Delingpole on Friday: The Third Way!

The Third Way is the wrong way – and conservatives who don’t realise this are playing into the hands of the enemy

“The only thing you find in the middle of the road are white lines and squashed animals.” I can’t remember which politician said this but it must have been a long time ago. No politician – at least no ambitious, career-wise one – would say such a thing now because it has become a truism that “elections are won in the centre ground.” Therefore, if you want to get on, at no stage can you allow yourself to say anything that might be construed as “extreme” or “radical”. Rather, you need to show how consensual you are, how willing to find the sensible, moderate, compromise position…

Consider, for example, how conservatives of all hues these days are eager to self-identify as “centre-right.” Twenty years ago, the “centre” bit would have been thought unnecessary. If you were “on the right”, it could have meant any number of things from believing in free markets and low taxes to being an ardent hanger and flogger. But it certainly wasn’t yet considered such an embarrassing and terrible thing to be that you needed to water it down with a milksop prefix.

So what changed, exactly? What changed, of course, is that the liberal-left continued to win the culture wars (in particular the linguistic battle to present “right” as synonymous with “selfish”, “cruel”, “wrong”) with the result that conservatives – a certain kind of conservative, anyway – felt increasingly compelled to apologise for being themselves.

One unfortunate result of this was George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” To any conservative who has given it moment’s thought this tautology ought to be anathema. Conservatism is about allowing people to be freer and richer by keeping excessive government out of their hair and enabling them to take personal responsibility for their lives. Trying to make such a philosophy sound “nicer” by tagging on a cosy adjective plays right into the enemy’s hands, for it tacitly implies that you agree with their estimation that conservatism is not in and of itself compassionate.

Another, even sorrier, side-effect is David Cameron’s Coalition. Cameron the marketing man’s conviction that conservatism was a tainted brand which needed “detoxifying” led him to jettison so many of his party’s principles that it no longer became clear why anyone on the right should vote for him rather than Labour or the Liberal Democrats. There was, as the saying went at the time, no “clear blue water” separating the Conservatives from their former ideological rivals. The result is the current “Westminster bubble” – where it really doesn’t matter who you vote for, for you end up with just another mushy centrist variant on LibLabCon.

But what’s so wrong with mushy centrism? To listen to many political commenters – even notionally conservative-ish leaning ones like Matthew D’Ancona or Matthew Parris or Tim Montgomerie or the recently enobled Danny Finkelstein or David Frum and David L Brooks in the US – you’d imagine that it were the only way. The punters like coalitions, apparently, because they appeal to their belief in moderation and fairness and nothing too extreme. In the middle, we’re asked to believe, is where all the sensible, reasonable people like to hang, while on the outer fringes of the ideological debate you’ll find only cranks.

The flaw with this line of thinking is what I call the Dog Poo Yoghurt Fallacy. (Or, if you’re American, the Dog Poop Yogurt Fallacy). Here’s how I first explained it in a Spectator column:

  Suppose your preferred brand of fruit yoghurt manufacturer has been losing sales of late and has decided, after doing a bit of market research, that it may be necessary to alter the formula slightly. What at least some of the punters are clamouring for these days, it seems, is not chunks of fruit in their yoghurt but bits of dog poo instead.

  “But that’s revolting!” you tell the manager of your preferred yoghurt brand. “Fruit goes way better in yoghurt than dog poo does.” “Look, you know that and I know that, but trust me we’ve crunched the numbers, done the research and it’s the only way. If we don’t put some dog poo in our yoghurt, then people will say we haven’t moved with the times. We’ll be forever stuck in the boring, fuddy duddy age of strawberry, and raspberry and apricot. But under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the public have acquired a real taste for excrement. If we don’t give it to them – we’ll only need a little bit, I promise – then we’ll probably go out of business.”

  “No you won’t!” you reply. “There are loads of us who still like fruit yoghurt. And still loads more who’d buy it if you made it even fruitier. Your analysis is barmy.”

What I’m saying, in short, is that the right and proper course of action cannot always be decided simply by triangulating between two apparently equally extreme positions. Sometimes the Third Way is the wrong way.

Take HS2. You might believe, as I do – and as most cost benefit analyses show – that it is going to be an expensive disaster which will destroy swathes of England’s most beautiful countryside for no worthwhile economic or social gain. Or you might believe, as its proponents do, that it’s one of those vital, large-scale capital investment projects which are going to drag Britain’s transport system into the 21st century. Set aside the spin and the emotive language and only one of these viewpoints can objectively correct: either HS2 will or won’t be worth the money. And it’s certainly not one of those issues where you can decide to meet in the middle and split the difference. If HS2 is a good idea then it’s worth funding in full. And if it’s a bad idea, then it should be nipped in the bud now, not reinvented in half-arsed form on half the budget in the belief that something, however lame, is better than nothing.

Similar rules apply to everything from Obamacare and the US government shutdown to the debate on man-made climate change. If you believe, as I do, that US debt is already far too high, then the sensible response is to cut government spending, not to increase it by slightly less than you would otherwise were the GOP not on your case. Equally if you believe, as I do – and as all the evidence so far indicates – that CO2 is a harmless trace gas whose influence on climate is marginal, then the sensible response is abandon decarbonisation programmes altogether, not keep going with them (but in a slightly less draconian way) just to stop the dwindling band of warmist true believers from throwing their toys out of the pram.

