Saturday, 14 May 2011

We're Not a Family: Why the Right doesn't do marches

 The 'Rally Against Debt' was a predictable disaster. Thomas Byrne, over at ByrneTofferings, provides a nice summary of why it was a disaster; I'd like to consider why that was predictable.

 I've been keen on the Right emulating the Left's tactics in the past. As somebody who wants right-wing students to engage with their representative structures, how could I not? Plus, those marches just look intoxicating if you're a sympathiser. Hundreds of thousands of people, dozens of organisations, banners, chants, music, the thrill of being part of a great, visually striking mass of people. Often in the past I wondered why the British right didn't have such great rallies, and wished they would. But we don't. Its a damn good thing, too.

 There are several reasons the modern right lacks a marching, protest culture. P.J. O'Rourke quipped that it was because right-wingers have jobs, and the Economist's Bagehot has taken similar vein in the past. There's truth in that - the 'disaffected', the jobless, and students just tend to have more time on their hands. However, I realised the real reason a couple of years ago, when I did two things. First, I read Nick Cohen's excellent What's Left?, in part of which he complaints bitterly about how the supposed 'family of the left' means that moderate lefties show an unhealthy tolerance to the extremes of their own wing. Second, I spoke to a few lefties and looked at the sort of groups who go on marches.

 The main reason left-wing marches can get such a body count to a major event is that, in the spirit of 'solidarity', many, many groups from across the red-tinted end of the spectrum will show. An anti-cuts rally will attract anti-fascists, greens, communists, socialists, feminists and all manner of other fringe groups, which which gets mixed in with an enthused mass of students and the ranks of union members bearing their professionally printed placards. It is this ideological flexibility and sense of common cause that allows so many people to operate in a vaguely coherent fashion as one protest. 

 It also helps to gloss over the fact that some of the fringe groups present are genuinely disgusting, including defenders of the likes of Mao, Stalin and Hoxha, who were present at the anti-debt march that Ed Miliband so grandiosely addressed. To paint you a right-wing comparison, its like David Cameron addressing a rally attended by Combat 18. In fact, a fuller right-wing comparison makes clear just how ridiculous the idea of the right having a mass rally of the sort the left occasionally throw actually is:

 We'd have a march put on by the CBI and the Countryside Alliance. The TaxPayers Alliance, the LPUK and the Freedom Association would be in attendance, as would the English Defence League and tons of Conservative Party members. Conservative Future branches from all over the country would attend in strength, making up most of the numbers. On top of that we'd have ultra-royalists, neo-nazis, and fundamentalist clerics. The N9S would probably be running a street stall somewhere. To give us that international flavour, we can throw in the likes of the CDU, the Fronte Nationale, the Kuomintang, Danish Freedom Party, Republicans from the USA and all manner of weird and exotic fringe organisations from across the world. Shah supporters? Ultramontanes? The AWB? Why not, all are welcome to show 'solidarity' with us about whatever we're marching about.

 The example above highlights the main two reasons, in my view, that the right don't do mass protests the way the left does. The first, big one is that 'right' is not in any way ideologically cohesive - it is essentially defined as 'not left'. This gives us few common causes to rally around. My brand of right-wing politics is probably completely different to most other righties I meet and I'm sure its true for plenty of others too. While politics might be just as personal on the left (for all I know) they have the myth of the common cause to bind several hundred thousand bored people together in a park for an afternoon. When the right tries it, you get a few hundred bedraggled-looking libertarians and some bad press.

 This leads to the second reason: we can't turn a blind eye to the horrific nature of the people's we'd be sharing a march with. Unlike the various impenetrable communist parties, right-wing groups tend to be at least identifiably distinct and - because fascism bombed us and communism bombed other people - elicits greater revulsion from the ordinary person. While that revulsion is utterly merited, the lop-sided nature of it means that the left can tuck all kinds of strange things on the edge of its marches that moderate right wingers could not get away with and would not wish to try.

 That covered, my final thought is utter bafflement that sensible right-wingers would want to try to emulate the left's marching culture. I was tempted by it once, but having seen the last few such events I don't see how it would be an asset for us. Marching around, shouting, breaking the odd thing, inconveniencing people and occupying shops, all the while scaring centrist voters away in the process? What does it accomplish?

We have little to win and much to lose if we try to outdo the left at one of their most pointless strengths. If we aim to spend years the corridors of power, we don't need to begrudge them a few hours on the streets.

P.S. That said, the cockles of my heart could not help but warm to Brian Micklethwait's photographic collection of hand-made right-wing protest signs. Refreshing to see.


  1. Wow. You actually *admitted* that you wanted to keep your stupid demo free of The Great Unwashed.

    That is why bourgeois parties are a fucking waste of time.

    The other reason is that libertarians are just a bunch of useless amateurs who can just about organise a piss-up in a brewery, but not much else.

    Thank you for confirming that I did exactly the right thing by joining the BNP.

    If and when I organise a demo, *everybody* will be there.

  2. It wasnt a success because the Guardian didnt do a live blog

  3. An interesting assessment, which in many ways holds true- however, I would argue that the right-wing is more politically united than the left-wing. Left-wingers are willing to go on a march with anyone of a vaguely similar tint (to my annoyance, as you know), but will refuse to be in the same organisation.

    Right-wingers, on the other hand, are generally content with being in the Conservative Party. There are people not far shy of Nick Griffin in the Conservative Party, but there are also people like Zac Goldsmith- it's a very broad tent, rather like a lefty protest!

    Moderate lefties march alongside nutters, but they don't tend to attract their votes.

  4. @Clare: I don't think I did any such thing, so I'd be grateful if you could clarify what you mean.

    @Daniel: I disagree with your estimation of *quite* how broad the Conservative Party is. Whilst it is indeed a very broad church, it doesn't tend to have many out-and-out left-wingers like Mr Griffin in it. We do have a substantial anti-immigration lobby, but that isn't really BNP equivalence.

  5. What is 'success'. Made the point, made the most watched news programme of the week, had a party. Trebles all round.

  6. Well, it hasn't actually persuaded anybody to cut any faster, and it has mainly made press by having its 'few hundred' people compared to the hundreds of thousands who march against cuts. Nothing wrong with having a party, but no need to theme it like a protest.