So, Finland has gone the way of much of the rest of Europe and delivered an election result that is decidedly counter to the political and social zeitgeist that our leaders would have us believe they should have rightly endorsed. Unsurprisingly, the ‘progressive’ brigade have spluttered into action, and wild prophesies proliferate of the inexorable rise of the Far-Right and the certain doom of our enlightened European project.
And to be honest, not really knowing Finnish politics, I’m not really qualified to comment one way or another. The prophesies might be true, for all I hope they’re not. But then, a wise man once said that you learn a lot about a man from the calibre of his enemies, and the Finnish election has certain shaken to life that small and sanctimonious mob who like to view themselves as the guardians of ‘progressive’ thought and action.
Needless to say Left Foot Forward, that hub of ‘evidence-based’ blogging, have been amongst the first to activate their screech-box, and the old semantic stabs of the ‘progressive’ left are out in force, taken from the mouth of a university Professor (so they must be true), to include nationalism, xenophobia, disturbing, fear, anxiety, Nazi, ‘pure Finnish children’, and much else besides.
Of course, and as one has come to expect, the ‘evidence’ offered by the ‘progressives’ for this decidedly worrying assessment seem to be rather, well, shaky, and more confirms their convictions than their case. Indeed, in their determination to inject their own progressive brand of divisive and hate-filled rhetoric into the debate, they rather over-play their hand.
To choose one example of several, what is the evidence that True Finns are, in the rather robust words of Left Foot Forward, a ‘homophobic party’?
A quick look at their manifesto reveals other disturbing aspects to their platform:
“True Finns do not accept same-sex marriage ceremony, because marriage is intended to (be) between man and woman…[their emphasis]
Huh? This is a disturbing element? Belief that marriage is between one man and woman is homophobic now? But hang on a minute, that’s the same as what the laws of our land say. And the same as our national religion says. And the same as all mainstream religions say. And the same as rather a large amount of people with no religious affiliation say. And because they say that, that’s how people understand the term ‘marriage’. It is tautologous to say that marriage is between a man and a woman; there’s no other sort.
That’s rather a lot of unwitting homophobes.
Still, there was more ‘evidence’;
The right to adoption do not give the same sex couples. [sic]
Ahhh, gay adoption, that festering thorn in the side of Call Me Dave’s Big Society idea, which calls out desperately for more people to become involved in civic society whilst closing down adoption agencies and Christians trying to do just that.
Still, even this piece of ‘evidence’ requires a sleight of hand, and rather depends upon a caricature, that of a slathering goon hauling existential insults at those in same-sex relationships, that was almost entirely absent from the gay adoption debate, and was never taken seriously by either side on that odd occasion when it did rear its head, usually at the behest of journalists and broadcasters determined to spice things up a little.
No, most (if not all) of the opposition that I ever remember being presented tended to be rather different indeed, and focussed on a positive vision of parenthood, and a sincere belief that a vulnerable individual would do best with the love of a mother and a father (which lots of people will agree with), rather than on maintaining that gay people are without any parenting skills (which lots of people will disagree with). Or to put it differently, for many this was about childrens’ welfare, not gay rights, and a different vision of what it is that vulnerable children require when entering into an adoptive family.
To blithely dismiss this opposition as mere homophobia is emblematic of the arrogant and cloth-eared approach for which the ‘progressive’ left have become rightly renowned (and increasingly excoriated). They might disagree, and on principled grounds, but is the very argument homophobic? Not if one bothers to use that word with any shred of accuracy or honesty.
True Finns have not accepted either of infertility adoption for single women or female couples…
Which, if one dealt with this on the level of sober and rational reflection, is the entirely logical and rational extension of a previous position. If a party believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that people can be excluded from that on account of their sexuality (as the laws of this country maintain, incidentally), then the same logic can clearly and consistently be extended to the provision of fertility treatment, since it would be strange reasoning that would deny same-sex marriage whilst funding same-sex biological parenting (even whilst opposing same-sex adoptive parenting). Indeed, saying anything else would lead us all to scratch our heads and say ‘how on earth do they square that one?’, and might be a better indication of the kind of irrational thought one generally associates with the various -isms that the ‘progressive’ left like to throw at anyone who would gainsay their own deeply inflexible moral worldview.
So much for ‘evidence’ of that True Finn are a ‘homophobic party’, then.
Though it doesn’t stop there. Other ‘disturbing aspects’ of the True Finn manifesto include an approach to culture and immigration that most people in this country would agree with, being itself a rejection of the multiculturalism that segregates society with all that entails, as well as a demand for ‘cultural aid’ state funding to be directed toward the strengthening of Finnish identity, which whilst with sinister potential is also vague enough to be entirely harmless, as well as something that will find expression in this country, and often has, usually at or around the time of St. George’s Day, amongst other times.
To be clear, this isn’t me defending True Finns or anybody else, and if they turn out to be guilty of all those vices prematurely ascribed to them then it really is no skin off my nose. But seriously, the divisive and rancorous diatribe we get from the ‘progressive’ wing every time someone or something pops up that challenges their distinctly inflexible, and evidently extreme, doctrines and dogmas, is more than simple good patience can bear.
