commons. This creates a vibrant narrative of high politics- but misses the Tolstoyan question, why did people follow the Earl of Warwick and Earl of Essex to fight against the King. We know some of the reasons for that and they are much less Venetian than the aspirations of the peers. Adamson refers to the crowd but only as an instrument of the peers and commoners without reference to their own aspirations. These limitations to Adamson's thesis are not criticisms- a book cannot do what it does not set out to do but amidst the torrent of Adamson's prose it is easy to imagine that he has proved what he has not. This book is not a complete explanation of the English civil war- it is a fairly complete narrative of the high politics surrounding the civil war's beggining. Within his narrative there are points he needs to explain more or refine: for example on p. 184 without explanation he refers to Nathaniel Fiennes as a loose cannon, we need a reason why Fiennes is such but neither the footnote nor the text make it clear. Furthermore Adamson appears unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the work of other historians that might substantiate his picture: so he ignores Jason Peacey who shows how the pamphlets of the early ideological struggles linked to their sponsors in the nobility. Such an understanding is key if we are to grapple with what the nobility wanted out of the war and what appeal they made to others.

Disregarding these flaws though, does Adamson offer us a plausible answer to the question of why during the early 1640s war came to England. That question is probably too complicated for a single historian to ever answer properly. There were longterm and short term factors which led to war. What Adamson offers us is a very good, well documented account of how the actors within high politics decided that there was no alternative to civil war. He shows us that Charles I reacted out of hauteur and pride- this is not neccessarily new. He shows us the way that the great lords coordinated opposition to the King- again this is not a neccessarily novel position- but Adamson shows us its mechanics. He takes us through the cycle of accident and fortune that led to the point at which Charles's subjects took up arms and he leaves us in no doubt that the outcome was contingent upon a series of events. There were good reasons for believing in 1640 that England was on the brink of civil war, but equally war was not inevitable. In that sense Dr Adamson's work is truly post revisionist: incorporating the insight of the revisionists that the coming of war was confusing and accidental, but showing us the deep anger and resentment that war helped assuage.

A final verdict will take a while to come in on this book which is incredibly long- but it is worth reading. For a general reader I would reccomend reading a survey like Blair Worden's first in order to orientate yourself in the period: Adamson does only cover two years but he does write well and this is definitely a book worth reading if you have the time and enough interest to read 500 pages about 18 months.

December 21, 2009

Fermat's Room

The Spanish film Fermat's Room was one I missed at the cinema when it came out. It intrigued me however. The basic premise is that four very bright mathematicians are invited by 'Fermat' out to a deserted warehouse in the countryside to solve the most fundemental mathematical problem ever set. One of them is an inventor. Another a mathematical genius who has solved Goldbach's theorem about prime numbers. The third and fourth have no specific accomplishments named in the film but both give off an aura of impenetrable intellectual power- we learn later that both of them are phenomenal chess players. All these characters are invited out into the midst of the countryside and come through a series of mathematical problems to sit in a room, waiting for 'Fermat'. All of them have been given the names of illustrious mathematicians- Pascal, Oliva, Hilbert and Galois. Fermat himself comes and leaves- and then the phone goes. It appears that they have minutes to solve certain puzzles and mathematical problems, every time a minute passes without them having solved a particular issue, the walls begin to close in. Slowly the group realise that they face impending doom and catastrophe- that even genius grows tired and that then they will be crushed to death.

I do not want to give away the reason that they are all there- nor the kinds of clues that you get through the film to that reason- suffice it to say that nothing is quite as it seems. The film succeeds in doing the first thing that any film like this has to do- it is full of suspense. I found it both exciting and stimulating. The scenario is psychologically terrifying- there is almost no blood spilt in this film, you do not see a dab of ketchup upon any character's face. Nor are there any moments where you see the supernatural. What the film does is make you imagine terror and fear- make you imagine the crushing of the group together. The acting is good as well with several veterans of Spanish film making their appearance. Lluis Homar is very good as Hilbert, playing a complicated part. Elena Ballesteros dominates the screen as Oliva and grapples with a character who slowly is revealed- humiliatingly is revealed as the film goes on. Santi Millan is also good as Pascal. The only one that did not perfectly convince me as a character was Alejo Sauras as Galois- too cocky and too shallow for his part, he is the only actor who did not convey enough depth to me to make me believe in his character. Consideration in one part of life often overlaps into consideration and deep thought about the rest of life- and whereas Galois seemed to think deeply about maths, he did not seem to think deeply about life.

That is a prejudice. In general though the film succeeds in its first objective- creating a narrative you want to stick with to find out what happens. But does it have anything more to it- or is it like Donnie Darko say, a good story dressed up in intellectual sophistication that ultimately means nothing. If we are looking for meaning, the first thing to emphasize is that Fermat's Room is not about mathematics- there is precious little here that is complicated mathematics and there is almost no discussion of the fascinating philosophy of maths- the ways that numbers reflect or do not reflect the real world. What Fermat's Room is about is mathematics- and in particular about approaches to mathematics. There are two issues here which are related which the film takes us through. The first is to do with the ways that mathematicians and intellectuals in general can end up thinking. Intellectual activity is naturally combative and competitive. Often whether in academia or outside, it takes the form of an argument, a dialectic process of investigation of the truth. This Socratic method can become bundled up with the egos of those involved- and this is as true in Fermat's Room as anywhere else. The second clash that happens within the film is between mathematics as a practical subject and as a theoretical subject. In a sense the clash is an illusion- consider Fractals for example. In a deeper sense though there is an issue: is truth important because it is true or because it is useful. If there is a truth that is useless but true- does it matter if we do not know it- it will still be true and our lives will not be changed by finding it out.

I'm not going to delve into the ways that the film answers or does not answer those issues- I think it is fairly obvious from my writing that the film argues against obsession and for utility- but without giving away the ending it is impossible for me to illustrate the ways it does so. This is a good effort- it is not flawless- and there are problems but three of the four central performances are wonderful and it will keep your attention for its entire course. This is the kind of horror film that I personally enjoy: psychologically stimulating, not gorily tiring.

(This is Gracchi again- incidentally I've been neglecting film posts recently through lots of pressure at work, but I'm hoping to get going on them again alongside everything else on the site)

December 20, 2009

Who were the Diehards?

The term “Diehard” is of used in histories or e of the interwar Conservative party. They tended treated as figures who often emerged to assail Tory leaders particularly Baldwin on issues as varied as India and trade union reform.

Definitions on the other hand are rather fewer. This (generally excellent) book of Stuart Ball's which enormously informs this post, for example suggests they were not really ideologically different from the Conservative party as a who but concerned with the “maintenance of standards” and “not intellectual rightwing” and “out of touch with the modern world”.

This does have some truth . As Ball rightly argues it’s very difficult to trace the Diehards back as a group to the origin of their name-those who rejected the acceptance of the Parliament act by the House of Lords preferring to “die” in the ditch ( have the House of Lord’s Conservative majority broken by hundreds of liberal peers who would then pass the act anyway).

Very few prominent interwar diehards had even been in the house of commons in that era- and diehards of that era were not necessarily “diehards” on issues such as government spending or India which split the interwar Conservative party.

Like most Conservative factions ( probably most factions in democratic parties) the edges of such a faction are rather blurry and it was in many ways a tendency rather htan a faction. Churchill after his switch to the conservative party rapidly displayed real “diehard” tendencies for example over India and over the creation of London transport (which he led the opposition to) but historians have been wary- perhaps in part because he was one of the very Conservative mp’s to basically be pro free trade. The diehards were the factional tendency (and like Baldwin proto- “one nationers” they were more a tendency than a faction ) that wanted to take stances further from the other main party-the Labour party. Thus in a certain sense what set aside a diehard –at least in many cases was not necessarily ideological differences with other Conservatives but either a belief the party should be willing to go to the stake for such principles. This was most notable on the issue of free trade as discussed below – where the party was united in principle. However it can also be seen on other issues-Ball has a point.

Nonetheless a fairly coherent ideological framework can be seen for most diehard policies of this era- that is the opposition to meant opposition to the ideology of the British Labour party. If the Labour party’s ideology was based on an ideology of equality of equality and cooperation “diehardism” was even more positively hostile to the form it took than the average Conservative as a whole. Or to put it another way the general Conservative “defence” of traditional institutions among the Diehards took the form of an aggressive offensive against any aspects of “Socialism”. Thus far from being a relic past they were based on a considered reaction to as opposed to ignoring of) the ideological currents of the era. One can see this is one compares their stance to the rest of the Conservative party across a wide range of areas.

On economic policy (broadly defined) they were more opposed to redistribution and the high spending and welfare expenditure that led to both enormous numbers of dole recipients (“scroungers” in the eyes of many diehards or at least including many such) and more fiercl.y opposed to of the taxes and deficits thius caused. They had a fuller opposition to any form of centralised control of industry with the aim of promoting some supposed common good, even more intense dislike of nationalization of the existing Conservative ( a “diehard” dominated Conservative party would not have nationalised manual revenues as Chamberlain did and "diehards" led by Churchill opposed the creation of London Transport)They re also more likely to be opposed to the powers and privileges of trade unions- it was “diehards” (in this case very much including Churchill) who took the hardest stand in the general strike for example.

On foreign and imperial policy they rejected the Labour’s internationalism anti-imperialism and neo-pacificism more than the average Conservative . It was Diehards by and large who objected to the creation of the Irish republic (in violation of the treaty under which the Irish Free state had been creation) and denounced the inaction of the Conservative government. It was diehards who led by Winston Churchill virulently opposed the concessions to self rule of the India act. And it was diehards who by the early 1930’s were the loudest voices for rearmament. Indeed Churchill’s earlier stress on the issue was seen possibly rightly as part of his embrace of diehard positions on a wide variety of issues in that period most of all but not exclusively India .

This changed of course in the late 1930’s when policy towards Germany became the central issue- an issue that cut across not just factional lines in the Conservative party but party lines as well. Indeed it led to the slightly bewildering spectacle of the diehard Duchess of Atholl fighting and losing a by-election on a platform of anti-appeasement backed even by members of the radical left -because she now saw "facism" (broadly defined) as an even greater threat than Communism.

Constitutionally there was arguably also a distinctive “diehard” stance though again it was a stance most opposed to the Labour party. In particular it was the right of the conservative party who were most keen on the constitutional innovation an elected house of Lords. This partly represented a belief both that a working constitution needed to be fully bi-cameral –that the Parliament act by allowing the House of Commons to ultimately get it’s way on virtually all issues had disrupted the constitution. But it can also be seen as a desire probably shrewd to provide a powerful new obstacle to socialist measures- particularly if the House of Lords was elected on a system (say a county basis or a property franchise) that would hurt the Labour party.

The hardest cause to see as the result of anti-Socialism (including a foreign policy that rejected the idea that force could be superseded by cooperation) was the diehard opposition to the abdication of Edward VIII over his marriage to a divorcee (again including Churchill). In many ways this represented a highly tradition view of kingship- the King’s sovereignty and status came from god or at least was a settled piece of property regardless of his personal behaviour . Baldwin, Chamberlain and Halifax on the other hand thought the monarchy had to at least to a certain degree model bourgeois and Christian values. The Labour party insofar as it was monarchist again preferred Baldwin’s model . This even incidentally also underlined the truth that the diehards were not necessarily particularly puritanical on sexual matters or even necessarily pious.

So ultimately the diehards did have a form of ideological coherence- in the aggressive rejection of Socialism. Just as the Labour party’s ideological core was fairly coherent- so were the diehards based on rejecting the assumptions about society domestic and international the Labour party’s was built
It’s also worth noting what the diehards were not.

As already suggested on Protectionism they were not necessarily different on principle from the party’s left – it would be hard to think of a leading Conservative moderate who was a free trader in this era . However their disillusionment with other aspects of Conservative support and greater belief in an aggressive foreign policy meant they tended to be for taking a more aggressive line.

They were not necessarily believers in lassire faire. Many of them were quite supportive of government action to support as opposed to transform existing institutions particularly business and agriculture-one reason why most of them were Protectionists- and many also expressed interest in agricultural subsidies or other forms. To be strongly opposed to the agenda of socialism including centralised planning was not the same as being even on economics a Gladstonian liberal.

They were not an electoral irrelevance even if one defines diehard strictly enough to exclude Churchill or the first Lord Halisham (probably the most important law officer) of this era. Perhaps the greatest proof of this was that this was the golden age of rightwing third parties (generally ) very brief. There were numerous “anti-waste” candidates in the early 1920’s who precipitated the massive spending cuts of that era. The Empire Free Trade candidates are more notorious-and tended to be on Protectionism where the difference between diehard and moderate was more tactical. But the last such candidate- in the famous by election of ST Georges was not really. Baldwin had essentially committed the conservative party to a fairly protectionist policy. Thus Rotheremere (the press baron who controlled the St georges campaign) ran instead mostly on the issue of India. This has often been condemned tactically and as a colossal failure. I’m rather dubious on the former and even the latter. Given the Tories had adopted a very radical policy protectionism it’d be absurd to have made that the main issue – thus te slogan . Even in the result the candidate got a vote equivlant to half the tory vote at the previous general election and 40% of the votes cast in the byelection. This was a very good result a third party suggesting the slogan “Gandhi is watching St Georges” could make a large minority of Conservative voters support a third party. Diehard themes when tried in general elections had a reasonable record-the 1931 election was the one fought on cuts in spending (including nominal cuts in benefits and public sector pay) and tariffs- and ended in the biggest conservative victory of the era. It’s very difficult to see how a more “diehard” or less “diehard” Conservative party would have done- but one should not assume “diehardism” simply meant electoral oblivion.

Unsurprisingly they were not an irrelevance in policy either . The industrial relations act of the mid 1920’s, and the moves to spending cuts, Protectionism and rearmament in the early 1930’s. Nor on the other hand is it true that the Conservative party of the inter-war era should be seen –ultimately Baldwin and Chamberlain were far removed from their stance and so diehard desires for a return to pre-war domestic spending, an uncompromising line on Germany in the 1920’s, an elected House of Lords or the repeal of the India act got nowhere.

I think the most unfair notion of Diehard’s is that were simply lost in the past. ON the contrary many of their policies were to be pursued by future conservative governments often many decades latter. This is most obvious in the case of trade union reform. In other areas their policies whatever their merits or demerits would become obsolete. Obviously after 1947 an attempt to hold on to India no longer had such relevance- and even the diehard successors’ in the Monday Club’s imperialism started to become irrelevant in the 1960’s. But the terms of the interwar debate are often forgotten- Baldwin and Irvin (later Halifax) argued on behalf of their Indian policy that these concession would prevent a move to actual independence. It’s dubious the diehard policy would have stopped it- could Indian indepe3nce have been stopped after World War 2? But it’s unquestionable that Baldwin and Irwin’s policy failed!

Here is a picture of a famous figure who a liberal imperialist,and quite a leftwing one before World War I but in this era on issues from India to rearmament to union reform to nationalisation was if not a diehard at least a fellow traveller-Winston Spencer Churchill.

Stanley Baldwin and the Rise of "one nation" Conservatism

We have thus seen that not only is it very dubious seeing Disreali as the founder of one nation conservatism but that it’s dubious whether there was a distinctive “moderate” faction or tradition in the party at all-the differences in the Conservative part before World War I being rather different in nature.

By “one nation” I mean not in a generic or nationalist sense but as a force and faction on the leftwing of the conservative party with an emphasis on such ideas as the desire to stand in the middle ground, an emphasis on the virtues of consensus and the use of government to help the poor.

I would see the inter-war era as being the one where such a distinctive tradition and faction can be seen as having developed some kind of coherence. One nation” even in such a relatively specific sense is probably best thought of as a tendency rather than necessarily a distinct faction.

It had strong roots in the coalition government of 1916-1922 particularly during it’s peace time era (with the "Llyod George liberals". This government made massive concessions from Conservative positions on a huge number of issues. Government spending and taxes stayed very high-much higher than the levels which had been regarded as dangerous by Conservatives before the war-it was not until the end of the coalition that large scale spending cuts in peacetime expenditure were engendered in large measure a response to electoral pressure and there was no increase in tariffs- the measure Conservatives had supported before World War I as a source of revenue. A large system of economic controls was retained (this was mostly dropped towards the end of the war under large scale electoral pressure) and there was actually some substantial measures to Social Reform. Not only was home rule conceded for Southern Ireland (with an Ulster exception) a compromise achieved during World War I but so was actual independence or “Free Statehood” for Southern Ireland. Tight new restrictions on the alcohol industry were introduced.

The “conservatism” of the coalition and the betrayal of supposedly widespread hopes for much greater social reform are often emphasised in the history but these were far from Conservative policies! These all represented big concessions for Conservative given their pre war ideology. Now of course this was in a coalition –but it was one where Conservatives actually had a narrow majority in Parliament after 1918. Even the partial acceptance of such policies represented at least a willingness to a accept leftwing status quo and even reform- if only as the painfull preferable to a more radical coalition. There was also a group (including the young Edward Wood latter a key moderate himself as Lord Irwin and Lord Halifax) of tory mp’s that made a great deal of their moderation and support for more lefitsh policies– for example sympathy for the control of alcohol and new welfare provisions.

It’s an irony that the second coalition of this period the “national” government of the 1930’s (very much a coalition in more htan a nominal sense at least before 1935) was run by figures like Baldwin who had loathed the first one- given the remarkable similarities between the two (though the National one arguably had a less leftwing record).

Baldwin was indeed one of the figures who brought the coalition down in 1922. He was to become tory leader from 1923-1937, holding the premiership from 1922-1923, 1924-1929 and 1935-1937. From 1931 to 1935 he held cabinet office (lord President0 and combined this with being the leader of a party that held a majority-indeed the largest of any party in the twentieth century! This represented enormous electoral dominance for the Conservative party-Baldwin was in the interwar era the dominant figure of the dominant party. Baldwin is often associated rather simplistically with the policy of “appeasement” and this has cast something of a cloud over the seminal role of his leadership- for a start it alienated a figures who were to become the most successful post war “one nation” tory Harold Macmillan . Though he certainly had his faults (a certain lethargy when he did not consider a great clash of principle was at stake) he combined great personal integrity with shrewd political instincts. Many of the leading one nation Conservatives of the post war era-for example Anthony Eden and “RAB” Butler were massively inspired by him and regarded themselves in the in interwar era as very much “Baldwin men”. Indeed Baldwin was to have continuous clashes with leading Conservatives who wanted to take a “harder line” further removed from Labour party.

IT is thus worth examining what was distinctive in Baldwin’s positions and that of other moderates in this era and to what degree they can be seen as prefiguring post wawr "one nation" Conservatism.

One was what might be called electoralism-the belief that the Conservatives could only win generally on a moderate version of their policies and needed to win by moving to the center. Now it’s unclear how much this was true of Baldwin (though he tended to believe that only if an election had been won on a new policy could it be introduced) and it’s scarcely a unique feature of the twentiet century Conservative party. However it does seem to have been unusually strong in this era – even the first leader Andrew Bonar Law was convinced the post war era would see very formidable socialism –one reason why he long supported an alliance with Llyod George A classic case was Protectionism in the 1929-1930 era . Then the leadership resisted strongly efforts to run on it despite enormous pressure in the “Empire Free Trade” candidates who actually beat official conservative candidates in some by-elections though they did more or less conceded . And yet very few Tories were anything but strongly protectionist- and the few who were not (notably Salisbury and Churchill) were not particularly moderate on other issues.
Un surprinsgly those who argued the Tories needed to moderate to win and probably those who were most concerned with the tory party winning at all costs tended to be on Baldwin’s side in internal struggles.

In fact one reason why the biggest challenge to Baldwin’s leadership was in the 1929-1931 period was that a disproportionate number of moderate pro Baldwin mp’s represented marginal seats- so anti-Baldwin “diehards” were stronger in the 1929-1931 era. It’s probably unnecessary to underline the continuity with post war one nation Conservatims- indeed the belief that electoral victory was imperative and won ground could arguably be said to be its most definitive belief.

