Radio 4 on British conservatism

Posted by Helen Friday, September 06, 2013 , ,

It is a little difficult to listen to a series that is broadcast at 1.45 pm every day on Radio 4 in fifteen minute chunks but there will be a so-called omnibus edition of all of this week's episodes this evening at 9 pm. The same pattern of broadcasting will apply next week, I believe. The programmes are also available on iPlayer.

The BBC seems to think that a history of British conservatism that does not talk of nasty mill owners sending children up chimneys is obviously going to be "surprising". Anne McElvoy who would not call herself conservative in any way, gives an interesting summary of how she and the programme's producers approached the series and manages to pack every known name of anyone who can be called conservative in the article, though I notice she does not talk about the role of women in the Primrose League or the Conservative Party in general. In fact, there seems no mention of the League at all in the article though a little bit of understanding of its activity, as this blog has pointed out, would make the BBC even more surprised at the number of things it considers to be left-wing developments that were actually not.

Mark Wallace, Executive Editor of ConHome has written a sort of a response to MsMcElvoy's article and series as it is so far. Here are a few paragraphs from it but the whole article is worth reading.
Conservatism is a complex thing. It is either not an ideology at all, or a meld of ideas containing numerous internal contradictions, depending on your preference. What other movement can have absorbed both the driving entrepreneurialism of the industrial revoluion and the romantic opposition to it - simultaneously embracing the progress brought by "dark satanic mills" and the romantic view of the English rural village?
The North - South divide? It did not work against the Conservatives in the past. (As a matter of fact, I am old enough to recall Leeds with four constituencies, two of which were Conservative and two Labour, one MP being Sir Keith Joseph.)
While nowadays Conservatives agonise about how to appeal in the North of England, McElvoy points out that many of the ideas and approaches traditionally associated with small-c conservatism evolved in Northern settings. The broad brush stereotype that the home counties are Thatcherite and everywhere north of Watford is socialist would have horrified 19th century aristocrats who disliked free trade as much as it would have annoyed the skilled, Conservative workers of many a Midlands industrial town.
And here is some more about the contradictory role of Benjamin Disraeli without whom we cannot have a history of conservatism or of the Conservative Party:
For Disraeli, the middle class were greedy profiteers, a slim but powerful layer almost as wealthy as the nobility but lacking the noblesse oblige he longed to see restored. He saw the new form of the world as an unjust, binary monstrosity, writing in his novel Sybil of the dream of there one day being "some resting place between luxury and misery".

He was nostalgic for what he believed was the place of ordinary workers in a feudal village that had in the agrarian Middle Ages, something he feared was being destroyed by industrialisation. We may know today that most feudal peasants experienced short, unpleasant lives, but he believed they had lived in relative comfort, with a true place and part to play in their community. What he described was today's middle class - what he thought he was describing was something altogether different.

Few things could better typify the internal contradictions of conservatism than a Prime Minister who worked to create a ladder into the new middle class while believing he was simply restoring a mythical state of feudal yemoanry. He may not have been an enthusiast for suburban terraces funded by factory smokestacks (it was left to his Liberal rival Gladstone to praise booming Middlesbrough as England's "infant Hercules"), but he bolstered a middle class that was inherently tied to both, regardless of his intentions.
Read the whole thing and try to catch up with the series. One can but hope it will be repeated quite soon but in the meantime there is the iPlayer.


Powered by Blogger.




Blog Archive