And be in no doubt, those who hold that perfectly normal people with perfectly mainstream beliefs, on marriage for example, are all actually homophobic, are the extreme ones. We should not let them forget it.
Blue Labour has followed hot on the heels of Red Toryism as the latest intellectual craze that the commentariat are pretending to be sympathetic to, primarily because, they say, it is giving voice to the kind of outlook they have always secretly subscribed to but never bothered to admit. Quite why it has taken certain amongst their number so long to open their mouths and utter concern at the old zeitgeist is, I suspect, a question to which we are not likely to receive an answer. Even so, the debate is moving and, one hopes, so does the centre-ground move with it.
Now it is important to note, amidst the to-and-fro of primary colour currently shaping our political landscape, that Blue Labourites are not the same as Red Tories, even whilst both are economically to the left and socially to the right. And the chief distinction between them comes down to the very thing that both movements have had greatest success in critiquing: the role, influence and make-up of the state.
Quite why this is so shall be the focus of what follows, but for now suffice it to say simply this: post-cuts politics needs to be much more robust in making a positive case for the legitimate and necessary role of the state in creating and sustaining that very society that both traditions outwardly claim to be seeking.
As such, both Blue Reds and Red Blues should feel able to unite on the point, precisely because both movements, however they differ in detail, fundamentally require a positive vision of the state to underpin their analysis and provide a platform upon which to advance their agenda, be it Blondian distributism or Glasmanite conservative socialism.
And the reason why such a case is not currently being robustly made is, I think, partly due to the success of the case that is being made.
To give a brief overview, when the Red Tory hit the scene David Cameron gobbled up his critique of market liberalism as the template through which he would detoxify his party from its Thatcherite associations. Of course, the economic crash did not help in that ambition, and the installation of George Osborne in No. 11 will always lead one to question the sincerity of Cameron’s conversion, but the important point was this: Team Cameron bought the economic argument whilst leaving Blond’s social analysis of liberalism well alone (which is why the Tory diagnosis of Broken Britain never really came with a cure).
And yet, not entirely alone. You see, Blond’s account of social liberalism, which itself included a convincing critique of the liberal authoritarian State, dovetailed rather nicely with his (socially conservative) civic communitarianism, and in so doing provided a rather handy template for those whose concern was not with the perniciousness of social liberalism as such, but with the role of the state in particular. Alas, the accusation that the Big Society vibe has provided the intellectual cover for an ideological attack on the role of the state is accurate, if not for all then certainly for all those who matter.
Blue Labour, on the other hand, has been pushing against the same door from the opposite direction, and is concentrating its effort rather more on the social argument, precisely because its economic argument was always likely to go down well (save the odd ridiculous misreading – take a bow, Billy). It is essentially a reverse process of what Blond has been ateempting with the Tories, and its success is not unrelated to the fact that its prime target is a clique and a philosophy which, many would argue, is and never has been mainstream in the Labour movement anyway. To put it in (overly) simple terms, Glasman has had to convince a party to return to its natural roots on economics and look more closely at its social doctrines (the two intertwine, though the latter in particular has included an analysis of the role of the state), whilst Blond has had to move the Conservatives on two fronts, that being the party on economics, and the leadership on social conservatism.
Which brings us back to that issue of the state, an ideal and an institution that has been picked at for its myriad cumulative deficiencies in the later-part of the twentieth -century, without currently receiving much by way of positive endorsement and/or legitimation.
For you see, it often seems there is a gaping hole where a confident Labour movement should be (and indeed, from a different angle, where a confident small ‘c’ conservative movement should be too). In surging forth with its robust analysis of the statism the Labour movement had come to embrace, drawing upon much Red Tory analysis and language in the process, Blue Labour has thus far failed to make a convincing and positive case for the state, at least in any serious and sustained manner – thereby neglecting what Anthony Painter has termed the trump card the left has to play against the apparently anti-state coalition.
And in offering an exciting vision of the reciprocal, mutualist, co-operative and associative society, and the ways in which mechanistic, technocratic and bureaucratic systems can stifle that organic flourishing of human relationships, both Red Tory and Blue Labour have neglected to seriously consider the way in which the state underpins, facilitates and enables exactly the kind of society that both would recognise as consistent with the ‘good society’ we ought to be aiming for.
Neglecting to offer this positive vision, however, will eventually prove detrimental, not only because the mood at the moment is so anti-state and therefore needs countering precisely in the name of Blue Labour/Red Tory, but also because the Tories and (in a much more refined sense) both Blond and Glasman have provided such convincing and damning accounts of statism that unless one is attentive to the risk then the baby might just find itself thrown out with the bathwater.
Let’s hope, then, that the emphasis will begin to change, and we will soon hear why these two thinkers think the state is A Good Thing, to be cultivated and ultimately defended, against both apathy and the attacks of those whose only positive word for the state is the extent to which it can deliver their own anti-state agenda.