My blogging friend Raphael Alexander, proprietor of the delightful Unambiguously Ambidextrous, has expressed the precise position I myself hold, and I’d like to start today by tipping my hat to him for it.
What position is that, you ask? Simply put, “this blog is politically ambiguous, but I consider myself a Conservative”. Actually, I don’t consider myself a Conservative; I consider myself a Tory, that indigenous, centrist, unreconstructed Canadian conservativism and not the neoliberal variety on offer from our current Conservative Party of Canada. On the other hand, far too often (and this is one of those times) one does not get to choose affirmatively; one must pick the least worst apple from a barrel of near-rotting fruit. It is in that sense that I would say “I am a Conservative”, not with enthusiasm (nor, after two years in Government, even hope and expectation) but simply because to choose the Greens, the New Democrats or the Liberals is to choose a worse alternative. Still, a national report card that has, as its leading grade, a D (and no shortage of students with Fs), is hardly a ringing endorsement, eh?
But why make the distinction between being a Tory and being a Conservative when there is no Tory party at all? To this, I say, first, a political philosophy is quite distinct from a political party; indeed, a philosophy may not (perhaps, in some cases, need not) have a party to institutionalise it. In many ways true Toryism and the sheer size of the Dominion are at odds: it is, in the form of practical politics, something far better suited to smaller scales. City-states, perhaps, or city-centred regions. Maritime provinces. Something you can consider walking through regularly, in other words, a place built to a human scale. As Joel Garreau noted in his The Nine Nations of North America, the differing geographic regions of this vast continent yield different ways of seeing the world: the brokerage involved in reconciling the resource-centred empty spaces with the industrial heartlands, the ecotopian rainforest and the rest act as a tension should there be a national Tory party. What it is to be a steward for the future in the empty quarters is vastly different to what it is in the breadbasket of the nation, to what it is in a francophone region where culture and language loom large, etc. It’s not that it shouldn’t be tried; it will just be rent by factions, inter-necine warfare and be in constant need of reform to bring it back to the tradition. Hypocrisy will need rooting out more frequently than in other parties. (Oh, wait, we did try this, didn’t we?)
So I lend support to the Harper Government, but expect to be thoroughly disappointed by it. I do so because out of all the parties currently on offer it, at least, ought to have some threads of fiscal rectitude, sunsetting of old programmes, devolution to the regions and provinces of that which does not belong in the centre (the principle of subsidiarity), a respect for the individual and a disdain for the group … well, I hope you get the idea. As I said, thoroughly disappointed for the most part.
But where else would I go with my vote, my financial support, my words and such limited influence as I might bring to public affairs in conversation and via blogging, other than home in silence to abandon the system? The Liberals stand for nothing other than redistribution, buying one group off against another, an endless game of tweak and squeak, supplicant and reward, courtiership in the finest traditions of pre-revolutionary France. The New Democrats have principles (although many of them are not mine) but are also frankly too opportunistic. The Bloc is irrelevant to a BCer. As for the Greens, they remain the logical alternative — but not with the current platform and current leadership. (The natural alternative to being “Blue” is to be “Green” — both ought to be in the inter-generational stewardship ranks — not “Red” (where past and future are abandoned for the moment only), and I say that as an old Red Tory from Ontario.)
If you’ve come here to find an ardent party supporter, in other words, look elsewhere. I am no Blogging Tory. But neither am I affiliated elsewhere. Here you get what you see, unlabelled. If I engage you, and perhaps give you something to think about, I am more than satisfied (since the writing itself satisfies me).
I was asked recently why I am not in politics. The simple fact is that I don’t fit well into parties. I am unlikely to subordinate my voice to the party’s; I would shrug off the whip on votes I disagreed with. As with Burke (in his Letter to the Electors of Bristol) I would be there to consider each issue on its merits, to apply my moral reasoning to it, and to vote my conscience regardless of the outcome. In other words, a natural Independent, who might often find himself voting with one stream of politics more than another, but not joining the caucus.
“But how could you get anything done like that?” Well, small bodies of electors — we call them municipal (or territorial) councils/assemblies — do manage to work in precisely this fashion. Indeed, municipal councils fail abysmally when party takes over — witness the ineptitude of the Vancouver City Council, where practically every vote has been on strict party lines rather than on what was good or bad for the city. This is why I suggested Toryism fit the small and not the large. It’s not that our Federal Parliament couldn’t be filled with 308 Independents, and a Government formed from that, subject to confidence just as today. It would just be hard to get the screaming egos to stop and consider who might actually have what it takes to lead — not to be elected leader, not to drag a majority of seats in his or her wake, but to, once governing is required rather than campaigning, step up to the task and persuade others to follow.
Wouldn’t a leader who convinced others to follow rather than forced them with a three-line whip on every issue be a leader in a way none of our party leaders is today?
In any event, Raphael’s blog title expresses the “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach to ambiguously sorting out whose lead to take, issue by issue. Hewing to a philosophy rather than a party requires that kind of ambidexterity: it is the philosophy that is unambiguous. I am envious of the title — and very glad he writes, even when I disagree with him. He practises what I do: clarity in the core, evaluate each issue on its merits, most of the time (we’re all human, after all, and only liberals believe in man’s perfectibility).