This was closely linked to linked strategies of “killing Socialism with kindness” and “social reform”. This did not just take the form of concern for the poor which is scarcely the preserve of any part of the tory party or political spectrum. This was a belief in positive (that is coercive and t) government action to help the interest of the poor and for that matter the non poor-for example by expanding old age pensions and regulating the health insurance market to make it harder to drop applicants for insurance-both policies of the tory party of this era.

Neville Chamberlain was perhaps the most important supporter and advocate of such policies n the Tory Party in this era Innded even while Prime Minister he had a series of importatn measures understandably neglected by historians. Chamberlain was in part motivated by a desire to stem the tide of Socialism which he concluded nearly . But he sincerely believed in extensive social reform as did other party moderates such as Lord Halifax. The belief in postive welfare and regulatory programmes to benefit the poor was again to be a distinctive aspect of post-war “one nation” Conservatism from the expansions of the NHS by the Tories in the 1950’s to Michael Heseltine’s attempts to set up zones to revive the inner cities in the 1980’s and beyond. At the same time one nation conservatives both in the inter-war and post war era had very limited belief in redistribunary motivated welfare-that is arguments for and policies that about redistricting income rather than the subtly but importantly different “alleviating the condition of the people”. Again this was to continue after World War II (though arguably in the inter-war era Conservatives placed more emphasis on the “contributory principle”).

A third emphasis was on what might be called flexibility on Constitutional and Imperialist matters. This was partly based on a rejection of a clear cut British Imperalist Nationalism (not the same as embracing a version of internationalism like the Labour party). Partly it was based on drawing a particular lesson from the failure to keep most of Ireland in the Union-that the parties needed to prevent disaster to keep a consensus on matters of imperial issues (and to some degree foreign policy as a whole- it was a factor in moving cautiously on reanarment as well). ]

In the Baldwin era perhaps the most important such issue was India-which strained party unity a great deal with many years of conflict untill the passage of the India act in 1935. Yet Baldwin was able to defend unprecedented moves towards self government and the weaking of British control of India and administer that policy- a policy moreover that was t a large degree the work of another Conservative Lord Irwin latter Lord Halifax (describe) . The ability to pass the policy owed a lot loyalty to party leadership-in fact it’d almost certainaly have been a lot easier for Baldwin to take a policy on this position the “diehard” position was probably actually more popular in the conservative party and possibly the country. But the very willingness to take such risks represented a principled position . IN the post-war era the “one nation” tradition was to be identified with a greater willingness to reduce and end the British empire and (more ambiguously) a greater sympathy for the European Union and other transnational organisations. In the willingness to moderate the more straightforward nationalism of Conservatives before World War I this can very easily be seen as reflecting the tradition of Baldwin and his allies over the India bill. IN that can be seen the distinct but recognisable ancestry of Margaret Thatcher’s gibe that too often a better term would be "no nation Conservatives".

This obsession with consensus on imperial and constitutional matters can be seen as part of a wider preoccupation with concord in politics including economics a desire not to “divide” the nation. For example Baldwin was very wary of aggressive moves away from “socialist” economics for example tough trade union reform. After the 1929 election a group of pro Baldwin young mp’s including hte young Anthony Eden blamed the industrial relations act of the previous goverment for the Conservative loss of a majority-probably with some justice. Again a wariness about polarising economic policies (though not necessarily so much rof estrictions of trade union power0 was to be a defining feature of post war Conservativism . Indeed the popularity of the term “one nation” probably reflects this very use!

Finally Baldwin himself was also keen on one nation in another sense- he went out of his way to be respectful to the Labour party to treat them as a legitimate part of the political system. Indeed the sacrifices he made to keep the tiny “national labour” party fraction in the coalition in the 1930’s are remarkable- after all McDonald the leader of a party splinter with 14 mp’s was Prime Minster while Baldwin was not with his over 500 (admittedly this may partly have represented a lack of deep personal interest in the premiership). . McDonald as “national Labour” had more control of the government’s agenda not least in blocking moves to the right as supporting international disarmament than is generally realised.

I think this kind of bi-partisanship is dubiously part of “one nation toryism” – Michael Heseltine for example was a famously partisan orator. Even in the inter-war era another moderate model is available- probably the second most important figure Neville chamberlain. The great architect of social reform was one of the most partisan figures of the age. At one poiont Baldwin suggested to him he stop treating the Labour party like dirt to his sisters he stated the problemwas “intellectually..“ they mostly were! . Understandly he was not much loved by the Labour party in return.

So there was a distinctive moderate tradition which was extremely important and arguably dominated the Conservative party in this era. It’s important to realize this did not mean the likes of Chamberlain and Baldwin merely supported a more moderate version of Labour party ideology- they had very little time for the core ideas of the Labour party whether economic equality , collective ownership or radical internationalism. At the same time they had enormous support the conseration of existing institutions values from the Church of England to property. This meant there were sharp differences with the Labour party whether on defence spending or nationalisation of privately owned companies . Harold Macmillan as a minor tory mp in this era ( when he was much more leftwing than he was as Prime Minister) is that rare case an exception that proves the rule. He in his “third way” did argue for comprehensive government planning of the economy- but was regarded as a marginal figure on the extreme left of the conservative party not a mainstream moderate like Eden or Halifax.

However there were still a broad range of issues where they took a genuine moderate stance.It’s perhaps no coincidence that the strands of moderation identified above can also be seen as rooted in an ideology of defence.

Having discussed the origin of one nation supporters in the broadly moderate faction and tendencies of the pre war Conservative party it remains only to look at the other side- the Diehards.
The picture of course is appropriately of Stanley Baldwin.

December 19, 2009

The myth of Benjaman Disreali and "one nation" Conservatism

What are the origins of a one nation “ tradition in the Conservative party-t. The title is of course very vague and used a great deal by figures across the Conservative party political spectrum. However when used with some precision as a tradition of the (arguably the tradition of the ) leftwing of the Conservative party. It could broadly defined as a tradition in the Conservative party that emphasises the use of government to improve social welfare a general belief in compromise and harmony for it’s own sake in politics including and seeking to be overall closer to leftwing opposition than the average member of the Conservative party as a whole and perhaps a relative openness to other political parties and social outsiders . Even today a substantial number of Tory mp’s s identify somewhat with the nominature of this tradition and probably at least a considerable amount with the description.

This tradition is often traced back to Benjamin Disraeli the great late nineteenth century leader of the Conservative party who popularised the slogan ) and is often seen as the originator of a “one nation” tradition to the degree that the mere mention of his name in speeches was at least at one point seen as a sign of identification with the by the “leftwing” of the Conservative party. Disreali is a fascinating and often much misunderstood figure a socially dubious poet who managed to become one of the top powrs in the land, a Jew who was baptised in adolescent who became a Prime Minster in the nineteenth century -arguably a bigger cross over of social barriers than any 20th century prime minster). IN that sense he does represent an idea of “one nation”.

