Text of a Speech to Conservative Future,
Given in The Old Star Public House, Westminster,
Monday the 16th February 2009
by Sean Gabb
I want to begin by praising your courage in having me here tonight to speak to you. I am the Director of an organisation that tried hard during the 1980s to take over the youth movement of the Conservative Party. The Libertarian Alliance provided a home and other support for Marc-Henri Glendenning, David Hoile and Douglas Smith, among others, when it looked as if libertarians might do the same to the Conservative Party as the Trotskyites nearly did to the Labour Party. Sadly, our efforts failed. Since then, the Conservative Party has become more watchful of people like us. It has also, I must say, made itself progressively less worth trying to take over.
I did say that I would come here and be rude to you. But that would be a poor thanks for your hospitality. Besides, while your party leadership has consistently ignored my advice during the past twelve years – and has, in consequence, been out of office during this time – there is no point in dwelling on what might have been. We are where we are, and I think it would be useful for me very briefly to outline my advice to a future Conservative Government.
Now, this is not advice to the Government that looks set to be formed within the next year or so my David Cameron. I may be wrong. It is possible that Mr Cameron is a much cleverer and more Machiavellian man that I have ever thought him, and that he plans to make radical changes once in office. But I do not think he is. I think what little he is promising to do is the very most that he will do. In any event, he is doing nothing to acquire the mandate without which radical change would lack legitimacy. And so this is advice that I offer to some future government of conservatives, rather than to any prospective Conservative Government. It may even be a government formed by the people in this room.
My first piece of advice is to understand the nature of your enemy. If you come into government, you will be in at least the same position as Ramsay MacDonald, when he formed the first Labour Government in the 1920s. He faced an Establishment that was broadly conservative. The administration, the media, the universities, big business – all were hostile to what it was believed he wanted to do. The first Labour Governments were in office, but not fully in power, as they were not accepted by the people with whom and through whom they had to rule the country. To a lesser degree, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson faced the same constraints. A future Conservative Government will find much the same.
Over the past few generations, a new Establishment or ruling class has emerged in this country. It is a loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, media people and associated business interests. These are people who derive income and status from an enlarged and activist state. They have been turning this country into a soft-totalitarian police state. They are not always friendly to a Labour Government. But their natural political home is the Labour Party. They will accept a Conservative Government on sufferance – but only so long as it works within a system that robs ordinary people of their wealth and their freedom. They will never consent to what should be the Conservative strategy of bringing about an irreversible transfer of power from the State back into the hands or ordinary people.
A Cameron Government, as I have said, seems willing to try coexistence with the Establishment. The Thatcher Government set out to fight and defeat an earlier and less confident version of the Establishment – but only on those fronts where its policies were most resisted. It won numerous battles, but, we can now see, it lost the war. For example, I well remember the battle over abolition of the Greater London Council. This appeared at the time a success. But I am not aware of one bureaucrat who lost his job at the GLC who was not at once re-employed by one of the London Boroughs or by some other agency of the State. And we know that Ken Livingstone was eventually restored to power in London.
If you want to win the battle for this country, you need to take advice from the Marxists. These are people whose ends were evil where not impossible. But they were experts in the means to their ends. They knew more than we have ever thought about the seizure and retention of power. I therefore say this to you. If you ever do come to power, and if you want to bring about the irreversible transfer of power to ordinary people, you should take to heart what Marx said in 1871, after the failure of the Paris Commune: “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution….”
The meaning of this is that you should not try to work with the Establishment. You should not try to jolly it along. You should not try fighting it on narrow fronts. You must regard it as the enemy, and you must smash it.
On the first day of your government, you should close down the BBC. You should take it off air. You should disclaim its copyrights. You should throw all its staff into the street. You should not try to privatise the BBC. This would simply be to transfer the voice of your enemy from the public to the private sector, where it might be more effective in its opposition. You must shut it down – and shut it down at once. You should do the same with much of the administration. The Foreign Office, much of the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality, anything to do with health and safety and planning and child protection – I mean much of the public sector – these should be shut down. If at the end of your first month in power, you have not shut down half of the State, you are failing. If you have shut down half the State, you have made a step in the right direction, and are ready for still further cuts.
Let me emphasise that the purpose of these cuts would not be to save money for the taxpayers or lift an immense weight of bureaucracy from their backs – though they would do this. The purpose is to destroy the Establishment before it can destroy you. You must tear up the web of power and personal connections that make these people effective as an opposition to radical change. If you do this, you will face no more clamour than if you moved slowly and half-heartedly. Again, I remember to campaign against the Thatcher “cuts”. There were no cuts, except in the rate of growth of state spending. You would never have thought this from the the torrent of protests that rolled in from the Establishment and its clients. And so my advice is to go ahead and make real cuts – and be prepared to set the police on anyone who dares riot against you.
I fail to see how you would face any electoral problems with this approach. Most Conservative voters would welcome tax cuts and a return to freedom. As for those who lost their jobs, they do not, nor ever will, vote Conservative.
Following from this, however, I advise you to leave large areas of the welfare state alone. It is regrettable, but most people in this country do like the idea of healthcare free at the point of use, and of free education, and of pensions and unemployment benefit. These must go in the long term. But they must be retained in the short term to maintain electoral support. Their cost and methods of provision should be examined. But cutting welfare provision would be politically unwise in the early days of our revolution.
