Tony Blair has stolen the running on his own government’s energy
review with his announcement, in a speech to a British business group,
that he would be pushing for a new generation of nuclear power
stations, intended to come on stream by 2017. It looks like one policy
push amongst many, but in fact it’s hugely significant – a pivot point
for massive changes in British politics.

The secret is in the timing – Blair’s announcement came just a short
time after Tory leader David Cameron’s unveiling of his new dream team
of candidates, including Zac Goldmsith, editor of The Ecologist, and
one of the highest profile greens (small g) in Britain.

Cameron has constructed a blue-green alliance by tapping into some
older forms of conservatism, which had a remnant presence in the Tory
party until it was taken over by Hayekian liberals in the 1970s.

Chief amongst these is the founding belief that, in the last analysis,
humanity is subject to nature and not vice-versa. This is expressed in
the conservative notion of “prudentia”, which is something more than
just being careful – it means maintaining an awareness that being
(nature, tradition, order etc) extends far beyond what we can know or
control.

As has been noted, most recently by David McKnight, such ideas connect
well with Green notions – couched in terms taken from Left traditions
– that we live within a dynamic and whole system, which, if regarded
as nothing more than a commodity, will eventually bite back. Blair’s
public nuclear push is about aligning labour with a liberal humanist
anti-conservative tradition of optimism in human ability to bridge the
gap between being and knowing, and thus control our environment.

Such a process, if pushed further, would make the re-alignment of
British politics total. Conservatives would become the party of
regulation, and base their support within groups and industries –
farming, small business, insurance etc – which would like to see a
minimisation of risk. Labour would be identified as the party of
modernisation, drawing its support from both big business, new media
and so on – all those who want contemporary life to be a process of
ceaseless transformation.

As the Spiked.com-guru Frank Furedi notes (in The Politics of Fear)
this is becoming the primary political division of hypermodern
societies. Left and Right (in terms of private-public ownership) is a
dead letter for the moment. On social issues, each party would have a
libertarian and an authoritarian faction, with the latter dominating in
both cases.

And if that all sounds far-fetched, remember this – the Conservatives
were once an anti-capitalist, anti-industrial, and anti-imperialist
party.

Genuine conservatism effectively died in the 19th century as capitalism
took hold, and the Tories became a faction of liberalism. Of course, I
don’t trust the current Tories any further than I could spit them out
– they’re still the party of business. But they may find that the
drift of events eventually gives them no choice but to actually live up
to the new image they are so carefully cultivating.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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