Opinion: which twin is the Tory?

Earlier this month, my home town of Lincoln hosted its annual Christmas market. Lincoln was the first city in the UK to host a German-style Christmas market. Since the first market in 1982, it has grown from just 11 stalls to more than 250. This year’s was the most successful yet, attracting a record 335,000 visitors to the city and contributing millions of pounds to the local economy.

The Christmas market is the most visible product of Lincoln’s twinning arrangement with the German wine-producing town of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. Besides the market, the twin-town relationship has led to all kinds of personal exchanges. The cost to the city council has been minimal but the benefits have been considerable.

But in the Essex town of Bishop’s Stortford, they see things differently. The Guardian (1 December) reported: ‘Bishop’s Stortford dumps its twin towns in France and Germany’. This decision has not gone unnoticed in Germany, where the news weekly Der Spiegel sees it as David Cameron’s ‘veto’ in microcosm.

Why has Bishop’s Stortford’s Tory-run town council made a unilateral decision to end more than 48 years of town twinning? The reason wasn’t cost savings, since twinning costs the council nothing. The council leader could offer no reason other than ‘lack of interest’, although the local Liberal Democrats say it stems from a visceral Tory hatred for the European Union.

The sole Liberal Democrat on the town council, Mike Wood, told the Guardian: “It’s indicative of modern-day Conservatives. They have this hang-up about Europe.” Mike added that Tory councillors had suffered a moment of ideological lunacy. “They are usually normal people. But whenever you mention Europe or the European Union they turn into some kind of monster.”

Mike Wood has hit on a fundamental problem, which goes far deeper than parochial issues of town twinning. The Tories have changed. It is hard to remember now that it was a Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, who led Britain into Europe. Heath was part of a generation whose politics had been forged in the traumatic experience of the Second World War. Margaret Thatcher replaced Heath’s internationalism with small-minded populism. The typical Tory nowadays is a bitter and resentful figure, with a delusional yearning for a return to a 1950s-that-never-was.

The resulting Europhobic culture is having a profound and damaging effect on Britain’s interests. Two recent government decisions – Cameron’s so-called ‘veto’ and the restrictions on overseas students – may scratch a xenophobic itch but they will prove counter-productive by diminishing Britain’s power and influence. They are symbolic decisions, intended to prevent a Tory split or the loss of Tory votes to UKIP.

Euroscepticism is also indicative of a longer-term political trend. As in the USA, it seems that public opinion is dividing less along traditional economic lines and more between cultural differences. This trend was analysed by pollster Stephan Shakespeare (Observer, 17 April 2005):

Recent YouGov research suggests that we no longer range along a left-right axis, but are divided by ‘drawbridge issues’. We are either ‘drawbridge up’ or ‘drawbridge down’. Are you someone who feels your life is being encroached upon by criminals, gypsies, spongers, asylum seekers, Brussels bureaucrats? Do you think the bad things will all go away if we lock the doors? Or do you think it’s a big beautiful world out there, full of good people, if only we could all open our arms and embrace each other?

I examined the emerging ‘Kulturkampf’ in an article in Liberator (June 2004). And in a previous post on Lib Dem Voice (22 November 2008), I illustrated the cultural divide by showing how the Liberal Democrats’ demographics are the polar opposite of the BNP’s.

There are some on the right-wing of the Liberal Democrats whose wet dream is a longer-term alliance with the Tories, with possibly a pact or ‘coupon election’ in 2015 or even a centre-right re-alignment, enabling the Cameroons and Orange Bookers to unite and rid themselves of their respective pesky memberships.

But this assumes that there is a community of interest between the parties based on economic ideology. That is a questionable assumption. What is undisputable is that the parties are separated by a fundamental difference of cultural values between ‘drawbridge up’ and ‘drawbridge down’. This gulf makes any long-term arrangement with the Tories both impossible and pointless.

So the coalition can never be more than a short-term pragmatic arrangement. Truly, the Tories are Not Like Us.

Simon Titley helps to write and produce Liberator magazine.

* Simon Titley is a member of the editorial collective of Liberator magazine.

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29 Comments

  • An excellent piece Simon, thanks.

    I must say, my own politics are informed very much by an opposition to ‘drawbridge-up’ type attitudes (and thus the debates that exercise me are on the liberal-authoritarian ‘axis’), rather than economics and public policy (and the statist-free market one).