And here’s the worse thing about the mushy centrism I so despise: far from being politically balanced it in fact favours the left not the right. The default position for a natural conservative is to want the government to do less, preferably nothing. (Hence Ronald Reagan’s famous injunction to his officials: “Don’t just do something. Stand there!”) The default position for the liberal-left is to want the government to do more, preferably much more.

Now just ask yourself, on any given policy issue in the last thirty or forty years, how often has the conservative argument – either do nothing, or actually reduce spending – prevailed? Almost never. Not even Ronald Reagan managed it.

And how often has the left-liberal argument – either spend more or a lot more – prevailed? Almost always.

This is the problem with the Third Way. Invariably, ultimately, it is the conservatives who are yielding the ground, inch by inch, to an implacable, devious enemy.

And yes, when I say enemy, I mean enemy. Those on the left are not are friends; philosophically, ideologically, morally, they represent the antithesis of all we stand for and all we believe in. So why do any of us waste time pretending otherwise?

18 comments on “Delingpole on Friday: The Third Way!

  1. dr
    October 4, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    I’m still thinking that the “real” strategic argument is the fiat currency vs sound money argument.
    Its quite simple really.
    If Keynesianism works, then why not vote for the party that will borrow money to give the voter something for nothing? What is the point of campaigning for fiscal discipline, if the cost of fiscal indiscipline is non-existent? Or to put it another way round, why does the nasty right wing party want to take public services away from you if there is no downside to you having them? Is it because they are greedy and want to spend that money on themselves? or because they want to punish people they see as “below” them?
    I think that the right has to win the argument over fiat currency vs sound money and the only way I believe that it can do this, is for most people to experience the real consequences of having enjoyed fiat money. At that point the argument for sound money can be won, and the building blocks for small government and liberty can more easily be put in place.

  2. silverminer
    October 4, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    I think you’re right, dr. It will take an inflationary collapse in the economy, where all the false promises of the politicians are exposed, before we get a chance for a consensus for liberty and a smaller state. I just hope the people don’t opt for the “man on a white horse” instead. It could go either way.

  3. nollyprott
    October 4, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

  4. andyL
    October 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    So the Third Way is dog poo yoghurt? Well, we’ve had the Right, we’ve had the Left. Now, tempered by the Libdems, we have dog poo yoghurt. Well, compared to the previous two flavours, I have to say I’ve tasted worse!

    • John B
      October 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      But ‘we’ have never had the Right. The last time there was ‘Right’ that is laissez faire, low tax, low regulations, small scale less than 10% GDP Government spending was over a hundred years ago.

      A time of the most rapid, and widespread increase in prosperity and upward social mobility.

      What ‘we’ have had since the start of the 20th Century is the slow drift to the Left, and the slow down of social and economic progress and huge debt.

      As the Americans say, ‘Go figure’.

      • andyL
        October 7, 2013 at 10:21 am #

        True; but we’ve never had the Left either. We’ve always had watered down Capitalism which is a nod to the Right rather than a nod to the Left.

        We can never, ever have rapid growth again. We are not a developing Country. I would argue that the best we can achieve under any Government is low to steady economic growth coupled with inflation that will always be above the Government’s target unless we suffer another recession. The reason being that as developing Countries develop, their exports to us will become more expensive so our appetite for them will see prices go up. Note: there was not widespread prosperity over 100 years ago.

        Drifting too far to the Left or the Right ultimately results in people eventually voting the other way. Ideologies usually do not work in practice. In other words, the Right’s own worst enemy is the Right. The same applies to the Left.

        Andy.

  5. andyL
    October 4, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    “What I’m saying, in short, is that the right and proper course of action cannot always be decided simply by triangulating between two apparently equally extreme positions. Sometimes the Third Way is the wrong way.”

    I had to read this blog post several times in order to try to find any substance in it. OK, there is the usual conjecture regarding the climate that seems to have to be randomly thrown into most posts as part of a Libertarian check list or tick box exercise, but then that’s it. Ironically you stated ‘in short’ in the excerpt above when you took an awful long time to say it. And then you added ‘sometimes…the wrong way’. So when is it the right way then? What are you trying to say?

    Instead of the confused post above with its poor, nonsensical dog poo ‘anal’ogy why not write something meaningful instead? Give us some examples of the decisions that might have been made if it weren’t for the pesky Liberals.

    What I see in blog posts from the nuttier sides either side of ‘Centrism’, is the final drunken mad tramp flourish in which the author stumbles about mumbling ‘the enemy’..’antithesis..’they are everywhere’…..’must fight them’ whilst waving arms about.

    I agree with you regarding HS2. And American debt. And fruit in yoghurt.

  6. andyL
    October 4, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    dr – how does a Libertarian and supporter of a free market justify pegging currency to anything?

  7. Simon Roberts
    October 5, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    It all comes down to what is meant by compromise. It means something very different to the left than it does to the rest of us.

