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
Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Construction Solicitor – Surrey

Excellent Salary Package: Austen Lloyd: This is a rare high level opportunity ...

Construction Solicitor NQ+ Manchester

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: This is an excellent opportunity within...

Corporate Finance

£80000 - £120000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: US QUALI...

Banking / Finance Associate - City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: Banking / Finance Associate - We have an exce...

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable