Phillip Blond: You Ask The Questions

The Director of ResPublica and author of Red Tory, answers your questions, such as Are you just a Marxist in denial? And do you want to be an MP?

Monday 05 April 2010 00:00 BST

Should we introduce a market in the provision of public services, such as a pupil premium in schools? Tim Hogarty, Matlock

I support the introduction of the pupil premium and I support the idea of markets in public services, but the market can be an excuse for a private sector monopoly simply replacing state monopoly. We need a market model that generates a market about markets. We should be open to a wide diversity of business models in any truly free market – so we must allow for, yes, profit-making ventures, but also for co-ops, single traders, employee buy-outs, social enterprises and new models of mutualist and stakeholder businesses.

It's very obvious that your critique of capitalism is essentially that it leads to alienation and monopolies. That is, you are a Marxist in denial. Don't be ashamed, Phil. Steven O'Hara, Liverpool

One doesn't need to be a Marxist to believe in meaningful work and hate monopolies. No, I am not a Marxist in denial. For me Marxism in its statist form (which I despise) is an outgrowth of Rousseau's liberal individualism (which I hate) – or to put it another way, a society founded on extreme individualism will have to have an authoritarian and totalitarian account of society because it has to suppress difference and plurality in order to make the individual will coincide with the general will.

Marxism dispossesses everybody in the name of the collective, whilst monopoly capitalism dispossesses in the name of the individual capitalist – both are wrong and both are species of the same failed settlement.

What's the difference between a Red Tory and a Blue Labourite? Samantha Norton, Norwich

For me a Blue Labour position is economically not nearly radical enough. All it proposes is some sort of democratic settlement between the interests of labour and that of capital. Blue Labour is still trapped by the workers' democracy ideology of the European left, but that is now outmoded and indeed has never worked in a British context. Whereas a Red Tory would want to genuinely dissolve the opposition between capital and labour by giving workers capital and educational capacity to encourage a genuine widening of ownership and business entrepreneurship.

In addition, I don't think Blue Labour has the resources to tackle the radical individualism and social libertarianism that is now an article of faith for the Left – the Left secretly hates society and it cannot, I think, ever create the type of social conservation that for Red Tories is absolutely foundational for the restoration of society and civil culture.

Isn't the biggest cause of atomisation in the working-class mass immigration? Surdeep Chawla, Dudley

It is certainly one of the most consequent factors – though by no means the only one. The indigenous working class are cut off from social mobility by the high level of middle-class and skilled Europeans competing with them for jobs that would normally be a passport to working class stability and training. They are further undermined even in low-paying, no-future jobs by either unskilled immigrants working harder for less money or by European students who even take the waiting on tables or shop work off them. So it is an undeniable issue and one we need to address.

There were two features to the working class identified by Friedrich Engels: physical labour, and class solidarity. If both those are dead, is "working class" a redundant term? Justine Fortier, Oxford

In these terms, yes, I think working class is a redundant term – also because there is no longer, to any great degree, that model of business that relied on a mass centralised workforce, which used to be the site for the formation of working-class solidarity. But we remain a radically unequal society and the costs of being poor are in a number of ways even higher than before. At least in the past there were social networks and forms of society that meant being poor didn't necessarily mean being forsaken. Now being poor means radical atomisation, loneliness and often complete social isolation – since so much wealth and opportunity is tied up with networks and other people this only compounds the problem. In that sense the politics of the excluded is still with us.

Isn't the problem with liberalism not that it's failed, but that it's never been tried? Robin Catford, Winchester

Liberalism in a perverse form is the dominant orthodoxy of our age – on the Left it creates social libertarians who only believe in choice and individual volition. On the Right it creates a reductive and self-serving economics – both Left and Right liberalism only really advance the interests of the already wealthy or the advantageously well-positioned.

Modern liberalism has mutated into a vehicle for vested interests, inequality and social exclusion. It has not produced a free society; rather, it has fostered a bureaucratic state and a monopolised market. The reason it has failed is real liberalism needs prior agreement on social norms and economic outcomes if genuine liberty is to be achieved. Or, to put it more abstractly, liberalism cannot be a first philosophy; it is a secondary or tertiary good that depends on deciding first of all what the good is and how we might realise it.

All the politics you claim to espouse are manifested in community organising, which is already championed by groups like London Citizens. Why don't you just work for them? Ramesh Patel, Bath, Spa

Well, like David Cameron in his Hugo Young speech – and the outline of the "big society" – I support most forms of bottom-up autonomous organisation, but not any one particular model. We have to wait and see what type of social ecology emerges, and that will be a varied one, so it would be foolish and undemocratic for me to say in advance this or that organisation has all my support.

The insight of conservatism is that humans are frail and true knowledge is unstable. That is a prescription for non-government, but I can't see a single mention of it in your book. Katherine Mayhew, Taunton

That's not quite true: the opening paragraphs of the chapter on the illiberal legacy of liberalism argues it is impossible to know anything in its entirety, so that absolutism or any sort of political or religious fundamentalism is impossible. This means that human knowledge is partial and indeed frail – hence my call for a new model of democratic discernment and search for a common good.

Do you feel that you've been a victim of a smear campaign from snobbish Tory intellectuals? Lorna Radcliffe, Llanelli

Anyone who is really challenging current convention will get smeared, so you just accept it. That said, genuine debate and critique is to be acknowledged and welcomed. I don't feel particularly isolated.

From real Tory intellectuals I get both support and recognition, which is lovely. Indeed, most of the intellectual critique of my work on the Right has come from second-rate libertarian and neo-liberal ideologues rather than true conservatives or indeed true pro-market thinkers; similarly most of the criticism on the Left has come from social libertarians, who long ago forgot about society. So when either side of the failed libertarian orthodoxy get hysterical or hostile, as they often do, I feel rather gratified.

With David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, don't your adopted comrades have a credibility problem with the urban poor?Shane Malcolms, Hyde

Yes, I think they do – but that is acknowledged – but every single policy concern or adoption always has the bottom 20 per cent in mind – indeed, I would argue that this is now one of the prime focuses of the modern Conservative party. Would I like to see them go further? Yes, of course. But the delightful thing is that I am not the only one arguing for a radical pro-poor Toryism. There are many who do so.

Obama's policies are centre-left on society and centre-right on the economy. Is that where you are? Peter Wensley, Southampton

I think Obama is far less radical than is commonly held or hoped for. He risks being entirely conventional. He is preserving the Left libertarian account of society and the Right libertarian account of the economy. There is no real fundamental shift in American society or in who benefits from its economy.

For example, while healthcare is an achievement, it still preserves the vested interests of the insurance industry, and health will therefore continue to be highly inefficient, soon consuming some 20 per cent of their GDP. This is not where I am.

I believe in a real recovery of society and locality – that does require, for instance, the restoration and recognition of the family, but that is because the family is a feminist and pro-poor institution. It does require a truly free market where ordinary people and small and medium-sized businesses can enter the market place to trade, grow and prosper rather than the rigged and monopolised variant of the "free market" we have now.

Do you want to be an MP eventually? It will probably get frustrating being a think-tanker for ever. Toyen Igtubu, London

Think-tanks are one path into politics and a political career is certainly something to consider in the future. Right now, though, I would just like to spend the next few years helping to craft a new political and economic settlement and I see ResPublica as a collaborative enterprise building and creating the policy architecture of the future.

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