The collapse of progressive conservatism as a political force acknowledged by Philip Blond today offers a stark warning to all those who want to create a more responsible and ‘moral’ capitalism.
Blond may blame the weak leadership of Cameron for the collapse but that is far too simplistic. The truth is that well-meaning, intellectually driven approaches to politics have probably had their day. Blond and others who think like him may talk of the need for a ‘bottom-up renewal’ but the fundamental driving force of their outlook is the belief that politicians, intellectuals and other ‘leaders’ know what is best and can reshape society and the economy according to their preferred principles.
Look at how Blond himself summarises his mission: “re-localising the economy, re-capitalising the poor and re-moralising the market”. He knows what is to be done and wants the power to do it.
This is simply not the world we live in anymore. The economy is driven by highly complex competing forces over which no-one and certainly not national governments have significant control. Poverty results from a wide variety of factors of which the most significant is major technological change and global economic shifts. And the market is increasingly diverse, fast-moving and unpredictable. Add to this the fact that society and culture is also now endlessly diverse, individualistic and constantly in flux and it becomes clear that the dreams of intellectuals or politicians to shape such a world are akin to sculpting the ocean.
This applies of course as much to the left focus on ‘responsible capitalism’, the ‘one nation society’ or ‘Blue Labour’ as it does to Blond’s Red Toryism.
This is not to say that there is no role anymore for politicians or leaders to bring about beneficial change but its starting point has to be the emerging trends we see in our complex and diverse world not high-minded principles whose origin is an academic’s brain. For example, I’ve suggested in my recent pamphlet and in blog posts that the rising entrepreneurial spirit of young people is an extremely hopeful sign which could have many sorts of benefits which politicians and others would do well to place at the heart of their plans. I’ve no doubt there are other trends which could play an equally significant role. The point, however, is to see first where our highly educated and independent-minded populations are going of their own free-will and work with that depending on your core principles. For example, if you are on the right you may want to emphasise the individualistic and traditionally capitalistic nature of young enterprise. On the left and you may look to maximise the interest many young people have in social enterprise and their hope to capture the power of small business to do good.
Whichever way economic or social trends get played out, they will play out whether we like them or not. The job of politicians and intellectuals looking for an influence is to understand how they can work with them.