    This baffles my friends on both the ‘left’ and ‘right’ whose over-riding concern is ‘economics’ in one way or another, because I have few fixed views on who delivers public services, the extent of regulation, or even tax-and-spend, and I’m more concerned with the service provided to ‘consumers’ than the interests of ‘producers’, meaning I’m sometimes very pro private sector, and sometimes very pro state, depending on the context.

    Whereas, on liberal / drawbridge issues, my views are more like unshakeable principles. At the very heart of this is the defining liberal principle: seeing people as basically good, basically redeemable, basically yearning, and so seeing things like bigotry and intolerance and censorship as not only wrong but stupid.

    My politics also make me ‘unsuspicious’ of others – not in the naïve belief that there is no crime or fraud or system-swindling, but in the knowledge that there’s a hell of a lot less of it than ‘drawbridge-up’ types believe. Life is a lot more rewarding when you engage with each other and with the world.

    PS
    Also, a very prescient comment from that 2008 article:
    “No more than 10% of the electorate remains loyal to the party, compared with a core vote of roughly 25% enjoyed by both Labour and the Tories.”

    10% seems to be exactly right, looking at most polls over the past year.

  • Name the right wingers in the party who have this wet dream

  • Paul Westlake 23rd Dec '11 - 9:54am

    Bishops Stortford is in Hertfordshire not Essex, although it is just over the border.

  • Grammar Police 23rd Dec '11 - 11:01am

    “There are some on the right-wing of the Liberal Democrats whose wet dream is a longer-term alliance with the Tories, with possibly a pact or ‘coupon election’ in 2015 or even a centre-right re-alignment, enabling the Cameroons and Orange Bookers to unite and rid themselves of their respective pesky memberships.”

    YAWN (and I say that as a centre left Lib Dem)

  • Which twin is the Tory? – Simon and i are old enough to remember the badge – Heath versus Wilson – and have worn it. Sadly I gave mine away in a fit of generosity to Anthony Howard…

  • As we have incredible europhobic newspapers it is hardly surprising the electorate as a whole are anti European. The Tories see the USA as our natural home, a low Tax, low benefits environment, they reject the post war Social Democrat settlement that kept Europe safe from the Communist menace. We tend to forget how close countries like Greece, France and Italy came to being dominated by Communism. The history the Europhobics tend to prefer are the events of WW2 a brave Britain standing alone against the wicked Nazi.

  • @ Jedibeeftrix
    Actually NATO was founded in 1949 well after the end of the WW2 and was initially a very weak and wooly organisation. At the end of the war the Italian Communist Party was the largest party in the country and the French Communist Party emerged from the war as the leading resistance grioup and entered the French coalition Government from 1944 until 1947 So the Marshall Plan, the Social Democratic settlement and indeed the EU via the European Coal and STeel Community were all parts of the elements in place to prevent the spread of International Communism in Western Europe.

  • Simon Titley 24th Dec '11 - 12:03am

    @Adam H – Thanks for your kind comments. I agree that the left/right linear model doesn’t do justice to Liberalism. If you haven’t already done so, try the Political Compass (at http://www.politicalcompass.org). This provides a more satisfactory two-dimensional model (most Liberal Democrats are in the lower-left quadrant).

    @libby – How can you demand that I name names when you are hiding behind a pseudonym?

    @Paul Westlake – I stand corrected.

    @jedibeeftrix (1) – The fact that you personally feel confused does not nullify all the other evidence. The anecdotal does not trump the conceptual. The ‘drawbridge up’/’drawbridge down’ model is based on extensive research. What contrary, reliable evidence can you offer that there is a significant number of “people for whom some issues are up, and others down”?

    @Grammar Police – The word “YAWN” is not an argument. Grow up.

    @Sandy – I wondered whether anyone would spot the reference! I have the lapel badge, and it will amuse you to learn that mine was a gift from the legendary Dick Wilson.

    @Roger – I don’t think right-wing newspapers are the cause of Euroscepticism, although they have certainly reinforced it. Euroscepticism has its roots in the failure of the English to create a secure identity following the loss of empire and the emergence of Scottish and Welsh nationalism. However, I do think that pro-Europeans have rested on their laurels since the 1975 referendum and allowed Eurosceptics to set the agenda.

