Deeper into crisis

The contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party has entered its final phase, with the result due to be declared on September 12.

The two weeks of ?truce? declared by both candidates soon gave way to a week of bitter wrangling between senior Tories, which was followed by further embarrassment centring on the expulsion of Edgar Griffin - father of British National Party chairman Nick Griffin. Iain Duncan Smith?s reaction, along with that of the bourgeois press, has exposed the depth of the current crisis for the Conservative Party and also given an insight into the present-day limits of bourgeois multiculturalism.

A Daily Mirror sting exposed Griffin?s political connections to the BNP. Griffin, formally vice-chair of Welshpool Conservative Association and a supporter of the Duncan Smith campaign, was caught answering the BNP helpline on behalf of his wife who is an active BNPer - ironically she stood against Duncan Smith in the general election. After his expulsion from the Conservative Party Griffin senior insisted that his opinions - specifically his support for ?assisted, voluntary repatriation? - were ?ordinary Tory views?. He also insisted that the Tories and the BNP were ?almost the same in terms of long-term plans. In terms of manifestos, you can hardly tell the difference? (The Guardian August 25).

Leaving aside the BNP?s origins in overt Nazism, this is to overlook completely the appeal of the BNP to demoralised and disorientated workers and other rotting elements. More to the point, the Tory rank and file - average age: 65 - are deeply mired in imperial attitudes circa 1950. The Tory establishment has had to come to terms with the end of empire and the changes wrought by migration from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent. Even Norman Tebbit?s idiotic ?cricket test? is premised on an assimilation from above. 

Perhaps remembering the damage inflicted on William Hague by his indecisiveness over the John Townend affair, Duncan Smith acted swiftly to remove Griffin from his campaign. Signalling that he would be ?firmer?, he stated: ?Under my leadership any Conservative Party member with links to the BNP will be out on his ear? (The Times August 27). None of Hague?s vacillation here. As if to hammer home the message, Griffin?s expulsion was followed by the removal of Andrew Hunter, Tory MP for Basingstoke and deputy chairman of the rightwing Monday Club, from the list of Duncan Smith supporters. Other rightwing MPs followed, including Bill Cash, Angela Watkinson, John Wayes and Richard Shepherd. All appear to have been dropped from IDS publicity material. 

Duncan Smith is determined publicly to distance himself from the extreme right. Reflecting the extent of the bourgeois anti-racist consensus, this former advocate of voluntary repatriation wrote: ?I am unwaveringly opposed to the evil of racism? (The Times August 27). The BNP used this as an opportunity to denounce the Tories for ?selling out? to ?the anti-free speech forces of political correctness that at many times it has claimed to loath? (BNP website - www.bnp.org.uk).

In the attempt to court fringe voters the BNP has been busily reinventing its public image. Under Nick Griffin out has gone street fighting, bovver boots and loudmouthed Hitlerism. In has come white working class rights, separate development and even acceptance of difference.

However, Duncan Smith has given a clear indication of how he intends to position a Tory Party under his leadership. In short he will operate within the anti-racist consensus but against Blairite multiculturalism.

On the August 28 edition of Radio Four?s Today Duncan Smith pointedly refused to endorse the term ?multiculturalism?, preferring the term ?multi-ethnic?. He was ?in favour of people from different backgrounds, different races, different creeds being able to keep some of their identity, to share and pool their identities, to help create a sense of nationhood rather than go on very ill-defined terms? (my emphasis). For Duncan Smith - an ex-soldier who declared his unashamed pride in ?having served under my country?s flag? - the stress will be on the pooling of identities rather than the ?celebration of difference? emphasised by most liberal ideologues (The Times August 27).  British chauvinism will be brought to the fore.

Kenneth Clarke has, of course, used the Griffin affair to portray Duncan Smith as a rightwing lunatic. Though opinion polls of Tory members have consistently shown Clarke falling behind his rival, the Tory left has claimed that many are naturally biased towards Duncan Smith - for example, those commissioned by the Daily Telegraph. This may be true, but Duncan Smith?s lead is so extensive and the rank and file so much closer to him on most issues that a Clarke victory seems highly unlikely.

Clarke is hoping that those who have yet to vote will pull back from supporting Duncan Smith through fear of more years in the political wilderness. He has to some degree occupied Michael Portillo?s ground in warning against the danger of a drift to the right, away from the ?centre ground? - which unsurprisingly Clarke thinks his opinions cover. In his manifesto Towards a Conservative revival he argues for a ?break with the image of extremism which is threatening our party? (p2).

Were Clarke to win on September 12, he would hope to be able to rely on the Portillistas to marginalise a Tory right that would surely be in open revolt against his leadership - though of course on the key question of Europe many of Portillo?s backers are directly aligned with the IDS  right. Significantly, however, this grouping has yet to endorse either candidate, though The Economist notes that they ?have no respect for [Duncan Smith?s] authoritarian views and his reluctance to move the party to the centre? (August 25). Clarke plays upon fears of a Duncan Smith leadership - fears like those of Francis Maude, who warned that the Tories could become the third party of British politics - but there remains Clarke?s views on the euro and the European Union.

There is no disguising the fundamental divide on Europe. For all Clarke?s talk of ?agreeing to disagree?, there is no way that a truce can be called. Here we have a pivotal question for British capital. The conflict - between two contending strategic visions - will not go away.

The depth of the split within Conservatism has been well illustrated by the Tory press. Most are giving editorial support to Duncan Smith with a rump supporting Clarke.

For the Daily Mail - a Eurosceptic paper which seems to have bought Clarke?s wilderness line - the Tory Party ?is so obsessed with Europe that if it chooses the wrong leader again then it risks the very real possibility of political extinction? (August 22); whereas for The Sunday Times - backing Duncan Smith - a Clarke victory would represent a ?counterrevolution on the centre-right of British politics? (August 19). While many Clarke voters will be those who believe only he can lead them to victory in the next election, irrespective of their own views on the EU, surely the little Britain instinctive chauvinism of the average Tory will lead them into the Duncan Smith camp.

Although Duncan Smith clearly intends, as can be seen with his stance on multiculturalism, to carve out a distinctive ideological niche for the Tory Party in opposition to the dominant Blairite view, it is Europe that will continue to act as the ?clear blue water?. This undoubtedly sets him and Clarke on a split trajectory.

Duncan Smith would certainly concur with The Daily Telegraph, which recently argued that, ?For too long the Tory left has allowed the government to determine the legitimate parameters of debate? (August 27). Though Europe is a significant element of this, the Telegraph has in mind issues like Northern Ireland, the countryside, multiculturalism and reform of the public sector. It correctly argues that on major issues the Tory left is ideologically all but indistinguishable from Blair?s Labour.

Blair?s rearticulation of the Labour Party has left the Tories little room for manoeuvre. At the same time the Tories have shifted still further to the right. Iain Duncan Smith?s programme continues that process - possibly the Tories will mutate towards rejecting Europe outright and succumbing to extra-parliamentary temptations.

The outcome of this contest is far from insignificant, as the left appears to imagine. Socialist Worker has been inclined to dismiss the ?weary saga of the Tory leadership contest? as a symptom of the August silly season, ?with tittle-tattle taking up an even greater share of the coverage? (August 22). This is short-sighted. Communists and revolutionary socialists must firmly grasp the politics of all classes.

No trade union or leftwing demonstration under the Blair government has yet managed to match that of the Countryside Alliance in terms of the numbers it mobilised. The only opposition seriously to have rocked the Labour government in its first term came from the - petty bourgeois - petrol protesters. The Tories under Duncan Smith would surely seek to tap into and perhaps even initiate such movements.

Darrell Goodliffe