The shock of the new
I’ve long been troubled about how to label the Anglo-American neo-liberal right, because, although they are much further to the right than the now defeated and deflated European social-democrats are to the left, I think it unfair to call them far-right, a phrase first used to describe mid 20th-century fascists.
The Thatcherites, Reaganites, Tea Partiers and Cameroninas are not fascists, which would imply some sort of racist, backward-looking, misty-eyed attempt to restore an invented past. They are up-to-the-minute, extravagantly-funded backers of the moneyed classes and, although they’re happy to join in Ukip/anti-immigration chatter, they are also horrified at the idea of stopping the free movement of cheap labour, which would annoy some of their best friends, including the National Farmers Union and most of big business.
I thought about this at a book launch for Ray Brown’s novel centred on the miners’ strike, In All Beginings. This was attended, shortly after the general election, by a predictable bunch of lefties, including myself, who had failed to be cowed by yet another victory for the right, probably because if you could have been cowed by yet another victory for the right, you would have given up on politics long ago.
Anyway, during the discussion, I heard a phrase which described the Anglo-American political dispensation from the 1980s onwards as the era of the New Right, which immediately made so much sense that I wondered why I hadn’t heard it before.
It started with Ronald Reagan, a political genius constantly underestimated by the lazy left, the Ivy League intellectuals who thought a mere actor couldn’t be up to the job; followed by Margaret Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter patronised on all sides, despite being cleverer than the lot of them.
But during 1980s and 90s, I never came across the phrase ‘New Right’, possibly because the lefties didn’t think that their opponents were as intellectual as they were and didn’t deserve to be named as a movement .
The left didn’t fully recognise that, despite their ordinary-guy demeanours, the right were deeply ideological; that George W Bush and Dick Cheney, and their allies, including Tony Blair, were trying to rearrange the world according to an intellectual vision of how things should be and that the practicalities, which keep people alive, mattered less than the Big Picture. This is why Iraq and Syria are littered with corpses.