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Labour’s salvation will be Burkean conservatism

Summary:
There is a certain amusement in watching the British left thrash about in trying to reinvent the reason for their gaining power. John Harris here is perceptive about which parts of activism are making a difference:Whenever we are on the road for the Guardian’s video series Anywhere but Westminster, we now make a point of focusing on the sources of hope we have found in places as diverse as Grimsby, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent and inner-city Edinburgh: the kind of local initiatives and projects that sit apart from the state, and are often run by energised, inspirational women. As romantic as it may sound, these things look to me like the modern equivalents of the miners’ institutes, friendly societies and working-class self-help organisations that were the wellspring of the early labour

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There is a certain amusement in watching the British left thrash about in trying to reinvent the reason for their gaining power. John Harris here is perceptive about which parts of activism are making a difference:

Whenever we are on the road for the Guardian’s video series Anywhere but Westminster, we now make a point of focusing on the sources of hope we have found in places as diverse as Grimsby, Walsall, Stoke-on-Trent and inner-city Edinburgh: the kind of local initiatives and projects that sit apart from the state, and are often run by energised, inspirational women. As romantic as it may sound, these things look to me like the modern equivalents of the miners’ institutes, friendly societies and working-class self-help organisations that were the wellspring of the early labour movement and the party it eventually spawned.

They are also the modern equivalents of Burke’s little platoons, the people who make society work. The lesson perhaps being that what was spawned, that national party, wasn’t quite the point. Rather, the little platoons having the freedom to do their thing is.

To attempt to bring them anywhere near formal politics would be a difficult business, made even harder by the fact that many of the people involved, understandably, have little interest in such things.

Well, quite. The task of a national party, if it is the little platoons that do the good work, is to ensure that the national system leaves the room for the little platoons to do their good work. That is, a free and liberal - classically liberal - society that doesn’t just leave people to get on with it but allows the room for people to get on with things. The national party’s job becoming to insist that the nation has to get out of the way and let the people do their thing.

All of which is a most conservative political philosophy and one we’d be most interested to see revive in the Britain of today. After all, given the Conservative Party of the current era there does seem to be a gap available there. We think it’s unlikely that this idea will catch on but if the free and liberal society comes with “Labour Party” splashed on the masthead well, so be it. It’s the result that matters, not who claims credit for it.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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