However it is difficult to see how the normal idea of one nation Conservatism as described above has much to do with him . Many of Disraeli’s issues as party leader were related to the call “church in danger” and the linked strong Tory support of Anglican establishment and traditional “constitutional” elements such as the purchasing of commissions in the army . Indeed his famous “Young England” in his youth owed more to that and a certain sentimentality for the middle ages than anything else. While many one nation Tories have been passionate about such issues ( for example Stanley Baldwin who is partly the subject of a future post) it’s hard to see it as specific to that tradition.

Disraeli’ was by the standards of his era highly partisan though it’s dubious whether either should be seen as being contradictory to the one nation tradition.
Three actual policies of Disraeli are often taken as signs of some one nation toy tradition. Firstly Disraeli’s government extended the franchise, secondly his stands on trade issues and thirdly his governments contribution to “social reform” particularly union reform.

All three are extremely dubious. On the franchise Disraeli’s ministry passed the Second Great Reform Act which extended it by an enormous amount the franchise- for example making it have a majority working class . It’s also dubious whether any “one nation” tradition in the twentieth and twenty first century Conservative party can really be identified with franchise extension-in an era where the franchise was no longer an issue. If anything the transfer of powers to non elected bodies such as the European court of justice has been more popular. And if one nation conservatism has been anything it’s not been populist. Even more to the point the evidence is Disreali had no particular desire to massively extended the franchise and was keen just to pass a bill (partly to give his government an achievement and partly to let the Tories write the terms of the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries) -and that the bill was much more radical in effect than intention- it enfranchised most of it’s voters on a technicality which was not realized at the time.

On protection Disraeli has been invoked as one national both as the opponent of “dogmatic” free marketers by bringing down Robert Peel and for his embrace of free trade. It’s hard to see how any particular position on trade reflects a “one nation” perspective. Disraeli’s position on trade was less inconsistent than he is sometimes portrayed. It could be said to be fairly free trade but with an emphasis on obeying election promises, and a desire to help agricultural interests. None of this could be said to have be particularly part of one nation Toryism.

Disraeli’s government contribution to social reform while real has been grossly exaggerated-it was considerably less extensive than Gladstone (and arguably less important than the reforms passed under Disraeli’s Bete noir Peel).- During these reforms Disraeli brought in a new emphasis on local option-that is if ratepayers didn’t want to do something they would not have to do so. The enormously important industrial relations act was a bi-partisan act with as much support among liberals as Conservatives- and the big divide in the Conservative party has never really been on union regulation.

So the argument for Disraeli being a “one nation” Tory is rather tenuous. There would be more grounds to see him a proto-Thatcherite though that would also be rather anachronistic. Disreali presided over and played a part in adding new cries to the Tory election appeal. The older tory cries of the “constitution” and “church in danger” .It was under Disraeli the Tories began attacking the liberals seriously for legislations that meddled with liberties and traditional rights-notably that of the drink trade- in a sense the rather modest beginning of a “small government” appeal. It was under Disraeli that the Tories began to push also nationalist themes such as the empire and the liberals as unpatriotic opponents of troops. As i said to call this the beginning of Thatcherism is anachronistic but it’s hard to see how if there is a distinctive one nation tradition opposed or moderating Thatcherism that it owes much to Disraeli-whatever his role in the use of it as a name.

This is not the only problem. As already mentioned it’s hard to see the divisions in the Conservative party before World War I as being of that nature (though Arthur Balfour did refer to protectionists as the “left” Of the party) I would place the origins of the “one nation” tradition as normally defined in the interwar era-and it is to this that we will now return.

The interwar era and the "old politics"

So the politics of class and labour do a great deal to explain why ordinary people chose the sides in the political struggles of the interwar United Kingdom between Labour and Conservatives. However Politics associated with the workplace did not explain all the voting patterns of this era. IN many ways the cleavages that existed in this period were a continuation of those that had existed before World War II-. Before World War II a large amount of voting could be explained by the clash of those for and against the traditional constitutional order of the United Kingdom.

Socially the former and Conservative party voters tended to be Anglican in England and Wales ,Church of Scotland in Scotland and Protestant in Ireland and to a latter degree the rest of the UK (particularly areas with large Catholic populations such as Lancashire and Glasgow). The latter voted for the liberals (in Ireland their Irish nationalist allies) and tended to gain the support of Nonconformists of all sorts in Great Britain and Catholics throughout the Kingdom . These divisions also were linked to important divisions on socio-cultural issues such as drink and religious education which follows similar though not identical lines ( Tories, Anglicans and Catholics liked alcohol and government funding of denominational schools Liberals and nonconformists generally did not).

In the interwar era these divisions faded in importance. This was a for a number of reasons. However it’d be fair to say the Labour party was more prohibitionist and got more support from Nonconformists even allowing for class- they were the party of bigger government and nonconformists after all were less likely to have been from a Tory tradition- they could effectively choose Labour rather than abandoning the party of their forefathers. .Such effects were quite weak though. Areas like Pudsey ( a rural/ suburban areas needs Leeds) moved from liberal to Tory as class conflict replaced religious. Some historians argue there was a new development- the pious were more likely to vote conservative allowing for denomination- perhaps not surprisingly if it was a preference for the politics of defence of institutions over the politics of transformation of society-though this effect if true was weak.

The Catholic, Protestant split was more powerful than any other religious cleavage tdespite the low profile of the old constitutional issues. Catholic areas were heavily Labour, Protestant areas near large concentrations of Catholic became heavily Conservative This was at it most intense among Protestants in Ulster (the Labour party was not organised in Ulster) . Even in mainland Great Britain it remained a strong cleavage. As late as the 1950’s in greater Glasgow middle class Catholics voted Labour and working class Protestants Conservative. Such appeals could survive a landslide. In the Tories terrible result in 1945 the two large cities that were most Conservative were Liverpool and Glasgow the two large cities where the “orange” ) vote was strongest. It’s worth noting Sectarian cleavages were not generally driven by of church hierarchies –Catholic clergy in this era had strong Conservative sympathies possibly more than Anglican clergy who had already started moving leftwards politically. Ironically it was in the post war era even as the politics of the instuitional catholic church moved leftwards that catholic identifiers were to vote increasingly Conservative.

The religious cleavages could have strange influences on the ideology of party members which went uneasily with the overall ideology of the parties . So in the Spanish civil war one reason for the relatively low level of outright Conservative support for the Nationalists ( compared to Continental and Latin American Conservatives) was anti-Catholicism. Similarly in the most Catholic party of Liverpool the local Labour party sympathised with Franco’s side . Indeed the religious cleavages could s interact peculiarly with each other- In the 1950’s one survey of attendees of a nonconformist church in Liverpool found that middle class members voted liberal and Lab our working class Conservatives.

