Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2013. Photo: Flickr/ Policy Exchange Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2013. Photo: Flickr/ Policy Exchange

The populism of the Tories does not signal a break with neoliberal globalisation, argues Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

So yesterday the big news was that Theresa May is going rebuild the cross-class Conservative coalition around a populist patriotic political economy. In fact, her pitch was less novel than a lot of the hacks seemed to think. It’s actually not particularly unprecedented to hear Conservatives making noises about globalisation “having winners and losers,” or acknowledging the need to intervene judiciously, or indeed acknowledging the existence of society. 

Yes, May’s populist pitch is likely to have more substance than Cameron’s big society, and we will see a veering away from the previous government’s balanced budget fundamentalism. Yet the wider economic conditions simply do not support the sort of one-nation Tory coalition that May aims to construct.

Regardless of the policies announced at conference, the fact remains that by 2020 more of May’s target voters are likely to be in insecure employment or on spurious self-employment contracts. More of their jobs are likely to have been destroyed by automation or competition from the world’s sweatshop-export economies, and millions of them will be experiencing stagnant or falling pay.

What political cartographers forget is that the “one nation Toryism” of Harold McMillan was not simply a function of policy but also of objective conditions: it occurred at a time of post-war reconstruction, at a time when industrial employment was heading towards a peak of 40% of the workforce, when millions of workers were well unionised, and when Chinese output was overwhelmingly agrarian and consumed within China.

By contrast, any attempt, under today’s conditions, to make life a bit better for everybody would require the sort of political radicalism that would be alien to May and her party.

Reuben Bard-Rosenberg

Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.

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