Blue-collar conservatism

Aereo is a British left-leaning e-zine (or maybe just a glorified blog) that has been around for just a few years. In a recent (December 2019) article written by its editor, Helen Puckrose and James A Lindsay (both of whom enjoyed a brief moment of fame a year or so ago for writing “20 fake papers using fashionable jargon to argue for ridiculous conclusions” and enjoying a remarkable success rate in being published in ostensibly serious, peer-reviewed journals) say that the political left is falling apart. They say that “The Left is in crisis. We,” the authors self-identify as leftists, “no longer present a cohesive movement, and we no longer form coherent political parties. We are a fractured and ill-defined mess, our goals are diffuse and scattered, and we are hemorrhaging supporters from what should be our base—the working class, liberals, and racial and sexual minorities. It is not clear that left-wing parties and movements are currently listening to that base or have its best interests at heart … [and they explain] … Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent British election, which was disastrous for the left. Labour lost key seats, including in areas that have voted left for close to a century, and experienced its worst drubbing in four decades. An outright majority was won by surely the least credible Tory Prime Minister in living memory. It seems uncomfortably likely that this disaster is soon to be mirrored in the US by the re-election of Donald Trump for a second term, despite the fact that the American public has had four years—beginning with his 2015 campaign—to notice how manifestly unfit he is to be the leader of the western world.

That led me to this article, by Esther McVey, MP, in The Telegraph, in which she says that GPKhVuVwWorking people ignored generations of voting tradition to put their faith in Boris and the Conservatives for the first time last week. Their vote secured Brexit and has ushered in a new age of Conservatism.” She talks about her own “Blue-Collar Conservatism” which, she says, was instrumental in turning the so-called “red-wall” of Labour seats in the English midlands and industrial North to Tory blue.

From there it was a short hop to Professor Timothy J. Lombardo‘s recent (2018) book, ‘Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics (Politics and Culture in Modern America,’ which posits that “blue-collar conservatism” arose in the early 1970s, in Philadelphia, when Frank Rizzo, the police commissioner, became mayor of a true blue-collar big-city after running on a platform promoting “law and order” and “opposing programs like public housing, school busing, affirmative action, and other policies his supporters deemed unearned advantages for nonwhites.” Professor Lombardo says that Frank Rizzo presaged Ronald Reagan (do you remember the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s?) and Donald J Trump who, both carried traditionally Democrat and blue-collar districts.

Factory_Near_ClevelandAlmost 2½ years ago I suggested that the American pop music composer and performer Billy Joel got the feeling just right in a 1982 song called ‘Allentown.’ Please, listen to or read the lyrics: it was cri de cœur for the Reagan Democrats (or the fading ‘blue-dog Democrats,’ if you prefer) and, today, for the blue-collar conservatives or the precariat, call them what you wish.

As Professor Guy Standing explains (last link, above) globalization has created a new level of inequality and insecurity which has shrunk the middle and working classes and has created a new class, the precariat, which involves unstable work patterns, economic uncertainty ~ living paycheque-to-paycheque, and the loss of a political party which speaks for them. Right now he says the precariat is split into three factions:

  • The atavists who, like Billy Joel, are looking back, with longing, at the past ~ when they could have had good jobs and economic security;
  • The migrants, the roamers and the refugees who have no real home and who are not, perhaps cannot be ‘bound,’ socially, to the place in which they currently live; and
  • The progressives who, having a university education and so on, thought they had a bright future, but they didn’t study accounting, commerce, engineering, law or medicine and now they and now are angry because they all feel deprived because they are only equipped to be baristas and retail shop clerks.

In fact, Professor Standing says, all three groups are angry, although the anger of the first group is inchoate while that of the second group is usually repressed, as they try to just get by as best they can.

I think that the first group is the natural core of blue-collar conservatism. I believe the asian-familysecond group ~ I’m thinking specifically of the hard-working new Canadians in the suburbs ~ is, relatively, ripe for the picking by the Conservative Partyif it can phrase its policies and programmes in ways that make sense to that group. (The CPC can do that, say Andrew Coyne and John Ibbitson, just by “being Conservative” but with a change in “tone,” not principle.) I suspect that Guy Standing’s third group is a poisoned chalice for Conservatives.