    When you consider that the left’s arguments are based on emotion not logic, then it follows that the things they support are good and the things they dislike (and the people who support them) are evil.

    Therefore, while compromise means (to normal people) being prepared to give a little ground in one area in order to achieve gains in other areas, to the left it means being prepared to accept evil deeds from evil people.

    It’s like negotiating with your eight year old child. Logic is useless against someone that doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand it.

    It’s no surprise then that decades of “compromise” have just dragged politics to the left.

    Add to this the fact that career politicians are terrified of how they are presented in the media whenever they are represented as not following the “consensus” and you can understand why this has happened.

    This is why the Republicans will cave on the shutdown, by the way.

  8. Eric Worrall
    October 5, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    It would be nice just for once if people learned there is not such thing as a free lunch, without having their noses rubbed in an object lesson disaster.

    You can’t enslave productive people. In today’s world, there are too many ways for them to slip between your fingers. Or, if all else fails, they can simply “retire” and join the unproductive, until the system cracks under the strain.

    • therealguyfaux
      October 5, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

      I’m waiting for “Go-Galt Meets Cloward-Piven: The Reckoning”, which will be playing in all our larger cities before long. And not in cinemas, either.

  9. David
    October 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    “So what changed, exactly? What changed, of course, is that the liberal-left continued to win the culture wars (in particular the linguistic battle to present “right” as synonymous with “selfish”, “cruel”, “wrong”) with the result that conservatives – a certain kind of conservative, anyway – felt increasingly compelled to apologise for being themselves. ”

    You keep making this mistake. The left have similarly had to soften things and compromise. The dropping of ‘clause 4’, New labour, trying to keep the ‘loony left’ in the attic, the recent debates with the unions and of course the recent debacle with the Mail.

    Of course believing in the ‘evil’ of your enemy, to you these are just corrections in abberant thinking.

    However, given that it is unlikely that everyone is going to come round to the way you think – what will you do with those people?

    The fact that nobody is visited by people in black or red shirts for not accepting the extreme is why I love Britain actually.

    If you think your no compromise ‘I’m right about everything’ solution will work – you better be prepared to don whatever colour shirt is appropriate – and prepare to fight.

    Better for me the frustrating but tolerant fudge of the modern day enlightened – but occasionally infuriating – middle ground, despite it being as near to my extremist views as our nearest galaxy to my front door.

  10. jazz606
    October 6, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    “……..If you think your no compromise ‘I’m right about everything’ solution will work – you better be prepared to don whatever colour shirt is appropriate – and prepare to fight.
    …….”

    You can’t compromise with the left. It’s like supping with Satan – there isn’t a spoon long enough.

    I see that you are already trying to distort the argument by limiting the shirt colour to red or black. I suppose that it hasn’t occurred to you that it might simply be about liberty and truth, although I accept that these two things are an anathema to the left.

    • David
      October 6, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      I am distorting the argument by limiting the shirt colours – yet this article is advocating absolutely no compromise from the right? “…I mean enemy…”

      Oh, of course, its not extreme rejection of any other thought – its simply liberty and truth. Those wearing red will be all evil, those in the black pure noble seekers of liberty and truth. They would need a new colour this army of pure fighters for freedom, black has connotations – take your pick – I’m sorry I sullied the argument.

      Those b****ds in red though…

      • jazz606
        October 7, 2013 at 7:04 am #

        You seem to have some sort of colour fixation. Maybe you’re an NP victim ?

  11. Christian_J.
    October 8, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    Sadly, pretending conservatives like Cameron cannot help but cater to the lefts lunacy as he had made a pack with the devil. Those lib dems are nothing more than the lunatic fringe of the labour party and more confusing still, ask mcBride. Regardless of the type of conservative in power, they always seem to want to cater to the left-wing misanthropes, who will stab them in the back at the next election. I just cannot comprehend how Cameron can sell his soul like that and end up being acused of not being in either arena.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The climate alarmists have lost the debate: it's time we stopped indulging their poisonous fantasy – Telegraph Blogs - October 6, 2013

    […] I feel the same way when I read one of those on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other think pieces from someone on the "sceptical" side of the argument or an editorial in a newspaper trying to position itself as the voice of reasonable authority on the climate issue. You know the sort I mean: where, in order to make his case seem more balanced and sympathetic the author concedes at the beginning that there are faults and extremists on both sides of the argument and that it's time we all met in the middle and found a sensible solution. (I call this the Dog Poo Yoghurt Fallacy) […]

  2. James Dellingpole “The climate alarmists have lost the debate:” | The GOLDEN RULE - October 7, 2013

    […] I feel the same way when I read one of those on-the-one-hand-and-on-the-other think pieces from someone on the “sceptical” side of the argument or an editorial in a newspaper trying to position itself as the voice of reasonable authority on the climate issue. You know the sort I mean: where, in order to make his case seem more balanced and sympathetic the author concedes at the beginning that there are faults and extremists on both sides of the argument and that it’s time we all met in the middle and found a sensible solution. (I call this the Dog Poo Yoghurt Fallacy) […]

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