[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]
Given enough time, anything–well, realistically speaking, almost anything–can happen in democratic politics, and so one probably shouldn’t assume that the current election results from Britain definitively signal anything. However, I will bet on one thing: the notion that David Cameron’s Conservatives could introduce anything remotely like some genuine Red Tory reforms is dead (at least for now).
As I suggested before, it’s not clear to what extent the Conservatives ever were, in reality, committed to “associative communitarianism” and the like, or whether their “Big Society” notions did nothing more than just pay some lip service to Phillip Blond’s ideas. But either way, we’ll almost certainly not find out the truth now (much less find out the degree to which a modern liberal state, at least nominally committed to egalitarian welfare principles, could ever practically follow through on decentralizing, democratic reforms in the first place). As things stand this morning in Kansas (which is Friday afternoon in the UK), we have a messy hung parliament, and current Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown, knowing full well that his party is willing to promise much more in terms of the electoral reform which the Liberal Democrats want than Cameron’s conservatives could, is (purposefully or not) pushing the Conservatives in very nearly exactly the manner least amenable to seeing any hypothetical Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government preserve even the least elements of Red Tory promises.
That’s not to say that associative communitarianism isn’t compatible with the proportional representation wanted by the Lib Dems; indeed, I’ve suggested before that moving away from the American electoral model would actually make various populist/democratic/communitarian political possibilities more likely further on down the road. But the more immediate problem is the broader demographics and interests of the Lib Dems: they are, by and large, very much the sort of socially liberal, fiscally conservative, libertarian-lite, environmentally-conscious elites which Mark Penn idolizes and Jonathan Chait and Ross Douthat properly mock. With the Lib Dems, the Conservatives would likely still not give more power to the EU, and would still likely try for some immigration reform. And true, the Lib Dems would keep the Conservatives’ feet to the fire in regards to any welfare cuts. But serious reforms of Britain’s corporate market and financial structure? A patient–and expensive–devolution of welfare responsibilities to local communities, with attendant democratic oversight? Not bloody likely.
And if that all falls apart? Then it is some other ramshackle coalition for the Conservatives, or a minority government, or it is Labor-Lib Dems doing the same. All of which have, from my point of view, any number of arguably defensible, even appealing compensations. But however you slice it, the as-yet-not-clearly-articulated Red Tory promise is definitely going to get pushed to the back burner, if not off the stove entirely.
Perhaps it’s just as well; as I wrote yesterday, Blond’s (and Cameron’s, perhaps) reformist ideas need something more…well, more moral to them–a more broadly shared “religious” conception of what a polity and the government it creates has in common–if they’re going to find a legitimate sphere to operate within. And that will likely take decades of time, both in government and out of it. Hopefully Blond, and others, will keep hammering away at Red Tory possibilities for a while. But in the meantime, no matter what happens in London over the next couple of days, I don’t expect them to get a test drive.