I have already spoken longer than I intended. But one more point is worth making. This is that we need to look again at our constitutional arrangements. The British Constitution has always been a fancy dress ball at which ordinary people were not really welcome, but which served to protect the life, liberty and property of ordinary people. Some parts of this fancy dress ball continue, but they no longer serve their old purpose. They are a fig leaf for an increasingly grim administrative despotism. I was, until recently, a committed monarchist. I now have to admit that the Queen has spent the past half century breaking her Coronation Oath at every opportunity. The only documents she has ever seemed reluctant to sign are personal cheques. Conservatives need to remember that our tradition extends not only through Edmund Burke to the Cavaliers, but also through Tom Paine to Oliver Cromwell. We live in an age where it is necessary to be radical to be conservative.
But I have now spoken quite long enough, and I am sure you have much to say in response. I therefore thank you again for your indulgence in having invited me and the politeness with which you have heard me.
[A combination of silence and faint applause]
Comment 1: You accuse the Conservatives of having ignored you for twelve years. From what you have just said, it is a good thing you were ignored. Under David Cameron’s leadership, we have a Conservative Party that is now positively desired by the people. Your advice is and would have been a recipe for permanent opposition.
Response: I disagree. There is no positive desire for a Conservative Government. If there were, the polls would be showing a consistent fifty point lead or something. What we have is a Labour Government that is so dreadful that I have trouble thinking what could be worse.
[In a private conversation before my speech, I said that the Labour Party had turned out to be about as bad in government as the Green Party or the British National Party or Sinn Fein.]
There are two ways of doing politics. One is to listen to focus groups and opinion polls, and offer the people what they claim to want. The other is to stand up and tell them what they ought to want, and to keep arguing until the people agree that they want it, or until it is shown not to be worth wanting. I think I know what sort of politicians will run the next Conservative Government. What sort of politicians do you want to be?
Comment 2 [from an Irishman]: What you are saying means that the country would be without protection against obvious evils. With no child protection services, children would be abused and murdered. Without planning controls, the countryside would soon be covered with concrete. Without planning controls, cities like Manchester would be far less attractive places.
I will also say, as an Irishman, that I am offended by your reference to Oliver Cromwell, who was a murderer and tyrant. You cannot approve of this man.
Response: You have been taken in by the Establishment’s propaganda. This is to insist that we live with vast structures of oppression, or that we must accept the evils they are alleged to curb. I say that that these structures do not curb any evils, but instead create evils of their own. We have, for example, seventy thousand social workers in this country. They appear to have done a consistently rotten job at protecting the few children who need protecting. instead, they are taking children away from grandparents to give to strangers, and are setting the police onto dissenting ministers who allow their children to climb onto the roof. None of this should be surprising. The Children Act and other laws have created a bureaucratic sausage machine that must somehow be filled. I say let it be destroyed along with all else that is evil in our system of government.
[What I might have said, but was too polite to say: As for Oliver Cromwell, he was one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived. It is partly thanks to him that we have just had around three centuries of freedom and political stability. When you refer to his actions in Ireland, you are repeating Fenian propaganda. What he did in Ireland has been exaggerated by the enemies of England, and in any event was in keeping with the customs of war universally admitted in his own time. If you want to throw an offended fit every time an Englishman in London praises an English hero to other Englishmen, you should consider moving to Dublin where all the letter boxes have been painted a reassuring green, and your own national sensitivities never need be offended again.]
Comment 3: All you speak about is winning and the destruction of enemies. Yet you are willing to consider keeping the welfare state. You are nothing but an unprincipled trouble maker. Thank God the Conservative Party no longer has any place for people like you.
Response: If we were facing the sort of Labour Government we had under Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson, you would be right. However, we have an Establishment that has already given us the beginnings of a totalitarian police state. Today, for example, the authorities will start collecting details of every telephone call, text and e-mail sent in this country. Children are about to have their details stuffed into a giant database that will enable them to be monitored by the authorities until they are adults – and probably through their entire lives. We live in a country where privacy is being abolished. Speech is increasingly unfree. The police are out of control. Everything is getting rapidly worse, and it is easy to see the end state that is desired, of total control.
If a government of radical conservatives ever does take power, it will have one attempt at saving this country. That means radical and focussed actions from day one. Anything less than this, and it will fail. I am suggesting a revolution – but this is really a counter-revolution against what has already been proceeding for at least one generation. If we are to beat the heirs of Marx, we must learn from Marx himself.
Comment 4: You are wasting our time with all this radical preaching. People do not want to hear about how they are oppressed by the Establishment, and how this must be destroyed. What they want to hear is that taxes are too high, that the money is being wasted, and that there are ways to protect essential public services with lower taxes. That is why the Taxpayers’ Alliance has been so much more prominent than the Libertarian Alliance. We must have nothing to do with the ranting lunatics of the Libertarian Alliance.
Response: You may have a desire for electoral success that I do not share. But I am the better politician. All debate is perceived as taking place on a spectrum that has a centre and two extremes. If the Libertarian Alliance did not exist, the relevant spectrum would simply reconfigure itself with the Taxpayers’ Alliance at one extreme, and the centre would be still less attractive than it now is. Since most people consciously take centrist positions, it is in your interest – regardless of whether I am right – to say what I do. It makes you and your friends moderate in relation to me.
[At this point, some unfortunate woman began screeching that I was a fascist, and the debate came to an end.]
[I normally like to comment on these events once I have described them. I think, however, the above stands by itself.]