In a sense areas with a large Catholic minority had a different electoral basis for politics than the rest of the country-adding a geographic element to politics. This could also be seen in other areas where it is difficult to see that as the reason. In particular Birmingham was remarkable Conservative with them being dominant and competitive even in very working class areas in the city central. Birmingham had a lot of small employers and industries hurt by free trade. It’s hard to believe this did not represent the powerful local political machine, the legacy of Joseph Chamberlain and the presence of the Conservative titan Neville Chamberlain. It’s worth noting that the Labour swing was unusually strong in Birmingham in 1945 the election that ended this political era- suggesting both that the Chamberlain brand might have been tarnished and that “localism” politics based on a particular popular or effective local political figures or party was being pushed aside by class politics.

It should also be noted that there were other issues that’ so hard to put together with the new era of class politics. These included the empire (though the historic links of say Liverpool to the empire may have contributed to it’s Conservatism). However what’s noticeable is how many issues can be seen as fitting in well with a class cleavage. . Though anti-communism and anti-Sovietism was a broad sentiment it would naturally scare more those outside the “self conscious working class system” who opposed nationalization and saw the capitalist system in more positive terms. It’s worth noting the election most fought on communism was the 1924 election where under that banner Conservatives made massive gains from the liberals- nearly all voters outside organised labour ( the Labour vote actually rose).

But there were also divisions within the two parties. And it is to the divisions in one of these parties-the Conservative we now turn.

This is a picture of a figure whose contribution to politics in this era dealt a great deal with the “old” issues divisions James Craig 1st viscount Creigan first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland one of the leading Conservative and Unionists of this era.

December 17, 2009

Class and the Workplace- the workplace and electoral politics in the Interwar era

So in the 1920’s and 1930's what determined which people voted for between a Labour party whose ideology based on the twin principles of cooperation and equality of outcomes and a Conservative party with an ideology based on the defence and conservation of existing intuitions-most of all though not exclusively property.

One of if not the major new cleavage was between the middle class and the working class- or to put it another way those in non manual and manual jobs. The former were overwhelmingly Conservative the latter heavily Labour. These differences flowed naturally from many of their policy differences. The middle classes were the best off so would suffer from redistribution-while the working classes were much more likely to benefit from it. The middle classes included those who owned large chunks of the productive economy-who nationalization might hurt the same did not apply to the working. It’s worth noting that if one believed nationalisation benefited the workers in an industry-a very reasonable belief , industries whose nationalisation was proposed had overwhelmingly working class employees from the Miners to the Steel industries-industries like retailing there was much less support for nationalisation even in the Labour party. Finally of course in this period the middle classes were overwhelmingly non unionised and culturally fairly hostile to trade unions-it’s significant that what might be called middle class trade unions- for example the First Division Association (check) carefully avoided such names and associations. It was the working class that provided the bulk of trade union members. At the same time it was the middle class who by and large owned British held UK government debt as well as paid a disproportionate share of taxation-so the positive economic side of Conservatives was also more appealing... Even Protectionism most obviously helped elements of the middle class-particularly farmers and “cheap bread” was probably a less important requirement.

The Conservatives as mentioned did massively better than Labour in this period-including in the 1930’s when a “split in the vote” completely fails as an explanation. So how did the Conservatives do this? One factor was that some working class voters could be regarded as having very similar economic interests the middle class. Foreman were one direct example and almost certainly voted Conservative at levels rivalling the middle class one reason reflected perhaps partly in the old radical rhymme “the working class can kiss my aXXX I’ve got the Foreman’s job at last”. Servants were definitely another Conservative group though in this case the identify was indirectly-economic damage inflicted to the interests of the best off would obviously hurt servants indirectly-and arguably more than their employers (say if higher taxes led the fifth servant in a household to be fired). The safest Conservative seats in this period included ones in Westminster with a large majority of servants (they were also consequently among the most female –above 60%). They also helped increase the Conservative vote in Oxford which as late as 1945 the safest Conservative seat in Oxfordshire (now the successor seats are by far the least Conservative in that county). However foremen and servants only go some way to explaining how Conservative the working class was- in fact in the interwar period as a whole split very closely between the two parties (some estimates are the Conservatives actually won the working class vote in the 1930’s).

Party this was linked to another difference-heavily working class communities were massively and overwhelmingly Labour. The great Labour strongholds were areas like the Clyde side in Glasgow, Dagenham in London or the South Wales valleys where there essentially was no middle class. Crucially in these areas the working class voted much more heavily Labour than in the country as a whole. On the other hand in areas with a strong middle class minority were the working class also voted more conservative. In a sense Labour was supported by a working class sub culture which did not include all the working class.

The areas which were strongly working class tended to have other probably more important feature impersonal employers. That is they tended to be dominated by large institutions with enormous number of employers and lacked a personal nexus between employer and employee. This is often put down to “deferential” voting – the supposed desire to vote for social superiors which this writer is generally very sceptical. This also runs into the problems that election surveys (which it should be pointed out date to the 1950’s though the pattern of voting was very similar then) show that people with “deferential” feelings were no more likely to vote Labour. Stronger might be sympathy- in Dagenham for the average working class voter the middle classes would generally be an “other” with little close social interaction .In Westminster they were quite likely to live in the same household . Anyone who has worked at a low level for both a small firm and a large firm can probably identify that the latter is much less likely to be seen as a person for good or ill.
However again I think a lot of such distinctions can be explained by perceived economic interest. This can be seen by reference to the four sets of issues that defined Labour’s economic policy redistribution, nationalisation, economic planning and trade union reform. Workers for small employers would be more likely to see any effect on the incomes of the affluent as affecting their own fortunes. To put it another way it was natural for the employee of a small business to see the completion for resources as between that business and the rest of the country , while for a large impersonal one it was natural to see it as being between the “firm” and it’s employees. , while a large one was As already mentioned servants are an excellent example of this –but so too was the nascent tourist industry and indeed seaside towns also were fairly ardently conservative. With Nationalisation large impersonal employers – a miner was unlikely to lose their job (at least the short term) as the result of = there would still be a continuation of the firm just with new ownership (and in fact in many ways that was the model for many of the post-war nationalisations). In a bread and breakfast or similar though any rationalised planned system or national organisation would cut across thousands of small local compromises (so a women who worked two days at a bakers shop would she be sure she’d keep her job under “British Bread”). And the mind boggles of how the nationalisation of the domestic service sectorcould have been organised. To put it another way a government employer would be preferred to an impersonal employer but not necessarily a personal one now nationalization proposals (partly for some of these reasons) were overwhelmingly aimed at industries such as mining or the railways where impersonal employers were already the norm. But if the employees of such industries might support nationalisation in the hope of a better deal – any such “better deal” could plausibly be seen as being taken out of the incomes of those who used the railways or bought coal-that is the rest of the population. And they would of course pay for the taxes for any nationalisation programme.

