Thursday, September 10, 2015

All you left-wing traditionalists: you really should be Conservatives

I recently read an incredibly thought-provoking article on Labour Teachers by Greg Ashman, a practising teacher, entitled, 'Do lefties have to love inquiry learning?' In short, he concludes that they don't, and I tend to agree with him; but I do take issue with several of his assumptions and would add a caveat to his main contention: they don't, but most of them do.

First, let's look at some of his assumptions. According to Greg, the Right 'no longer' opposes change; instead, the 'new' Right embraces innovation and new models for delivering public services. In contrast, rather than intent on overturning the status quo, the Left now aims to conserve it, he asserts, maintaining its beloved NHS and calling for the continuation of state spending on welfare and education. In simple terms, according to this view the Right is now the agent of change whilst the Left advocates the maintenance of many aspects of the post-war settlement.

But in his laudable attempts to embrace nuance and complexity, Greg misses some important points. He initially misinterprets the historic meaning of Conservatism and its approach to government, for example. This, I am sure, is through simple misunderstanding rather than deliberate misrepresentation - a very common error made by Leftists. He implies that historically, the Right was a reactionary movement opposed to change. This is a fallacious caricature.

The Victorian poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, neatly articulates the true nature of Conservatism in his poem 'Hands all Round' (1882): 'That man's the true Conservative/Who lops the mouldered branch away.' 'But', he later added in a conversation with the philosopher William Angus Knight, 'the branch must be a mouldered one, before we should venture to lop it off.' In other words, as Edmund Burke, the father of modern Conservatism himself contended, we must embrace change where necessary and conservation where no evidence exists to support what might, in theory alone, work better.

The 1867 Reform Act, Robert Peel's Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and Benjamin Disraeli's social reforms all point to a party that has throughout its history been ready and willing to enact change where warranted.

Furthermore, in arguing that the Left now seeks to conserve, he fails to spot the fact that it only seeks to conserve the radical changes wrought by various post-war Labour administrations. This doesn't make it a movement protective of the nation's political, socioeconomic and cultural inheritance, circumspect in its approach to reform. Of course not. It is as passionate for change as ever and, if eager to conserve, only does so in an effort to maintain its post-war gains.

So, in my view, Greg misunderstands the essence of both political parties. Conservatives have always been wary of change, but not unambiguously against it whereas those on the left, on the other hand, and in the main, view the nation's traditions as antiquated and inimical to social justice. Sorry, Greg, but they categorically do not seek to conserve. As a consequence, lefties tend to support any change which attacks traditional social, economic, political and cultural structures. Multiculturalism, mass immigration, House of Lords reform, gay marriage, state control of the means of production and, of course, progressive education are all assaults upon traditionalism supported by the Left.

That said, and here I agree with Greg, lefties can of course reject inquiry-based, progressive educational theory and practice. Such an approach conspires to thwart social mobility and harm the working-class, after all. But the fact remains: most do not take this view for the reasons outlined. Progressivism maybe old, but, until relatively recently, it's been a revolutionary theory with little evidential backing designed to reject authority and overturn existing societal structures - a classic left-wing objective. The fact that these would stand a better chance of being overturned through traditional methods is beside the point. The Left's propensity to shout 'change' without considering the unforeseen implications renders it deaf to such commonsensical arguments. It simply sees a tradition and immediately seeks its destruction - just look at House of Lords reform or the foxhunting ban.

The advantage of Conservatism is in its circumspection. This gives its advocates time to think and apply rigour when considering the most effective course of action. All you left-wing traditionalists: you really should be Conservatives.

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