It has been a funny experience watching and listening to all that American politics playing itself out on our media. And the thing that makes me scratch my head most is the automatic connection made between being “right-wing” and a set of ossified social opinions. Sometimes this is called “The Christian Right” or “Social Conservatism” and always is it characterised by opponents as “bigotry” or – by the more mild-mannered – “out-of-touch”.
Now I’m right-wing. At least if you define being right-wing as wanting a small government, as believing in self-reliance, personal responsibility and looking out for the neighbours. None of this is about god, gays or the production of babies. Yet these outlooks have become cemented into place as fixtures of being “right-wing” in America.
But I’m still right-wing. Not in some cuddly, metroliberal, noblesse oblige kind of way but red in tooth and claw, in-your-face right-wing. The sort that believes in that old Reagan dictum:
"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help ...”
If we want change – and boy do we need it – then we have to dump the social conservatism, the judgemental moralising and the ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’ attitude to women. And with that baggage goes the tutting, curtain-twitching, lip-pursed, “they shouldn’t be allowed to do that” approach to the neighbours. The speed at which social attitudes to homosexuality have changed should be the starting point for our understanding of how being 'right-wing' must change.
None of this is about the 'nasty party' tag the left - and our current Home Secretary - lumbered us with. Nor is it about some process of centrist triangulation - a sort of Blue-rinsed Blairite approach. Indeed that approach and the "always tack to the centre" attitude of the terminally ambitious in both main parties has been responsible for the managerialist, Whitehall-knows-best policy platform that dominates current agendas. And created the mess we're in.
Thirty years ago I concluded that being right-wing meant being against the establishment's viewpoint and position. Even back in the early 1980s under a Conservative government, the establishment was viscerally anti-enterprise and especially disliked people who drove vans and the reps in their Ford Sierras. The "business" voice was provided by the smoothly-attired, public school leaders of the big businesses rather than by the bloke with a garage on the corner.
And even then - and this still applies - business voices played second fiddle to the sounds of people who weren't trade. You know the sorts - lawyers, doctors, the occasional bishop, folk from the BBC. To this smooth bunch were added, for entertainment I suspect, a few luvvies (only the posh ones with RP accents who went to RADA) and the occasional writer or journalist.
And, for these people, being right wing was the worst sin. I recall being introduced to a senior chap from the TUC by a good friend (who was both a priest and a Liberal) with words like this:
"Ah, this is Simon. He's the presentable sort of Tory."Now I knew what my friend meant - I wasn't about to call for the blacks to be sent home or for women to be stopped from working. The sort of positions that the sophisticated establishment folk believed (and still believe) are held by most (definitely unpresentable) Conservatives. It was OK for me to be let out in establishment circles - I wouldn't scare them.
Believing in free choice, free speech, free enterprise and free trade seems to me the only moral political position - all others involve preventing someone from doing something because you think you know better. And that free choice, free speech, free enterprise and free trade stuff - that's right-wing. That's what it's about. It's not about god. It's not about gays. And it's definitely not about babies.
And so long as a few so-called "conservatives" think its about god or gays or women having babies and doing the washing up then the establishment - the left-wing corporate state - will have us by the balls. Being right-wing is about believing in freedom. That's it really and trying to build a coalition between people who really want to be free and people who want to take away or prevent others having freedom is never going to work.