The Right may yet rule the Nineties

If you thought Thatcher and Reagan were the limit, take a look at Newt Gingrich and the New Tories, says Andrew Gamble

Suddenly the Right is riding high again. In the Eighties, the conservative revolution seemed unstoppable. Thatcher and Reagan were its gods, Hayek and Friedman its high priests. But then it all unravelled, and the revolution went into reverse. There was talk of consolidation and a return to consensus. New, moderate sensible leaders such as Bush and Major pursued pragmatic non-ideological policies.

Major's deepest ambition was to create a country at ease with itself. The New Right was no longer fashionable, and there was a rush to desert it. The new conventional wisdom said that radical conservatism was finished, and that the future lay with politicians of the centre.

It all looks different now. The Right has found new purpose and energy.

Under Newt Gingrich, it swept to victory in the mid-term polls in the United States, humiliating Clinton's New Democrats. In Britain, it is the right which is now openly challenging for control of the Conservative party. John Redwood has unfurled a manifesto of populist right-wing measures. The left and centre of the party deride it, Kenneth Clarke claiming that the party will be out of office for a thousand years if it goes down this path. But the Conservative left has no comparable programme to put forward. Momentum and ideas are found on the right.

Conservatives were once expected to conserve. Now they are radicals. It is liberals and socialists who find themselves trying to defend existing institutions. The New Right wants to tear down institutions and refashion societies more comprehensively than most socialists ever dreamed.

The reason for the change is the great growth of the state in the 20th century. The new conservatives want to reverse that growth and return to minimal government, which means taxes as low as they can be and public spending devoted only to those things that are absolutely necessary. Some conservatives, like the anarcho-capitalists in the United States, want to go much further and abolish the state altogether, decriminalising drugs, abolishing police forces and fire services, setting the people terminally free.

This rage against the state is at the heart of modern radical conservatism. Fed by the writings of Hayek and Friedman, it was articulated by a new generation of populist politicians.

Early forerunners such as Barry Goldwater and Enoch Powell were derided as out of time, hopeless reactionaries. But they were succeeded by Reagan and Thatcher, who swept to power in the Eighties. Both succeeded by knitting together political nationalism and economic liberalism.

Conservative parties had once been interventionist, collectivist and paternalist. The New Right of the Eighties set out to roll back the state and remove all obstacles to the workings of the free market and the rights of private property. Privatisation, deregulation, sound money and low taxes became its watchwords.

The hype surrounding Thatcher and Reagan was always much greater than their concrete achievements. Reagan pledged to create a balanced budget, but achieved instead the biggest deficit in US history. Thatcher was determined to reduce the share of government spending and taxes in the economy, but both were higher when she left office. John Major spoke bitterly of the golden age that never was.

But the Eighties was a golden age for the right. It created a myth, a political style and a series of benchmarks for the future. It demonstrated that a right-wing programme aimed at reducing the role of government could win popular support.

The conservatives of the Nineties are now seeking to do the same again. They are moving beyond Reaganism and Thatcherism to create a new agenda that draws increasingly on the radical ideas of New Right libertarians. The mood now is isolationist. Involvement in world affairs through international bodies and agencies is resisted. Reasserting national identity is the key.

Enoch Powell showed the way years before. He was a cultural nationalist, who opposed immigration, entry to the Common Market, and the break-up of the UK. At the same time, he was a radical free marketeer, proposing denationalisation of all state industries long before it was popular, and the halving of income tax to 20p in the pound.

Many different strands have fed the New Right in Britain and the US - economic liberalism, Christian fundamentalism, high Toryism, libertarianism, political nationalism, cultural elitism, anti-Communism.

The post-Eighties New Right focuses above all on the need to cut taxes and end the culture of welfare dependency. Many of these ideas have been spread on both sides of the Atlantic by New Right ideologues such as Charles Murray and George Gilder, and they encourage the kind of stigmatisation of the poor and single mothers in which John Redwood indulges.

The model for the new politics of the right that is emerging has been pioneered by Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan in the States. The Republicans fought the 1992 elections on a set of very specific pledges - the Contract with America. At its centre are plans to cut taxes and reduce drastically the level of federal spending. What it also possesses is a very strong moral agenda of social issues concerning families, crime, and social disorder - all of which are blamed on government policies and spending.

Radical conservatives in Britain such as John Redwood and Michael Portillo believe that support can be won back for the Conservative party only if it adopts an aggressive, populist programme, which pledges deep tax cuts, an attack on welfare dependency, and strong measures on crime, coupled with a halt to any further moves to European integration. The recovery of national independence and the assertion of an English nationalism are seen as indispensable elements in the revival of Conservative support.

This programme is not so different from that of Thatcher or Reagan in the Eighties, but it is more single-minded in its concentration on tax cuts rather than on monetary stability, and also in its targeting of welfare spending. But for many Conservatives, it does not go far enough. A new set of radicals, such as Alan Duncan, want much more drastic action to cut out whole areas of state activity.

The demon that has been unleashed by the conservative revolution will not go away. The successes of the Republicans in the States are a harbinger of what could happen in the UK. The Conservative Right feels confident that sooner or later it will capture the party just as the Right captured the Republicans. The deep material and ideological roots of the conservative revolution mean that it is far from being a spent force. It sees itself as the wave of the future.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam