Cameron’s neo-c0n her­itage

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - DANIEL FINKEL­STEIN

ICALL it his “Heir to Irv­ing strat­egy”. Not its con­ven­tional name, I ad­mit, but I think it fits. I am not the first per­son to no­tice that David Cameron’s con­ser­vatism is not what we have been used to from the Con­ser­va­tive Party. His talk of com­mu­nity, of vol­un­tary action, of civil so­ci­ety; his at­tempts to ex­plain why he is a pro­gres­sive; his in­sis­tence that there is more to life than money; his em­pha­sis on the need to lift peo­ple out of poverty. They seem odd themes for a Tory.

Most peo­ple think they know the rea­son. Cameron is pur­su­ing what is known in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles as the “Heir to Blair” strat­egy. He is go­ing to hoover up the votes of cen­trists who flocked to Tony Blair in 1997. And this is no doubt cor­rect. Cameron is po­si­tion­ing his party.

But I think there is more to it than that. I be­lieve that the Jews and the Com­mu­nists have got to David Cameron.

In the late 1930s, a group of mainly Jewish Trot­skyites used to con­gre­gate in Al­cove One of the cafe­te­ria of New York’s City Col­lege. Not Al­cove Two, mind, be­cause the Stal­in­ists ate lunch there. And, un­likely as it might seem, out of the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween th­ese two al­coves emerged one of the most im­por­tant groups in mod­ern con­ser­vatism.

The leader of the Al­cove One Trot­skyites was Irv­ing Kris­tol. He was their or­gan­iser, their spokesman, the man who kept the net­work go­ing. By the time he died at the age of 89, a fort­night ago, he had be­come a gi­ant on the po­lit­i­cal scene.

The Al­cove One group were shaped by two things. The first was their clash with other parts of the left. First, they dis­puted with Stal­in­ists, and then with the cul­tural New Left. In the process they be­came strongly anti-Com­mu­nist and de­fend­ers of bour­geois val­ues. They also ac­quired a name. The left-wing writer Michael Har­ring­ton thought them so right-wing as not to be left­ists at all. He dubbed them neo-con­ser­va­tives.

Irv­ing Kris­tol ac­cepted the ti­tle. (It has later, oddly and in­nacu­rately be­come as­so­ci­ated solely with for­eign pol­icy hawks in the Bush regime, but it orig­i­nated with Kris­tol.)

The neo-cons were also shaped by their Jewish­ness. Like the Jews who cre­ated Hol­ly­wood, they too cre­ated a world of their own. That world re­volved around in­tel­lec­tual pub­li­ca­tions in which their es­says ap­peared.

Kris­tol founded The Pub­lic In­ter­est, and the neo-cons also dom­i­nated Com­men­tary, es­tab­lished in 1945 by the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee. (Woody Allen fa­mously joked that Dis­sent — an­other New York in­tel­lec­tual jour­nal — and Com­men­tary should merge to form Dis­sentary).

Now lis­ten to David Cameron and you can hear the neo-con in him. You can hear that the dis­course tak­ing place in left-wing New York in­tel­lec­tual cir­cles has passed into the main­stream of Con­ser­va­tive think­ing.

The stress placed by mod­ern Tories on mar­riage and the fam­ily re­peats a clas­sic neo-con theme. David Cameron be­lieves, as Irv­ing Kris­tol did, that con­sumer cap­i­tal­ism has con­tra­dic­tions. It is only pos­si­ble be­cause of the bour­geois virtues of thrift and hard work, yet it may lead peo­ple to be­come less hard work­ing, less thrifty and less vir­tu­ous. So Cameron, like the neo-cons, is in­ter­ested in en­cour­ag­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity.

While the tra­di­tional right in Amer­ica in­ves­ti­gated the idea of a min­i­mal state, neo-cons thought this wrong. They be­lieved in a wel­fare state — re­formed to en­cour­age work and self-re­liance. Many of their es­says con­cerned the vexed topic of how to en­sure so­cial jus­tice while not un­der­min­ing the en­ter­prise econ­omy. Th­ese things, too, are Cameron pre­oc­cu­pa­tions.

The al­liance that Cameron — not par­tic­u­larly an­i­mated about re­li­gion him­self — has built with faith groups to cre­ate projects that com­bat poverty here and abroad, is also a move straight out of the Kris­tol play-book.

So when you hear rhetoric and ideas from the Con­ser­va­tive leader that sounds as if it comes from the left, that is be­cause some of it did. Daniel Finkel­stein is as­so­ciate ed­i­tor of The Times

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