    @Jedibeeftrix (2) – You are obviously anti-European and are entitled to your views. However, the Liberal Democrats are broadly pro-European – and so is at least one-third of the electorate. It is our duty to stand up for that substantial body of opinion (which has nowhere else to turn), rather than seek to mollify those with whom we disagree. Besides, anti-Europeans have plenty of other parties to choose from (and will vote for the Real McCoy rather than the Liberal Democrats). In any case, public opinion is not fixed – if it’s uncongenial, we should aim to change it, not meekly accept it as a given. We are in politics to promote our values, not act as political weathervanes.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Dec '11 - 7:25am

    @Simon: I’m not hiding behind a pseudonym, and I would also be interested in who specifically in our party is keen on a pact or coupon election. The only people I’ve ever heard suggesting that would be a good idea are Tories, who probably want to absorb us into them.

  • Simon Titley 24th Dec '11 - 12:28pm

    @Jedibeeftrix – You base your faith on the ‘sovereign nation state’ but there are two fundamental problems with this. The first is that the nation state is disintegrating from within. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia have already broken up. How long before the two halves of Belgium separate or Scotland, Catalonia and Lombardy break away? The second problem is that nation states are increasingly buffeted by global forces and threats over which they have no control. These forces are reducing national ‘sovereignty’ to little more than a symbol and leaving national governments impotent. Making a fetish of national sovereignty –which is what Eurosceptics do – is therefore not only ridiculous but also a potentially disastrous course of action.

    @Alex Macfie – The main drive for binding us more closely to the Tories seems to be coming from Paul Marshall’s think tank CentreForum and its ‘Coalition 2.0’ initiative (see: http://bit.ly/djv2Zp and http://bit.ly/awIHaq). With the exception of Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems involved in Coalition 2.0 all come from the party’s market-fundamentalist fringe. We also have Danny Alexander’s recent Newsnight interview to consider, in which he suggested that the two parties would go into the 2015 election with a joint economic programme including a further two years of cuts. No-one has yet explicitly called for a pact or coupon election, but it is the logical outcome of the direction some are taking. We must therefore be on our guard and avoid this ‘logic’ forcing us into such a strategy.

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 24th Dec '11 - 1:43pm

    Actually, although, the core of Bishops Stortford, the area that the council administers, is in Hertfordshire, it forms a peninsula of Hertfordshire almost completely surrounded by Essex . Outer suburbs to the north, south and east would be in Essex.
    As that area includes Stansted airport, Stortford has probably some of the quickest transport connections to the rest of Europe of any place in England. It makes giving up twinning seem even more perverse.

  • I think this article is missing the point that signing up to supporting a European project that has been driven at full speed into an ideologically constructed brick wall i.e. the Euro is going to be extremely damaging to the party. We are being left in an utterly invidious position by our ‘friends’ in the rest of Europe, in that they are making EU membership an increasingly unpleasant and unproductive experience for the UK by threatening our national interests. It gives another very large stick for the Tory press to use against us as being somehow unpatriotic.

    Simon Titley says: “Making a fetish of national sovereignty –which is what Eurosceptics do – is therefore not only ridiculous but also a potentially disastrous course of action”

    The problem is, if the European Union acts to damage British interests, as it has done recently, what alternative is there left?

  • Simon Titley 24th Dec '11 - 11:55pm

    @ Robert C – My article does not miss the point. Eurozone crisis or not, Europhobes have to explain how Britain’s long-term interests would be better served by the dismemberment of the EU. How could Britain have greater influence over global forces such as international trade, global finance or climate change through splendid isolation? Europhobes cannot answer this question because they have no alternative plan. Their posturing is ultimately about symbolism, which the decision in Bishop’s Stortford (the original subject of my posting) demonstrated. Euroscepticism is basically about sticking two fingers up at foreigners instead of developing a serious foreign policy.

    Yes, the eurozone crisis is unpleasant, and naturally the Tory press and Europhobic politicians are exploiting it for all it’s worth. But do you imagine there would be no international financial crisis without the euro? Don’t forget that this mess began with the dysfunctional banking system in the USA. Lehman Brothers was based in New York, not Athens. If there had been no euro, European countries would today have probably been at the mercy of currency speculators instead of the bond markets.

