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1st February 2020

Peter Stalker - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

It’s the culture war stupid!

#boris2020wishlist @BorisJohnson @DominicCummings #bluelabour #redtory

Just as the left has become obsessed with the state, in the post-war period conservatism became narrowly concerned with ‘the market’ – downgrading the family, affective and place-attached structures of community and nation and ignoring the myriad ways in which the latter can embed and tame the cold calculus of market rationality, from the bottom up.  Blue-labour, the SDP, (a few) red-Tories, communitarian Christians, Aristotelians, distributists and ‘one-nation conservatives, Christian socialists and those greens not captured by the Enlightenment tropes of cosmopolitan universalism – all to varying degrees, recognize these possibilities which are otherwise unexpressed in the given left-right political landscape. If Boris wants to retain the ‘red wall’ and construct a new working-class conservatism, he needs to render this ‘adjacent possible’ but unexpressed political landscape visible – such that we may walk its pathways, settle its valleys and turn conventional politics upside down. He could start by doing the following:


a) Repeal fixed-term parliament act.

b) Create an English parliament (and fix the West Lothian question).

Local/regional economy

(i) Scale taxes/regulation/licensing to enterprise size.

(ii) Recognise that, especially with regard to food & drink, distinctive, small-scale family enterprise contribute disproportionately to USP/place-bound value of regions and places. They do this by adding a patina of place/local attachment/identity less vulnerable to global capital flows.


(a) Zero tax/regulation on small family brewers/distillers – operating from home and/or below threshold volume.

(b) Lower alcohol taxes in pubs (sociable drinking) and higher on alcohol in supermarkets (less sociable private drinking).

(c) Much lower tax for single unit family owned pubs/restaurants – especially one-off brew pubs [higher tax for chains, franchises and corporate entities; higher tax on alcohol sold in chain off-licences and supermarkets].

(d) Zero regulation for domestic-scale kitchen food business (sandwiches etc.) – allow every family to use their domestic ‘means of production’ to enter the market.

(e) Zero regulation on back-yard/end of gate production fostering harvesting of rabbit, grey squirrel, back yard chickens, pigs.

Goal: slightly higher priced alcohol; less alcohol drunk overall;  much less bought in supermarkets for consumption at home; more village pubs; much more drunk in social settings in independent, locally owned brew pubs (social settings linked to music, dance, church, clubs, civic associations, working men’s clubs, coops); zero state-imposed impediments on household-level micro-entrepreneurship. Keep wealth circulating at micro-community level; level the playing field tilted towards big business/corporations/retailers; maximise locally generated (self) employment.


(a) Community wind-farms with profits directly to local people. Targeted at most deprived communities in the former ‘Red Wall’ (Blyth, Ashington etc.).

(b) Northern cross rail: link up the North. High-speed rail from (Holyhead) Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds Hull Glasgow Newcastle.

(c) Re-open Beeching report. Re-open strategic small rail connections.

 High symbolic value.

Culture war: universities

(a) Enforce freedom of speech (severe and cumulative financial sanctions against universities that don’t get their house in order).

(b) Coercive measures to enforce diversity of perspective; ESRC and AHRC to see progressive reduction in funding unless ideological landscape opened up and pluralised.

(c) Funding to be channelled through a greater diversity of more streamlined, less bureaucratic agencies.

(d) De-fund gender studies departments.

(e) Reduce size of university sector bya third to a half in some disciplines (sociology, women’s studies, queer studies) – redirect funds to expansion of technical apprenticeships, technology colleges, guild system.

(f) Ban state funding for sectarian grievance disciplines such as ‘queer studies’, ‘whiteness studies’.

(g) Enshrine the reality of biological sex-differences in law; and that pro-nouns/language are not a matter for state regulation. Penalize universities that target staff and students for non-compliance with gender ideology.

Culture war:  BBC

Prune, trim, more money for world service, new mechanisms to ensure diversity of political voices, get rid of licence fee, fund from direct taxation – ring fenced, safeguarded from immediate political intervention, confirmed by plebiscite every ten years. New mechanisms to ensure service not captured by narrow ideological elites.

Culture war: Institutions and Public Service

Ban unconscious bias training, all forms of positive discrimination and any other symptoms of ‘grievance mentality.’ Mandate meritocracy- blind to all ascriptive tags of race, sexuality, disability etc. Remove all state funding for diversity officers and procedures. Universities which wish to have such posts should fund them through private donations.

Culture war: patriotism, integration and civic-nationalism

a) National (2 years) and local (life-long) service.

b) National mythos – in school curriculum, public festivals, BBC programming much greater emphasis on communicating a cohesive national story without automatic revisionism and self-flagellation.

c) Regional identity/mythos – deliberate cultivation of festivals, holidays, processions, inter-generational musical cultures, church activities, landscape participation (hedge-laying – regional styles, dry stone walls, pond digging, re-forestation, footpaths), place-defining food cultures, revived mystery play cycles, the creation of new rituals (The Great North Run; the New Year’s Day coastal swim).

d) Walking as a national pilgrimage: establishment of routes and incentivise children and adults to complete secular pilgrimages throughout life (Land's End to John O’Groats; coast to coast, Pennine way) – with landscape work along the way (dry stone walling, hedge-laying).

e) National ‘street party’ holiday – annual.

f) Swearing allegiance ceremony for new immigrants that specifically precludes the elevation of religious alliance above national law and refers to the incompatibility of Sharia law with the UK tradition of common law and civil society.

g) Rescuing 800,000 miles of hedges as national environmental and cultural priority – the need for a new source of labour (local service, schools, pilgrimages) to get this work done (many hedges last ‘laid’ before first world war).

h) School kids must know canon of hymns, poems, novels, the Bible and the outline of a national history (along the lines of the ‘sceptr'd Isle’).

i) Emphasis on the uniquely successful capacity of the island nations to integrate people from all over the world – but with the emphasis on integration and the needs of society/community taking precedence over the validation of individual experience).

