Saturday, 4 January 2014

Is Conservatism rural in its nature?

Chatting to TokFM's Adam Ozga about the UK political scene, I pointed out that the political map of England was essentially a sea of blue (mainly rural constituencies represented by Conservative MPs) dotted with red islands - (mainly urban constituencies represented by Labour MPs). He pointed to a similar picture in Polish politics - in the second round of the 2011 presidential election , 63% the urban population voted for Bronisław Komorowski, while 58% of the rural population voted for Jarosław Kaczyński.

I have written before about the differences between Polish and British conservatism (here and here), but one thing intrigued us - the tendency for rural voters to be more conservative - while urban voters tend to be more progressive in their views. Is this really the case? Let's step back into history...

Franco's Spain and Salazar's Portugal never experienced fascist regimes. Franco and Salazar were deeply conservative, traditionalists, religious nationalists. Fascism was a 20th Century concept, born in Italy of Futurism. I would posit that the main reason that true fascism never took hold in Iberia was that it lacked the urban, industrialised base necessary to mould the masses into a movement that - in the pre-war Italy and Germany was heavily influenced by an aesthetic that glorified industrialised progress. Communism did this too - and Spain's industrial cities were the last bastions of the leftist Spanish Republic before they fell to Franco's troops.

While cities yield to progress, to new ideas good and bad, the countryside views them with suspicion, clinging on to old certainties. The core of the word 'Conservatism' is the verb 'to conserve'. The question is - what should one conserve? What's worth conserving? (or preserving?) Rural England is like a repository of national values; well-kept villages, courtesy, community. In a way, rural England is a civilisational advance over urban England. The opposite is true in Poland. The driving forces behind Poland's resurgence after more than a century of partition were urban intellectuals, the AK (Home Army) was a largely urban-based movement (Wołyń being a notable exception).

As I've written before, the English countryside is what one aspires to; you make your career in the city then move to an agreeable village away far from the madding crowd. In Poland, the countryside is where young people want to escape from - to move to the cities where there are job prospects and excitement.

In can see a certain equilibrium descending across Europe in the future; the countryside is where children are raised, to increasingly prosperous parents; they are schooled locally but move to the cities to study and to make their careers - once they are wealthy enough, they'll move back to the countryside to raise a family. And so on. Entrenching the rural = conservative, urban = progressive split. And my guess is that redistribution of wealth, that old Anglo-Saxon definer of left vs. right will find a balance, driven by pragmatic economically argued factors rather than by ideology.

What will be left to swing elections will be social liberalism vs. social conservatism. And the bastion of the former will be the cities, the bastion of the latter, the villages. Mankind is increasingly concentrating in cities. Hence, with a note of sadness, I foresee a long-term diminishing role for conservatism in the UK. And in America, where as MSNBC's Adam Serwer points out, the conservatives have lost two elections to a guy who wears mom jeans. Sadness because I see an ebbing away of the spirit of self-reliance.

However Polish conservatism is not about the virtues of self-reliance or about conserving the legacy of many generations' hard work. It is defined by an introverted sense of belonging and tradition that blocks any dialogue concerning social progress. A healthy process of modernisation will weaken Polish neo-Francoism. Perhaps - I hope - it will evolve into something more Cameronian. In the meanwhile, a new generation of urban-dwelling nation-builders is slowly but inexorably, on many fronts, making Poland a better place to live.

This time last year:
Poland's roads get slightly less deadly

This time two years ago:
It's expensive being rich in Warsaw

This time four years:
Winter commuting in colour and black & white

This time five years ago:
Zamienie in winter

This time six years ago:
Really cold (-12C at night)

1 comment:

White Horse Pilgrim said...

It was in organisations employing large numbers of workers - generally urban operations in order to obtain those workers in an era before public transport - where early trades unions recruited. A legacy of this is a tendency towards a collective viewpoint, expressed by a higher Labour vote. Even nowadays a less affluent urban population has a lot to gain from state provision of healthcare, education, transport and other services. Obviously there is a question about how those services are provided, and all too often ideology trumps fact or practicality.

I wonder whether 'Conservatism' is on the wane in Britain? What, precisely, is to be conserved? The countryside? Our Conservative government is bending over backwards to allow housing and windfarms to ruin historic views. Privilege? Well, that certainly is being preserved. And it's a clever technique to make the middle strata think that they too benefit from 'privilege' - which, of course, is threatened by the government's bogeyman of the day. My view is that both the Conservative and Labour parties have become populist. As you will have noticed, over the past few weeks Polish workers in Britain have metamorphosed from 'hard-working' (an over-used sound-bite word in Britain) to a 'drain on state finances' without a shred of evidence. That is so very 'Cameronian' - take care before wishing his ethos upon Poland.