The divisions over union policy can also be linked to this. Workers had less sympathy with impersonal employers and were more likely to see their interests as antithetical trade unions tended to be much stronger with impersonal employers –much stronger among the miners than servants, among car makers than those who worked in the resort industry. So the clashes over trade union policy reinforced further the tendency of the working class who lived in the most working class communities and worked in the most working class workplaces to be the most strongly Labour.
In a sense indeed it makes more sense to think of the electoral battle of this era being the organised (unionised) working class vs. the middle class or even against the rest of the country. In a straight middle class vs. working class choice Labour would win in a straight trade unionist vs. non unionist choice the middle class would win-in the interwar era elections came closer to the second model.. AT the same time the of minorities’ middle class voters and unionised voters were strongly mobilised making them much more overwhelming in their voting behaviour than the "unorganised" working class.

However even this recasting has its problems Firstly it’s hard to disentangle how much being “organised”- a member of the trade union was important separately from the factors given above-being part of a distinctive working class sub culture with (or in an area dominated by ) impersonal employers. Trade union membership fluctuated quite a lot in a way fairly independent of the Labour vote. Secondly it might be best to call this a battle between the “self conscious” that is the organised (or mobilised) working class against those forces wary of it. So groups who saw their interests as deeply antithetical to the organised working class-such as the middle class, servants or employees of small firms were more likely to be Conservatives than members of the working class who were just not unionised.

It can be seen how the differences between the domestic ideology the two main parties fit this kind of social cleavage. Those who belonged to the distinctive working class sub culture were attracted to the cooperation and equality offered by the Labour party-whether this took the form of expanded welfare benefits, the replacement of the “jungle” of capitalism with a new cooperative economy the nationalisation of their unpopular employer or the defence of trade union rights. The conservative ideology of conservation of existing institutions from fiscal balance to property, on the other hand appealed to those who feared such policies would endanger them and their country.
This kind of partisan choice was conductive to strong and increasing voting on lines of class and unionisation. This was in fact to continue after World War II into the 1950’s-the great exception was 1945 (when the Conservative vote among the middle class was “only” around 60%) an election dominated by “Munich” and housing issues that fit less well into such a profile. However from the 1950’s other issues whether the expansion of universal benefits or immigration would complicate such simple dividing lines and the sharp class division of mid 20th century Britain would fade somewhat.

It was also reflected in geography. The safest Labour seats (say the 52 that voted Labour in their overwhelming defeat of 1931) were overwhelmingly working class areas with impersonal employers. In these highly distinctive seats there was a distinct and strengthening working class culture based around trade unions but held by many who did not belong to them. Which mp’s represented such seats was often politically important. Atlee became deputy leader in 1931 (almost certainly key in becoming leader in 1935 because he represented Limehouse and so kept his seat when virtually every other member of the 1931 government had either been expelled or lost their seat (usually the latter) .This was not the same as the poorest seats – labour’s safest seats were not the most deprived in the country much less than today even though it’s support was much more based on the working class vote. This apparent paradox was really an explanation. The strongest elements of “working class culture” were not among the poorest- those who worked for impersonal employers and were best organised n trade unions were generally skilled workers whose skills had some commercial value-not the poorest of the poor.

The Tories had a much larger number of seats that were Conservative in every election in this period-around 200 or so. These varied a lot some very rural others middle class constituencies in large cities others urban. They all shared in common a very limited number of voters who worked for impersonal employers and were trade unionists-a fact that had implications for Tory factionalism as we will discuss in a future post.

As with geography a great number of cleavages of this period were simply reflection of this fundamental cleavage between a self consciously working class and those furthers from it. A classic one in this author’s view is that of sex the Conservatives were regularly weaker among men than women. This has often been blamed on “chauvinism” in the Labour party-and there is some evidence it was a rather more male party culturally and demographically. But I think it just represents the more fundamental cleavage of those who had a culture of working for an impersonal employer and those who were Firstly women were concentrated in industries such as domestic service or tourism whose employees were naturally firmly Conservative imagine a brother and a sister the latter a housemaid the former a . Secondly workers in the heavily major “impersonal” industries were more connected to the dynamics of the workplaces than their wives. Now for obvious economic, social and psychological reasons their wives were likely to share this but less so. (And single men would have no such) I think this explains the gender gap and any “chauvinism” of the Labour party reflected rather than caused this difference. After all the tendency of women to vote for the right was not that large – it was much bigger in continental Europe where the pious were much more likely to vote Conservative driving the gender gap wider.

That of course does raise an interesting question-what electoral cleavages that were not class or workplace based in nature. Were e there important issues which did not operate on a class basis and how did they work?

This picture is of Ernest Bevin. From working class origins and a trade union leader (in a trade with large fairly large corporate) his role as a Labour party titan reflected well the politics of this era both in his association with the labour party and his enormous power within it.

December 16, 2009

Conservative Conservatives-The ideology of the Interwar Conservative Party

So what was the Conservative party’s belief system in the inter-war era? Before giving my view I want to emphasise that this is even more provisional than the rest of my posts in this series... Moreover this task is particularly less than the Labour party of the era was the ideology of the party based on some set text or Canon.-it has to be inferred from the views and statements of supporters, members and leaders-which is not to say it was not real.

If Labour was defined by cooperation and equality both economically and internationally at the core of Conservatism was the conservation of major institutions. These intuitions could be summarised as the fundamental institutions of the UK state and to some degree society, including Monarchy, the House of Lords, the established churches ( Church of Scotland as well as England), empire, the union and its independence , the army , the major trades including the drink one , the pound and private property (in a sense the earlier institutions could be seen as public property) and civil order.

This held together diehards such as Gretton or arch moderates such as Lord Halifax. -It is no coincidence that it was in this era that the generic term Conservative clearly elbowed aside the more constitutional and generic “Unionist” as the usual Monique for the UK’s biggest right of centre partisan force -even though the change in ideology in this period was not that extensive.

On domestic policy private property was the most relevant important of Conservative party values much more so than it had been before World War I when it had already been increasingly important.- Indeed the formation of the Conservative dominance in this period can be seen as the rallying of electoral forces behind the defence of property. This was because of the clashes of it (as opposed to say Gladstonian liberalism) with Labour whose different forms of Collectivism were clearly incompatible with a high view of the defence of private property. For example the desire for raising taxes to fund redistribution attacked private property, to nationalise large industries, a web of regulations (insert Baldwin quote) controlling the activity of industry all were treated with deep scepticism by Conservatives.

