Left and Right

On Conservative Socialism

Far from being a phantom in the imaginations of a handful of writers and scholars, conservative socialism is a real phenomenon.

· 16 min read


Blue Labour. Red Tory. Tory socialism. Tory anarchism. Tory communism. There is no shortage of apparent oxymorons tying conservatism to left-wing radicalism. Sometimes these are self-referential. Maurice Glasman, for instance, coined the term “Blue Labour” in 2009 to describe the conservative strand of labourism, with its “fundamental commitment to work, faith, family, and country,” represented by his late immigrant Jewish mother. Similarly, in his 2010 book, Red Tory, Phillip Blond used the term to describe his project of rolling back the “market state” in the British conservative imagination. And George Orwell famously referred to himself as a “Tory anarchist” before he fought in Spain in 1936.

More often than not, though, the labels are imposed by others, often retrospectively. In his book, Tory Socialism in English Culture Society and Politics 18701940, for example, Tony Judge described Henry Hyndman, Joseph Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin, and Harold Macmillan as Tory socialists, although they did not use the term themselves. So far, however, scholars have, for the most part, been reluctant to take these hybrid ideologies and political identities seriously. With only a handful of exceptions, they have judged that it is impossible to be both a conservative and a species of left-wing radical at once. Consensus has it that, no, John Ruskin cannot be a “violent Tory” and a “communist—reddest also of the red” simultaneously. To be Blue is to cease to be Labour.

Why, then, do the labels persist, and even proliferate (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here)? Are those guilty of using them simply ignorant, naive, or ignorant of the obvious incompatibility?


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