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A few recent straws in the wind have got me wondering whether a muscular social conservatism is about to become an important feature of our post-crash age.

A few recent straws in the wind have got me wondering whether a muscular social conservatism is about to become an important feature of our post-crash age.

Firstly, I’ve been struck by the new respect that seems to be emerging towards the Royal Family. The current attempt to relaunch “the Firm” may be deliberate and planned but it does seem to be finding a receptive audience. There was the insanely popular and impactful Royal Wedding.  This was closely followed by the Queen’s very effective visit to Ireland.  And we now have a carefully crafted series of publications and broadcasts around Prince Philip’s 90th birthday which seems to be recasting him as a lovable, roguish and wise old bird.  I imagine a push on Charles’s image will follow which is admittedly a tougher call but I note that Camilla has recently made an intervention to support the Evening Standard’s very high profile campaign on literacy in London.

 Secondly, there was the interesting response to the Reg Bailey report into the sexualisation of children.  Cameron placed himself very consciously at the forefront of the launch of the report. The British Retail Consortium simultaneously announced plans to voluntarily ban the sale of inappropriate children’s clothing. And Ofcom and broadcasters found themselves on the defensive over flouting of the 9pm watershed.  I thought the latter tiff was particularly interesting because it pitted the Government against one of the most popular shows in the UK and one of the currently most successful performers (that’s X Factor and Rihanna in case it passed you by).

 And then there is the broader tenor of discussion in the main political parties.  Although it is halting and often contradictory, both Labour and Conservative seem to be converging on positions that explicitly emphasise character, family life, community and dense civil society networks, such as faith groups, as being at the heart of a renewed public and even economic life in the UK.  It is notable I think that two of the most fashionable intellectuals associated with each Party – Philip Blond for the Tories and Maurice Glasman for Labour take much of their inspiration from conservative religious values and faith communities.

 It could be, of course, that these are completely unconnected developments and I’m spotting a pattern that doesn’t exist.  However, it does play in to the point I made in a previous post about the shift that occurred after the Wall Street Crash away from the hedonistic, permissive spirit of the 1920s into the more serious-minded, moralistic 1930s.  It could also represent the sort of change identified by Strauss and Howe which argues that we are at a cyclical point where a more conservative generation takes over from a more permissive one. (Thanks to Dragline for the comment on that post that pointed out this work.)

 If I am right it does raise an interesting question.  Many would probably agree that a social conservatism that stresses a type of human fulfilment that comes from self-development, relationships and shared values and institutions rather than material acquisition and self-interest would be no bad thing. But there is also a side to social conservatism that can be intolerant, prejudicial and fearful of change.  Whether we can get the former without the latter has to be a key concern.


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