With trade unions the story was more complicated though those privileges of unions which hit hardest against property (for example the ability to break contract without being sued) were the most resented. The General Strike added to this terror of civic disorder and (grossly exaggerated) fear of revolution – it’s no coincidence it was followed by the most significant attempt to restrict union power by the party Conservative government in this period. In a sense unions won some sympathy from Conservatives as a major intuition-it was when these rights clashed with those of other institutions notably the rights of private property that Conservatives-the supposed “anti-competitive” nature of unions that so aroused the indignation of Hatcheries was not a central preoccupation of the interwar Conservative party. The main legislative form this took was the Trade Union disputes act of 1927 which was aimed at keeping the effect of trade unions on other instititution's at bay- by restricting sympathy strikes, mass picketing, civil service unions, general strikes and donations to the Labour party ( a partisan move). Such aspects as legal immunity and lack of organisational regulation were not touched by the interwar Conservatives-which helped reflect their labour ideology Nonetheless this still represented a sharp contrast with the attitude of the aptly and deliberately named Labour party.

The belief the currency and the fiscal rectitude of the nation was also reflected in a firm support for balanced budgets and stable (even falling prices)- as already mentioned the Labour party was quite sympathetic these principles but they lacked the same overwhelming indeed close to unquestioning support. And the combination with the anti tax stance had huge implications for government spending.

IT’s important to realize though that the great mass of the Conservative party did not simply have the opposite priorities to Labour nor did their ideology boil down to what today might be called neo-liberalism or then Gladstonian Liberalism.

For example many conservatives were quite sympathetic to welfare extension-though the widespread scepticism on most ways to pay for it had a big implication particularly when times grew tough and they were fond of the contributaory principle- redistibutionary welfare was seen in a more sceptical light. Nationalising industries (even with compensation) was an attack on private property-but the continuation of state owned industries in state hands was not an attack on it in the same way-even it was equally anathema to the free market. This point was of only marginal relevance to interwar era politics but was to be important in the failure of the Conservative party to reverse most of the Atlee nationalisations. ” Much extension of government intervention in industry in this period were driven by a Labour desire to spread planning married to a conservative desire to project and help British business. For example very extensive regulations were passed under Conservative governments for example they tightened hours legislation Indeed in some areas where government intervention might plausibly be seen as defending property and Britain the Tories were actually keener than Labour-this was true for Tariffs and to a limited degree certain forms of agricultural support.

The last was also influenced by Conservative nationalism and imperialism-the defence of state and empire. IT’s worth noting one of the most popular terms for Protectionism was “Empire free trade”- the Conservatives beloved in an imperial not a “little England” protectionist block. The Conservatives were very wary of the electoral consequences of Protection with good reason their defeat in 1923 was on an election fought on the trade issue. The second attempt I the 1930’s was rather more successful (partly perhaps because other issues such as “economy” in government spending also loomed large). The Conservatives were fairly cautious on Protection-indeed the 1930's owed a great deal to the bullying of "Empire Free trade candidates" who were very completive against, even beating Conservative Candidates in by-elections in the 1929-1931 Parliament.

This caution did not represent much diversity of actual views on trade- Conservatives across the political spectrum were fairly firmly supportive of a break with England’s ancient free trade traditions- a victory for Joseph Chamberlain’s ghost (his son Neville took great pride in introducing Protectionism in the 1930’s). . The free trade exceptions including the likes of Churchill and Salisbury were random eccentrics rather than a proper faction -the equivalent of AV Wedgwood in the Labour party (who hated government regulation). This protectionism was even true of many former liberals or those of Liberal party background whose embrace of Conservatism meant embracing “Empire Free Trade”. The leading liberal Sir John Simon went on to lead that faction of the liberals who stayed “National Liberals” after the reintroduction of tariffs it was his acceptance of Projection that marked the key stage in his and their effective absorption into the Conservative party. Even as late as the 1950’s the young Margaret Roberts (after 1951 Thatcher) who was from a liberal family tradition stoutly defended imperial tariffs.

Indeed empire represented a broader commitment of the Conservative party. AS we shall see it also fiercely divide them on the details. But unlike Labour ideological anti-imperialism was a marginal force in the Conservative party –the debates concerned how to preserve the Empire.

As the party of imperialism, the military and what one might call “state nationalism” the Conservatives overwhelmingly rejected Pacifism or even radical moves to disarmament). Though many Conservatives were League supporters- for them with very few exceptions it was a League of States not a collective of Nations.

This general belief in the utility of force meant that for most of the 1930’s the Conservatives consistently took a harder line on Germany-and were much more supportive of defence expenditure than Labour or the liberals. Neville Chamberlain was attacked by Clement Atlee in 1936 ( for raising defence spending too far "Everything was devoted to piling up the instruments of death."

Obviously this did not mean Conservatives were warmonger in any simple or unequivocal way – Neville Chamberlain (The Conservative Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940) willingness to make compromises “appease” in the vernacular of the time Germany is notorious. But the ideology of the Conservative party also shaped these efforts to appease. The reliance on deals between states and military deterrence in Chamberlain’s version of appeasement flowed from Conservative ideology.

The Conservative party was also unsurprisingly very hostile to the Soviet Union Indeed After Marxist-Leninism as an ideology was self consciously committed to virtually destruction of all the values the Conservative party stood for from private property to religious faith. It has been argued that this had a big influence on the failure to achieve an alliance with the Soviet Union when they dropped support for appeasement in 1939, an assertion the author like many historians is rather sceptical of. But it was certainly the case that the hardest part of “anti-appeasement” for Tories to swallow was any kind of moves in favour of the Soviet Union.

Economics and foreign policy did not of course cover the whole ideology of the Conservative party-and it would be fair to say that was even less true than it was for the Labour party. The old issues whether defence of the established church, the drink trade or the Monarchy still resonated and as we will see in a latter post still had political impact. . There was some dissent on such old issues Nancy Astor the first female Conservative mp (indeed the first female mp) was a fervent prohibitionist which may have helped her win a seat with a powerful liberal tradition. But even before World War I there had been plenty of Tories sympathetic to such policy-including the leader Bonar Law. They remained a minority-more so than in Labour.

O n constitutional issues there is a fair case that the Conservatives were much clearer and more committed than Labour-it was much more central to their ideology. This does a lot to explain the almost complete lack of Constitutional change in the interwar era (and the rather modest Constitution change in the post-war era)

So we have looked at the broad ideological framework of the two major parties of Inter War Era. Next we shall turn to the Social Cleavages that divided and polarized the public.

This is a picture of one of the most significant Conservatives of this era-Neville Chamberlain who was key as Health minister, party chairman, Chancellor of the Exchequer and ultimately Tory leader and Prime Minister. Though in many ways a moderate his protectionism, his commitment to “economy” and his belief in high defence spending and “national deals” all represented a commitment to Conservative ideology. His views were mainstream in the Conservatives they would have been very odd in Labour. It is one of the poignant ironies of his career that his record was to do a great deal to smash the Conservative domains he had done so much to create.