    You ask what alternative is there left? I would begin by saying that Britain needs to show some leadership instead of retreating to the margins, which is where Tory Euroscepticism is leading us. And such leadership entails recognising that the present global financial crisis would still exist without the euro and means we must address the true causes instead of taking cheap pot-shots at foreigners. Thankfully, the Liberal Democrat leadership is not afraid to make these arguments.

  • jedibeeftrix 25th Dec '11 - 9:57am

    @ Simon – “Eurozone crisis or not, Europhobes have to explain how Britain’s long-term interests would be better served by the dismemberment of the EU.”

    No, you have to explain to me why you the harmony and tranquillity within european nations must be so grievously damaged by having measures imposed upon them in the wake of the crisis that they have not consented to, and would not have chosen if they had been asked to find a response to the crisis.

    I have no wish to see the EU dismembered, but I absolutely want to see the federal dream die, at least within those nations that cannot accept it as legitimate, as well as those who would like to see it imposed on others regardless of their consent.

  • Ian Sanderson (RM3) 25th Dec '11 - 1:06pm

    @Simon Titley
    “If there had been no euro, European countries would today have probably been at the mercy of currency speculators instead of the bond markets.”
    Indeed, what George Brown and Harold Wilson called the Gnomes of Zurich (probably nowadays the Gnomes of London or Dubai) would have had a heyday speculating against up to 15 currencies one after the other, at some point turning their unwelcome attentions to sterling. Just as they would have if the UK hadn’t had a stable government after 2010.
    The weakness of the Euro, as originally implemented, was that some countries cheated on the obligations to collect taxes from those who could afford them and approximate to a balanced budget. I still think it’s too important to fail.
    The Euro-zone contains three former Sterling Area countries!

  • Richard Swales 25th Dec '11 - 11:10pm

    The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were all attempts to make several nations live together in one state under one government. Those examples work better against a federal EU than in favour of one.

    Richard Swales – Kosice, Slovakia.

  • @ Richard Swales Another example might be the USA, that needed a Civil War to settle the matter. They even needed a referendum to settle what language they spoke.I guess the main differences are that for Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia their unity was imposed by foreigners and the Soviet Union merely took over the old Imperial Russian Empire imposed by conquest. The United States came together largely by choice, although by the second half of the 19th Century there were many economic and cultural differences between States,.

  • Richard Swales 27th Dec '11 - 7:48am

    @ Roger, apologies – I forgot to add @Simon to my previous post. I don’t think the historical examples are particularly convincing *against* European integration either, but I think those three multi-nation states are strange examples to add of “disintegrating nation states” that show the need *for* European integration.

  • jedibeeftrix 28th Dec '11 - 11:53am

    @ Orangepan – “I don’t think we should be too hard on jedibeeftrix – he’s softened his position recently to acknowledge the desirability of participation in several layers of what constitutes ‘Europe’, and I think this fits with the current reality of multi-speed integration.”

    I really haven’t changed my position.

    I have always maintained that if ever-closer-union remains an inexorable process from which Britain cannot escape then we are indeed better of out.

    We can now see, before our very eyes, the consequences of ever-closer-union for those inside the eurozone, including the impact on their democracy.

    This has always been evident to me, and should have been evident to europhiles too, so perhaps the problem was that they were unwilling to spell this out publicly to the electorate. Rank dishonesty if you will.

    However, there is the potential to refashion a europe that allows a looser relationship for those unwilling to enter the clammy embrace of federalism, a europe where small countries are not forced to enter agreements they don’t wish for, like sweden and the euro.

    Cameron’s ‘veto’ was the first articulation of this new europe, and as such has my full support.

  • “The typical Tory nowadays is a bitter and resentful figure, with a delusional yearning for a return to a 1950s-that-never-was.”

    It’s disappointing to see a comment like this – it ranks right up there with “a typical Lib Dem drinks real ale, has a beard and sandals and has an uncanny ability to sit on the fence on every issue” or “a typical Labourite wears a flat cap and keeps coal in the bath.”

  • jedibeeftrix 29th Dec '11 - 12:29pm

    “”why I should help you out by offering you a graceful retreat””

    Sadly, it seems i must continue to live in my delusional universe without taking up the glorious salvation you offer.

    Very kind of you to make the effort though, much obliged.

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