Conservative Entryism and the Labour Party | Poppy Coburn
The fortunes of British social conservatives over the last few decades have been bleak. Despite ten years of Conservative Party leadership, traditional values of ‘Faith, Family and Flag’ are viewed by many senior Tories as embarrassingly anachronistic at best, and electoral suicide at worst. Inclusivity, diversity and progressivism are at the heart of modern Conservative policy, with the occasional throwaway reactionary statement used to “whip up the uncultured masses” during election periods. Tory politicians like to flirt with populist rhetoric, yet the last decade has clearly showed that neoliberal economics and ‘Global Britain’ is the name of the game. Merely pointing out the unhinged radicalism within some Labour spaces is not enough to constantly support a party which shows its contempt for traditional values everyday in its policy decisions. Indeed, the unfortunate devotion some social conservatives have towards the Tories may have blinded them to a more viable path to power: the Labour Party.
While small-c conservatives may find the very notion of agitating within the Labour Party to be heresy of the highest order, Labour was not always the party for cosmopolitan, middle-class liberals. Indeed, I believe that the Labour Party is the best engine to push for culturally conservative, patriotic policies if enough sympathetic individuals were to leave the Conservative Party behind once and for all.
The current self-flagellation of our Liberal elite has little in common with the proudly patriotic founding values of the Labour Party. If these patronising, deeply unpopular metropolitan intellectuals can be cast out once and for all from the Labour Party, small-c conservatives would no longer have to grovel at the feet of a Conservative Party that despises them. Starmer’s shaky leadership and flagging position in the polls presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real political opposition. All that needs to be done is to seize it.
To leave aside ideological considerations for a moment, it is worthwhile to examine the structures of the Conservative Party itself, and how amenable they are to grassroots campaigning. A complicated web of patronage networks sets many policy agendas and exerts a significant degree of soft power in decision making, from Thatcherite, Free-Market think tanks, to billionaire donors, to well-connected business leaders. At the top of the pyramid is CCHQ, which clamps down hard on perceived troublemaking or political deviation. It is these groups that hold the real power inside of the party: while much has been made of the Brexit Party and their ‘infiltration’ of the party on a membership level, the rank-and-file of the Party itself is broadly irreverent outside of leadership elections. This imbalance of power may help to explain why, despite their unpopularity amongst the membership, the Conservatives have continued to flood the United Kingdom with immigrants, and accepted wholeheartedly the virtues of ‘inclusivity, diversity and tolerance’.
In the run up to last year’s General Election, the Conservatives raised a record £37.4m in ‘large’ donations – three times more than Labour. It is no secret that the Tories are reliant on the patronage of wealthy finance capitalists. For the price of £50,000 a year, these donors are granted the privilege of joining the Leader’s Group, granting them access to dinners with the Prime Minister and other senior party figures. The economist Frances Copolla described this disproportionately powerful group as “people who want to see a bonfire of regulation, a Singapore-on-Thames”.
It isn’t difficult to imagine how policies unpopular with globalist capitalists – such as reduced immigration or trade tariffs on foreign goods – are shut down in these clandestine meetings. For grassroots, populist campaigners, the Conservative reliance on an increasingly small group of party donors makes it nigh on impossible to have one’s voice heard. Just as Margaret Thatcher decimated support for the National Front by adopting populist rhetoric on immigration, so too has current Prime Minister Boris Johnson co-opted anti-immigration sentiment arising from the Brexit referendum while continuing with little internal pushback to allow massive numbers of net migration into the country. Even in the face of a shock referendum result, the untouchable party elite can simply push their own self-interests while enjoying the unerring support of mainstream conservative publications happy to mask broken promises in endless culture war battles.
It is relatively easy to demonstrate how the Conservative Party has become a closed shop for those outside of a certain class; it is much more difficult to convince traditionalists that the Labour Party would be more amenable to their political program. However, the differences in how these respective parties are structured are in-and-of itself a potent argument for infiltration. Entryism is a tactic traditionally associated with the radical left; specifically, it is the favoured course of action for Trotskyite political sects to influence mainstream political parties. Mention of entryism is indeed highly contentious amongst Labour circles, bringing to mind the days of Militant in the 1980s and, more recently, Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover and subsequent ousting from the Party. Lesser known, however, is the wildly successful ‘entryism’ of Tony Blair and his cronies. The abandoning of Clause IV, the slavish dedication to neoliberal politics and the betrayal of traditional working class voters marked a sharp break from the traditional values of the party in favour of the new globalist orthodoxy.
While the program pushed by the Blairites was ultimately to the detriment of the Party and the country as a whole, the political strategies of party infiltration and maintainance of internal power provide a useful framework for future infiltration. Unlike the hard-left takeovers of CLPs, which proved to be little more than a timewasting distraction, the Blairite faction of the Party positioned itself in every area of Labour HQ jobs, ensuring that the Party apparatus itself would remain under its control for the foreseeable future. Unlike the impenetrable patronage networks that makeup Conservative Party Governance, it is relatively straightforward to climb the Labour Party ranks, pulling your political allies up with you.
In addition to these organisational advantages, the interests of labour – and the traditions of the old Labour Party – go hand in hand with the values that many traditionalists hold dear. Of particular note is Blue Labour, a pressure group formed in 2010 by Maurice Glasman, shares many of the values lauded by self-described political reactionaries: ‘small-c’ conservatism, the promotion of the family unit, curbs on immigration and the rejection of neoliberal economics. Indeed, the manifesto for the group, ‘Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics’ sets out a vision for the future far more conservative than anything the Tories have articulated in decades.
Although Tony Blair and his political descendants were deeply embarrassed that their party had a past beyond 1994, a patriotic English tradition is embedded in the Party’s DNA. Glasman argues that Labour must recapture its political programme from before 1945, before the acceptance of the welfare state and the massively increased size of the state that came with it, and embrace the old “conservative socialism that places family, faith and work at the heart of a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity”.
One prominent admirer of Glasman’s theories is the current leader of the Labour Party – certainly no icon of the ‘reactionary’ right. Sir Keir Starmer has been quietly working to convince the Red Wall seats to reconsider the Labour Party, and distancing himself from his ‘Remainiac lawyer’ image. There was little fanfare when Starmer declared that the party supported leaving the EU by the end of 2020, and even less on his quiet purging of the Corbynite hangers-on. So determined is Starmer to win back the heartland communities abandoned under the Blairite programme that he has begun to reference that old patriotism that once defined the party of Labour. While Starmer is certainly not the first Labour leader to engage with this political language, in seeking to define the Labour party in terms of patriotism, family, community and sacrifice, Starmer has left the door ajar for social conservatives. One need only to push open the door to see what could be achieved.