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Poppy Coburn: In search of the Blob
New co-editor Poppy Coburn examines the Left's march through Britain's charity sector
How could it possibly be that the Conservative political platform has delivered both electoral success and political failure? On nearly every issue of consequence, modern conservatives are losing: immigration, the role of the state, the integrity of the family. Once a position is conceded, the debate is settled. New Labour left power having changed the course of Britain forever. Ask anyone to tell you what 13 years of Tory governance have achieved, and they will at best list off a referendum result unwanted by the then Prime Minister and his successor, and a bold plan to bribe MPs with constituency cash. That’s standing athwart history yelling not “stop”, but “wait for me!”
In light of this, it’s hardly surprising that what few connections we retain from ages past - like our venerable institutions - are dearly cherished. The problem with this misty-eyed approach is that it can blind us from the radical changes that have occurred within them. This leaves them not as historic monuments to British exceptionalism but rather active participants in the degradation of public life. This shift was particularly evident to me in my investigations of the Charity Sector. Charity traditionally functioned outside of the state apparatus: this was a moral pursuit, and therefore reflected the moral pieties of the day, good and bad. And so as Britain shifted away from Victorian sensibility, so too did the charities themselves, although now taking on an ideological rather than moralistic character.
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We can witness this transformation by observing the changing role of one major private Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). Founded in 1904 by a mild-mannered Quaker, the group reflected the Left-movements of their time - even funding a Communist splinter cell in Mozembqiue in the 1970s. The Trust now commands a £428 million endowment, and funds a variety of Left-wing cases. This may frustrate Conservatives, but it is not necessarily something they would wish to intervene in. After all, it is their money, and they are free to spend it as they wish. Let us instead turn to the equally damaging - and entirely self-inflicted - farce of the government funding the same groups that actively impede Right-wing reform.
A report by Conservative Way Forward found that £880 million of public money had been spent backing charities involved in campaigns against government policies on migration, trans rights and the climate crisis: issues in which charitable groups were acting in direct contradiction to the wishes of voters. This is no accident. Under the Cameroon-era Charities Act, “charitable purposes” were redefined to include the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution and reconciliation and the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity. “Your culture war, my human rights campaign” became law.
This is just one example. The same transformation is evident everywhere, from the Civil Service to the Judiciary, and is a hallmark of Blob-infiltration. One writer defined this system as follows: “It is a mixture of state institutions, state-funded institutions, and private trusts and charities. It is a groupthink bubble. It is a network, an ecosystem, in which everyone operates with a set of similar superficial assumptions about the legitimate domain of state action derived from similar assumptions about human nature.” Evidence abounds that the liberal concept of the neutral institution is false. That we choose to do nothing in the face of it is simply baffling. We live under the dictatorship of the Stakeholder, and it is strangling our public life.
The National Conservatives are still attempting to define themselves. But there is precious little point in attempting yet another rebrand of Conservative party politics without acknowledging the procedural roadblocks that stand in the way of reform. The time to engage in our own ‘long march through the institutions’ may have passed. This need not be a bad thing. There is no point in attempting to infiltrate the Equality and Human Rights Council, or OFCOM, or the Welsh Assembly. Such bodies can simply be done away with. A root-and-branch shakeup of Whitehall may be beyond the pale. But we have no obligation to preserve the ‘institutions’ of the Blairite age.
Modern politics is hobbled by a refusal to let go of nostalgic totems from a world long since lost: leftists for a world bound by networks of solidarity and easily-understood class hierarchies, liberals for a still-deep well of societal trust that allowed for individual freedom, and conservatives for the instinctive faith one could place in institutions deeply rooted in traditional values. Our Blob-state rests precariously atop; oblivious to the delicate system its heavy-handed machinations trample upon. It hubristically believes that consulting a never-ending parade of stakeholders and experts acts as a comparable proxy for the reserves of social capital that are running dry.
The path to a British renaissance will be a difficult one, and conservatives of every persuasion will have their own ideas on how to achieve this. But let us agree on one thing: we can no longer avoid confronting the sheer scale of the problem or fool ourselves that the aforementioned well of social capital will automatically replenish. At the very least, work must be done while the Conservative party still clings onto power to clear the way for a future government. Briefing against activist lawyers or complaining in the pages of the Telegraph about Civil Service coups are the actions of a government already in opposition. Those who wish to rescue Britain from our palliative condition may find themselves cast as villains. But to paraphrase Lee Quan Yew: whoever governs Britain must have iron in him, or give it up.
Poppy Coburn is co-editor of The Conservative Reader.