The Common Sense Group – Conservative Thinking for a Post-Liberal age (Book Review) | Mario Laghos
The Common Sense Group, chaired by Sir John Hayes, who boast amongst their number some 50 Tory MPs – the membership is not listed publicly – have released a downloadable book, Conservative thinking for a Post-Liberal age. Conservative Thinking is neither Cameroon nor Laissez-faire, it articulates a vision that is truly One Nation, not the woolly liberal kind, but of the type that resonates with the common sense of the mass of Brits.
The main thrust of the book is neatly surmised in Sir John’s preface, ‘With opportunities provided by Brexit, the time for a refreshed national conversation on the defining issues of our time – nationhood, community, migration, the rule of law and public order – is now’. Author after author, with few exceptions, sets their sights squarely on the elite. The Liberal elite, the metropolitan elite, the institutional elite, are dammed in the most withering of terms. The CSG (Common Sense Group) are well tuned into the culture wars, and make clear they intend to fight in them on the front lines.
Conservative Thinking employs some surprising citations. It makes reference to Paul Embery, Nick Timothy, Frank Field, and Enoch Powell, and all positively. Reference to Thatcher is conspicuous only by its absence. The tone manages to be both bipartisan and uncompromising. The sentiment often feels a cigarette paper away from Blue Labour’s ‘Faith, Family, Flag’ mantra – ‘it’s about place, purpose and pride’ the CSG write.
It’s clear that the enemy of the CSG is not socialism, or Venezuela, or some other whacky contrivance about which the neoliberal may excite himself with, but the globalist, and the instruments by which they subvert. Extinction Rebellion and BLM in particular come under heavy fire throughout. Bishop Michael Nazir Ali who penned the foreword, marks out multiculturalism as a force which divides, calls for employers to train and hire British citizens first, and heralds’ Christian values as a unifying force within the nation. Bishop Michael Nazi Ali pulls no punches, and his strong opening volley sets the stage for the flurry which follows.
Talk of nebulous elites quickly gives way to identifiable targets upon which MP after MP is ready to hit with a smart bomb. It’s the BBC dominance in broadcast, the Blair reforms; devolution and the Supreme Court in particular, the ECHR, and the blighted teachings of Jacques Derrida. Though never mentioned by name, it is made clear in no uncertain language that the CSG are all too aware of Gramsci and his long march, and are ready for the counterattack. As a result, the arguments can be inflexible. Gareth Bacon MP laments that ‘the British Empire is no longer seen as a modernising, civilising force that spread trade, wealth and the rule of law around the globe’. Frankly, it’s a bit early to go full what the Romans did for us vis a vis the British Empire, but to start in the middle ground in a dispute with the extreme left is to invariably reach a compromise on the left.
Most calls to curb migration are tempered by endless preambles about the value of diversity and the good of multiculturalism. No such lengthy preamble exists here. Mass migration is singled out not just as a threat to wages and livelihoods, but as a threat to culture and identity. The CSG calls for a return of the 100,000 net migration target set, but never achieved, by Cameron, for British jobs to be advertised first to British workers, and for the points-based system to be tightened, all eminently sensible measures in my view. Most interestingly, the migration conversation benefits from a critique of big business and their ‘short-termist’ outlook, whereas Nissan, a Japanese employer, enjoys praise for doing what is plain common sense to the Japanese, which is training and employing local workers. Common sense which has been rewarded with one of the most productive plants in the UK.
Often it feels as though there is very little that is Conservative, note the capital ‘C’, about this work. GDP as a metric by which we measure all that is good is described as the ‘crudest of measures’. Business groups and leaders are derided as ‘squealing’ in the face of immigration reform. There is such a thing as society: ‘This conception of rights must be rooted in the existence of a community – a real community, not the abstraction of ‘humankind.’ Some sections though are identifiably Tory. Andrew Lewer’s chapter calls for the state to reimburse the parents of privately educated students, and laments that in some instances they, the parents, forsake foreign holidays, and new cars, or take on additional work in order to afford private education. I can’t say I have much sympathy, and I hazard to guess the public wouldn’t have much truck with it either. While Conservative Thinking largely delivers on its promise to provide common sense prognosis, it is not without anomaly. On the whole the CSG’s vision is articulated impressively, and delivered uncompromisingly. It is conservative in the true sense, post-liberal as promised, pro-Christian, pro-British and unafraid to call out the problems in society, no matter if it means breaking this or that orthodoxy or taboo. It has always been a source of contradiction that the Conservative party is forever rendering our traditional industries, heritage trades and ancient land barren. The most refreshing element of Conservative Thinking was the willingness to criticise big business, who it is unafraid to say, work in tandem with elites and the liberal intelligentsia to enable mass migration and multiculturalism, all the better by which they maximise their profit. The book would have benefited from expanding on this point, and going further in developing an economic vision, as well as a cultural one. As ever talk of levelling up often begs the question of how, and when. Clearly the CSG rejected the Singapore on Thames model, but do they back national economic populism and state aid? Those questions are not answered comprehensively herein. Though it is my hope that they make clear their position on strategic industry, self-sufficiency and traditional industry by standing up to the absurd proposals for zero tariff zero quota schedule deals with Australia and New Zealand. Because even if we do successfully amend the 2010 equality act, replace the Supreme Court with the House of Lords, and amend the HRA, what will it all have been for if we can no longer farm our own island? That’d be common sense.