Secondary education

​a) Reintroduce different forms of education for different needs.

b) Abandon comprehensive model. Strong academic tier.  Stronger and equally well funded technology/occupational tier – with mechanisms to allow cross over throughout life.

c) Discourage university at 17/18 years old.  Gap years. Occupational breaks. Create financial and institutional incentives for local universities.

d) Abolish LEAs (except as procurement organizations).

  • Empower head teachers to make binding contracts with children and teachers.

  • Enforce exclusions (community comes first).

  • Funding to follow students (per-capita).

  • Encourage homeschooling (allow students to take their own funding) – zero state regulation. Trust the parents.

  • Allow free schools (zero regulation).

  • Allow head teachers to make students responsible for cleaning maintenance, cooking, gardening.

  • State involvement limited mainly to those aspects of teaching relating to national culture/mythos (religion, history, rituals).

  • One-mile run /walk for all students /staff first thing in the morning.

Culture war: against individualism and social-spatial mobility

Shift policy away from automatic assumption of mobility. Recognise that although social/spatial mobility brings benefits, the society of individuals also undermines social cohesion, family and community.  The usually unspoken assumption of such mobility is that the state will pick up social and familial responsibility and act as the ‘survival unit’ of last resort. If for social reasons (conservatives) or ecological reasons (limits to growth), the social-democratic vision of an ever-expanding state is not possible – it must be the case that the family and community takes up the slack. The current university model actively encourages kids to leave families, home-towns and home-regions. A green conservative policy would:

a) Reduce the size of the university sector.

b) Increase the scale of community technical and vocational colleges, with place-bound guild and apprenticeship systems fostering life-long relationships and obligations.

c) Re-create a distinction between elite national institutions and local universities serving regional economies.

d) National service for 2 years.

e) Local service – life long, 2 days a month.

f) Eliminate planning controls on domestic extensions to facilitate extended family living.

g) Pension credits for grandparents living in the same town as grandchildren.

h) Police to be accompanied at all time by civilian volunteers (local service).

i) Abolition of restrictions on children in pubs – especially where playing traditional music/dance (publican’s discretion).

j) Schools to engage children and parents in music/dance that is intrinsically intergenerational – trad music, folk music, country dancing, ball-room dancing (boys to be taught how to dance).

Culture war:  Religion, shared rituals, enchantment

The green worldview shares with conservatism a skepticism about modern individualism and materialism and the disenchantment of modern life. Conservativism should think hard about how to re-create a wattle of shared rituals and a cohesive worldview - including some religious elements. This could include:

a) Re-establishing the ban on Sunday trading.

b) Insisting on a prayer / ritual element at start of every school day (could include a national dimension – ‘Green and Pleasant Land’).

c) Incentivise marriage; disincentivise cohabitation.

d) Consolidate regional/place-bound identities through culture (food, traditional music and dance, hymns, art/painting, regional place-rituals, mystery play cycles, cheese rolling); This means permanent funding but more importantly, pension credits for committed volunteers and organizers.

Welfare-taxation integration

a) Abolition of all state childcare support. Increase in child benefit (allow mothers to make the choice)

b) Pro-natalist policies: increase child benefit; National Insurance payments for mothers.

c) Replacement of raft of means-tested benefits and tax benefits with partial basic income linked to participation (local service, voting). Participation to be certified but not quantified or measured.  Essentially BI would abolish the distinction between unemployed and employed people (and the expense of distinguishing) whilst allowing underemployed to enter the labour market without incurring complex administrative and financial penalties and poverty traps.

Against litigious culture

Promoting civic and neighbourly engagement as well as local production for local consumption.

a) Abolish many controls/police checks on volunteers (football coaches etc) – parents must be given the responsibility and power to make their own assessments.

b) Abolish legal controls/checks on childcare – leave to parents to make their own arrangements.

c) Allow consumers to sign away rights on ‘buyer beware basis’ (non-pasteurised cheese etc).

d) Remove legal responsibility of landowners for people on their land – either trespassing or with permission (to maximise the capacity of farmers and landowners to act as hosts for activities, events etc).

Stephen Quilley is Associate Professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, at the University of Waterloo, Canada. With a Ph.D. in economic sociology, he previously held positions Keele University, University College Dublin, the Moscow School of Economic and Social Science and the University of Manchester. Steve’s research interests centre on the interface between human ecology, political economy and historical sociology, centering in particular on the work of Norbert Elias, Karl Polanyi and Ernest Gellner. With his PhD student Anna Beresford, he is currently working on a ‘pattern language for traditional music’ – a study of intergenerational music cultures drawing on the work of architect Christopher Alexander. Steve lives in rural Ontario, with his wife Nikki who homeschools their four children. All musicians, his family spend most weekends playing traditional music sessions, participating in festivals and playing occasional gigs.

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