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The 2015 General Election: English Communitarianism at work

I have finally reached an understanding about the election result. England is not socialist, obviously. So what is it? England is essentially communitarian. Despite how the word sounds, there is a fierce difference between socialism and communitarianism. The values of communitarianism, and the values of England, which are both far older than either socialism or the industrial revolution, are roughly to do with conformism and shared identity. You are who you are because of your standing and relationships within an acknowledged group. In today’s Britain the community is largely imaginary, but the principles and dynamics of communitarianism still stand. Everyone must know their place. Everyone must pull their weight. Everyone must take their due, and no more: communitarianism holds there is a common treasury, a ‘pot’ to which all members are entitled a share (which is reflective of communitarianism’s agrarian origins). Some people get a bigger share than others, of course, but that’s because they are perceived to hold important roles in the (mutually imagined) community.

I am now convinced, on reflection and further reading, that the election result principally reflected the communitarian notion that certain people had been taking more than they were due, and the majority voted to stop it. It is the first election in my lifetime to have been influenced by such an ethos, but I am convinced that this is what swung it. Benefit scroungers; immigrants; whining lefties; champagne socialists; the professional political class (being predominantly upper class affords the Tories the illusion that they are uninfluenced by the material gain inherent in folding power); the nagging, nanny state non-job holders of New Labour; the whole gamut of types and stereotypes which dot our social landscape, this is what England gave the heave-ho on the 7th of May. This is what accounts for the majority Tory government, and UKIP’s 3.8 million too.

This analysis explains why the Lib Dems lost ground to the Tories: because they revealed themselves to be pointless parasites. The Tories, on the other hand, offer a kind of patriotic nobless oblige which the communitarian has Brit has always respected.  It was probably little different in Anglo-Saxon times. Everyone from Labour leftwards would only have continued to hand out more money to the people and phantoms listed above, who are perceived as taking more than their due.

Yes, the economy is struggling. But England did not want to go after the bankers, the rich, or the powerful. They have always been there, in their towers and castles and mansions. Every community, real or imagined, has always had its inequalities. Instead, England went after a demographic which was comparatively new: that element of society which Atlee and Bevan’s 1945 welfare state was created to protect. England went after the people it thought weren’t pulling their weight. Read the language used in the comments sections of the major news websites, it’s saturated with this sort of language.

When the right-wing Englander talks about the economy and the budget and “living within our means”, he is complaining about people who he thinks are working less (or less usefully) than him, but somehow get to be happier. He has no bugbear with the City. They work long hours in the City, after all. It’s hard to get a job there. It’s socially elite.

Communitarian England rejects the food bank, for example, as a fraud perpetrated against the gullible by the greedy and the lazy. It does not occur to the English communitarian that the rich can be greedy and lazy too. Rich people wear suits fifty or sixty hours a week. They get up early in the morning and strut around the place talking knowledgeably about business and capital and the future. They are the ones who pay you, and you need their pay. It doesn’t matter that they risk nothing and contribute less. Those issues are impossible to discuss or accept, because simply asking such questions requires perspective that you cannot obtain from within the community – and the one thing the communitarian can never question is the community itself.

Which is why anybody who has read Marx will never be at home in England.


FOOTNOTE: The observation that England is communitarian was first made, to my knowledge, by the popular philosopher Julian Baggini in his book Welcome To Everytown: A Journey Into The English Mind (Granta, 2007). The book rests on an interesting concept: Baggini worked out, statistically, which was the most average part of England, and then went and lived there for a year. And thus Baggini, an upper-middle-class sort from Clifton in Bristol, ended up in Rotherham. This was before we all found out about the Rotherham grooming scandal, and actually I cannot remember if the book addresses immigration and ethnicity at all. Suffice to say, if Rotherham is indeed England’s Everytown, it’s not surprising that the English are deeply concerned about immigration – or more precisely, integration. Integration is a vital part of communitarianism, after all.

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