Phillip Blond, director of the think tank ResPublica, is one of the most prominent thinkers and political experts in Britain. His ideas on Red Toryism, introduced to the general audience in the article in 2009, influenced the Conservative Party and a coalition government at the time. It has also made waves across the political spectrum and, in times of ideological identity crisis of main parties, it has given them a possible direction.
We met him in London on the eve of the 2015 general election. The surprising result had not yet been known and there were no signs of it. Our conversation centered on general patterns of evolution of the British political system.
In your interview with Bloomberg, there was one point I doubt I understood well. You said that neither Labour nor the Conservative Party are in fact English parties. What do you mean?
What I argued in fact was that neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party are doing majority politics. They lost their ability to speak to their base and as a result they can’t command a majority anymore. Actually, if you look across Europe, you will see this repeated time and time again. Main parties are losing support to insurgent parties at the extremes. My view is that globalisation is creating a very unstable world, a world that destroyed working class people, particularly on skills, and also is now increasingly threatening middle-class people.
But you also mentioned the parties cannot command a majority in the north of England…
What happens is that parties become geographical. The Conservative Party lost virtually all representation in Scotland. It also risks vanishing in the north of England. So the outcome could be that it only remains the party of the successful South-East. By the same token, the Labour Party is also being eliminated in Scotland by the SNP.
Do you see any potential rise of such parties as the Greens and UKIP in the future?
The British system is designed to prevent minority parties getting through. On the FPP system the barrier for market entry is incredibly high. And the idea of the alternative system was rejected in a referendum in 2011. But now the old two-party model, which has been in long-term decline, is over. I suspect there will be demands for electoral reform again. I fear that British parties are losing their ability to speak to different parts of the Union and grudgingly seeing ethnic and national fracture.
Do you see any possibility that the SNP can form a coalition with the Conservatives?
No, Nicola Sturgeon has built her mass party on the idea of the left progressive alliance. And if she in any way allows the Conservative Party come to power, that would be destroyed. Remember, back in 1979 eleven SNP members voted with the Tories against James Callaghan and that brought Margaret Thatcher to power. So it will be an electoral suicide to help the Conservatives.
No concessions can be made. I think the only unionist party left in Scotland is the Labour Party.
The only way to restoring unionism is electoral reform so the Scottish Tories, who are present in large numbers but are too evenly spread, can actually have a genuine vote and the Scottish Conservative Party could then recover.
There is some debate about voters’ scepticism to all political parties. How important do you think it really is?
A: It is a Europe-wide phenomenon. People are losing enormous trust in established parties and this means people will trust new market players far more than they will established ones. If Britain had PR system, the political insurgency would be much greater than it is today. So I think decline in trust is hugely important.
In your Bloomberg interview you mentioned that both parties are in their comfort zones and, instead of moving to a centre ground, they stay at what may be called their own extremes. In the meantime, you advocate quite the opposite, a new form of ideology, Blue Labour and Red Tory. Do you see any possibility that either of these parties or any other party would accept your ideas and move to a centre ground?
The interesting thing is that a centre ground is not in the centre. It is where the majorities are. You can argue that the National Front in France is trying to combine both Right and Left. You can also argue the same for UKIP. It is already taking shape but it is doing in regressive rather than progressive form because it creates outsiders rather than insiders on the basis of race, class, culture. It is fear of a foreigner. What I am interested in is an inclusive form of Red Tory and Blue Labour. I think it will command all future majorities in Western Europe.
You mentioned UKIP trying to combine these policies. Does this mean that UKIP is in some sense a Red Tory party?
No, it is like a bad copy. It is not really Red Toryism but it could become a Red Tory party. But at the moment they are just reactionary.
Q: What about Labour?
A: All parties will look at where they can succeed. Post-liberal path that rejects both market and social Liberalism is the only path left on track, really. I think it is already happening. But for the party that is not reactionary but progressive, it will start happening in the next five years.