A while ago I suggested that a guaranteed annual income might be a good, solid Conservative big idea ~ based on what Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman proposed. They saw a guaranteed annual income, perhaps based on the idea of a negative income tax, as a way of freeing the individual from the overarching grasp of the state. I’m not sure if I agree with Professor Standing’s idea about why a guaranteed annual income is “good,” but I’m still inclined to say that it is an idea that Conservatives should explore, in public, because, I believe that the precariat, the blue-collar conservatives are the key to winning the 50ish seats, almost all in suburbs around Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, needed to get from the opposition to the treasury benches, and I also believe that a guaranteed annual income (or negative income tax) might be one of their issues, too.

i-believe-the-best-social-program-is-a-job-ronald-reagan-quoteOne other big idea that Conservatives should not be afraid to trumpet is “jobs! Jobs!! JOBS!!!” Real Conservatives should all agree that a job is the best social programme. The Party should not be afraid to remind Canadians of the fact that the reason that shipyards in Vancouver and Halifax are humming is that Stephen Harper put them to work with his national shipbuilding strategy and the reason that armoured vehicle assembly lines in London, ON are working is that he decided that jobs for Canadian workers were worth the risk of selling weapons to a cruel, corrupt and unfriendly (Saudi Arabian) regime. Conservatives must be able to balance priorities and explain their choices. In the LAV-6 contract, a Conservative government decided that since someone (America, Britain, France or Germany) was going to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia ~ that’s a 100% certainty ~ it might as well be Canada and the jobs might as well go to London, ON. Now, many voters in central Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, members of the third (progressive) tranche of Guy Standing’s precariat, might deplore that decision but they must be told that e.g. highly subsidized day-care (which they need because of their gender studies degrees don’t actually equip them to have good jobs) is paid for, in large measure by the taxes paid by the men and women who build frigates and armoured vehicles and jet fighters. A job is a job, a good job is a good job, and jobs in shipyards, building warships, and on armoured vehicle assembly lines are very good jobs, indeed, especially if they are continuous jobs, maintained by building and selling ships, weapons and associated components to the world.

A third possible big idea is equality: absolute equality at and under the law, for every individual regardless of age, sex, education, wealth, position, sexual orientation, handicap (or lack of same) and, and, and … a person is a person, period, and every person has equal rights. Conservatives should deemphasize (but not restrict or try to negate) the rights of collectives, be they social, economic, ethnic, religious or linguistic groups and even the state, itself, and strengthen the fundamental rights, including the right to have and use property, of individuals.

These are all ideas that may appeal to many (most?) blue-collar conservatives in both of McDonalds-softskills-94Guy Standing’s first and second cohorts of the precariat ~ including the ones who live in the Greater Toronto Area suburbs and have to work at two or even three jobs, often part-time jobs, because month-after-month and year-after-year they cannot manage to save and invest for the future ~ they live paycheque to paycheque. I know these people, so do you, they live in our neighbourhoods. They are good, honest, hard-working people who are struggling ~ not to join the middle class but, rather, to stave off homelessness and absolute poverty.

What I think we all need to remember is that what blue-collar conservatives really want is to have some redress of the dignity deficit. That dignity deficit is most visible when working-class or lower-middle-class Canadian parents look at their families and fear, with good reason,  that they can not offer their children as good a futures as their parents offered to them a generation ago. That’s what Billy Joel meant when he sang “Every child had a pretty good shot to get at least as far as their old man got.” I am not convinced that voters in Burnaby and Brampton believe that any more. It seems to me that what Helen Puckrose and James Lindsay describe as the “base” of the working-class left are those with the largest dignity deficits ~ the working-class families, often dual-income of necessity, who see no hope in the programmes of Labour in Britain, of the American Democrats and, increasingly, in the empty promises of the Liberals and NDP in Canada.

The precariat turned to Trump in 2016 and will, I predict, do so again in 2020; they voted for Brexit in 2016 and then for Boris Johnson in 2019; many abandoned Justin Trudeau in 2019 and moved, instead, to the CPC ~ the Liberal vote fell by about 1 million from 2015 to 2019; the NDP vote fell by about ½ million; the CPC vote rose by about ½ million. The CPC needs to win the votes of the members of the precariat, the almost natural blue-collar conservatives, who stayed home in 2019 ~ and the overall popular vote actually rose a bit in 2019, but that was caused by increased population ~ the voter participation rate fell by 2.35% as millions of eligible voters stayed home because they couldn’t connect with any party or any candidate on any issue that mattered to them.

industrial-cleaning-picI am convinced that the Conservative Pary must reach out to the precariat with policies and programmes that aim to redress the trumpsupportersjpg-defe87623001b1d3dignity deficit and offer them hope for the future. Those policies and promises are colour-blind but, as Donald Trump and Doug Ford have demonstrated, they must address the very real concerns (fears) of working people. The people do not want the progressive pabulum peddled by the Laurentian elites. The precariat cannot afford to join a party, but they can be persuaded to come out and vote … IF the CPC has a platform that resonates with them: the working men and women, often new Canadians,  who live in the suburbs around our fast-growing cities.




Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

17 thoughts on “Blue-collar conservatism

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