The full article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail, 29 March 2011.
Phillip Blond, author of “Red Tory”, director of the U.K.-based think tank ResPublica, and a political thinker whose ideas have influenced the Big Society in British politics, met with The Globe and Mail editorial board. He shared his vision for a re-invigorated civic society – and his take on the current state of Canadian politics: “Recherché [and] very 1980s.”
Q: The concept of a Red Tory is inherently Canadian. But in recent years, this term has been abandoned. Progressive Conservatives, a great Canadian concept historically, has also been abandoned, at least at the national level. Can you talk about this?
A: What’s interesting, if you look at Canadian politics now, it looks very 1980s, very conventional from a British viewpoint, and it looks very American. On the right, you have a deficit-reduction, neo-liberal party, arguing for strong re-identification of the military, of law and order. That looks quite conventional and American and old.
Then you have a left-wing party committed to welfare-ism and not much more. It looks oddly very recherché from a European perspective. But obviously from a Canadian perspective it is all very innovative.
What’s interesting in Europe is that actually all of that politics is now over.
It’s over for the left and the right. The left across Europe, with exception of Scandinavia, realizes it’s been too statist and welfare-ist, but the left doesn’t know where to go next. In Britain, the Labour Party is going through a renewal. It’s very interested in ideas I am arguing for about civic renewal. But it is 10-15 years away from making the leap and many of them won’t make the leap.
On the right, it’s much more invigorating intellectually. A sense that the old kind of Thatcher-Reagan model won’t work and hasn’t worked and is part of the 2008 crisis... produced in the name of free markets, cartels and oligopolies.
Q: Communitarian conservatism can make sense at the local level, but is it harder to accomplish at the national level?
A: The Red Tories in Canada weren’t wrong. The state was a way to defend Canadian nationalism. France and Canada both use the state to protect cultural distinctiveness. In Canada, the Red Tories used the state to differentiate from the US. The trouble is, what this produces is a left-wing account of what it is to be Canadian, to have socialized medicine. And that is the identification. My argument with Red Tories now, is that state can no longer be the vehicle for what you want to achieve. The vehicle now is civic society, renewal and culture.
One of the most interesting things is there is almost no national Canadian totem on which you agree. No right-wing national model. The only totems that define Canada are a mixture of what Trudeau did (the Charter) and socialized medicine, and multiculturalism. You might argue that has worked well for Canada. But I suspect it can’t continue like that. So all of the accounts in Canadian politics of what it means to be Canadian are radically insufficient to the clear unity the country has. What is Canadian is civitas, civil behaviour -- it is very, very strong. It’s like the British empire, the reason it worked was manners. Therefore, everybody could become British.