Social Justice Tory


I’m allergic to a variety of things: tea tree oil (stop putting it everywhere already!), latex, slow-walking tourists, Italians (especially those related to me) and the age-old prejudice against the Conservative Party, although in its most benign form I can tolerate it, if sporadically.
This benign form is something along the lines of “since you’re so into social justice why aren’t you in the Labour party?”, and it’s usually out of genuine curiosity. We don’t normally associate the Tories (or soft-Whigs that didn’t join the Liberals if we want to be more historically accurate) and social justice, while the Labour party has built their whole ideology around it.

There is, however, a reason that isn’t about the identity politics that is played against people like Dr Tristram Hunt MP, who seems to always have to apologise for who he is. It’s about how we fundamentally look at the world in a different way. It isn’t a matter of right or wrong, as I’m obviously prey to the bias that affects everyone and makes everyone think we are right and the rest of the world is wrong (except for Mother, who claims that she is in fact right and the rest of the world is wrong as a divinely revealed dogma of the Faith).
There is a whole body of research on that, but let me start from a practical example that was in the news yesterday: the leader of the Labour party and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition the Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn MP has been sitting on the floor on a train from London to Newcastle because not everyone is able to upgrade their train tickets when a train is overcrowded.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that not everyone can afford a 2nd class ticket from London to Newcastle either, and if that’s your commute you’re hardly a retail worker on minimum wage. It’s a laudable thought. He has concern for those worse off and acting like this provides an equaliser. “I’m on a huge yearly salary, have been for 33 years, but I’m just like you and I’ll endure what you have no choice but to endure”. St Francis of Assisi would be proud, I’m sure. But this epitomises the fundamental difference between the Left and the Right. Had I been in the shoes of Jeremy Corbyn, I’d have offered to pay the upgrade for the unfortunate fellow travellers (coming at a cost of between £10 and £25 per person depending on the specific route, I’ve never travelled to Newcastle) and made a fuss to the train company about the service they have been given to the hard-working people spending a large part of their salary on transport, rather than add one more person (and film crew and equipment) to make the journey more uncomfortable for everyone.

That’s because I believe in raising everybody up to a higher standard rather than achieving equality by finding a lowest common denominator. I believe in equity, not equality. I was raised being told that noblesse obliges, and that you must be generous no matter your circumstances. You never show up somewhere empty-handed, and you’d bring something better than what you’d get for yourself. If you invite someone somewhere, you pick the bill. You always do charity behind close doors, although in the age of social media doing it out in the open helps to bring awareness and bring more people, so it’s something I’ve become more relaxed about (but I’m sure it would horrify my late grandparents). I believe in civic society. I’m not envious and resentful of those better off. I don’t see the world as bellum omnius contra omnes.

If people cannot afford the upgrade to first class then, in my opinion, we need better services that mean no need for a first class upgrade to have a bearable journey, unless you really want that luxury. We don’t need people who can afford it to make the choice not to, although of course they’re free to do it. Whatever floats your boat unless you’re damaging others. But it should be your choice, and not your only option on a train that has no space for everyone who paid for it. Trains may appear like a very first world problem in the great scheme of things, but the principle is more universal.

The socialist idea of social justice revolves around equality. A conservative idea does not. It concerns itself with the pragmatic, and the fact all men are “not equal in terms of skills, intelligence, physical traits, motivation, character, etc”. They have equal value, which is evident from the fact this is an idea that comes directly from the Catholic tradition, and we have this thing about believing there is a God who made humans in His image so human life is sacred, human dignity is sacrosanct and you find our rosaries outside of abortion clinics all over the world.

The only way to achieve equality when people aren’t equal is to push for the lowest common denominator (sitting on the floor), rather than giving to each according to their need so that we can lift everybody up (which would be equity). There is a famous image on the internet illustrating this, and the author originally created it to represent the conservative view (equality) and liberal view (equity), which puzzles me because we definitely believe in meritocracy and can be quite elitist while at that, so the idea that we’d concern ourselves with giving everyone the same seems a bit far off. Especially as it implies that the state gives to people who don’t need it and that’s too big a state for people who are accused across the board of not giving enough to those who do need it.

Some might say I’m misunderstanding what the Labour party actually stands for, although this instance isn’t the only occasion that gave me the impression we just aren’t meant to be. I’ve studied political philosophy at university level. I’ve dug in the archives of the Fabian society for the years of the late British Empire. Whenever I read the Left’s thinking there is a clear sense that going upwards is seen with shame, as selling out.

A few people in the Labour Party are open and willing to have a conversation about working together towards a common goal, which is a better world for everyone despite the disagreements on how we go about that, and some would recognise themselves when I say that there are even fans of Disraeli among their ranks, but my general experience of the Left over the years, in Britain and elsewhere, has always been that of a black sheep in the bunch. There’s something “wrong” with me, I shouldn’t really be there. And that’s because we, effectively, experience a completely different world. Or so research says.

P.S. If you are interested in pushing the agenda of social justice the Tory way become a member of the Tory Reform Group, the home of One Nation Conservatism in the party.

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