Has Red Toryism peaked already?

Cameron's flirtation with Red Toryism, like Blair's with stakeholding capitalism, was entirely super

The self-styled 'Red Tory' Phillip Blond appeared to be in the ascendancy earlier this year as David Cameron appeared alongside him at the launch of Demos's Progressive Conservatism project. Speculation that Cameron was prepared to embrace significant elements of Red Toryism intensified when his speech on "moral capitalism" to the World Economic Forum in Davos drew heavily on Blond's work. He even poached Blond's smart line on "recapitalising the poor".

Yet nearly six months on, Blond has little to show for his consistent attempts to woo the Tory leader. He has argued that the Conservatives should abandon their support for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail and outline a plan to extend the Post Office's retail banking function. But even after Lord Mandelson's policy retreat the Tories remain committed to privatisation. Cameron also shows no sign of support for a genuinely progressive tax system.

The Guardian's Tom Clark thinks he has an explanation. Noting the party's failure to support the tighter competition laws advocated by Blond, he writes:

While this policy is attractive, a Tory government would struggle to implement it, because it clashes with the big Conservative business interests. We arrive at the nub of the argument for ingesting Red Toryism with a shovel-load of salt. Clever people, of whom Blond is indubitably one, are prone to over-intellectualising politics - failing to grasp that it is a game where interests trump ideas. In the Tory party, the weightiest interest is property - not the abstract notion, but the real security of those who happen to own it.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Cameron's flirtation with Red Toryism was no more substantial than Tony Blair's fleeting support for Will Hutton's brand of stakeholder capitalism in his 1996 Singapore speech.

Hutton, briefly touted as the philosopher-king of New Labour, soon found himself sidelined in favour of Anthony Giddens as it became clear that his ideas would require a degree of state intervention intolerable for Blair. Just as social democrats speak longingly of Blair's Singapore speech, expect the Red Tories to soon wistfully reminisce about Cameron's Davos speech.

For all the seductiveness of Blond's analysis, it's increasingly clear that Conservative policy will continue to owe more to Arthur Laffer than to the Red Tories.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Welcome to feminism's new gross out frontier

This new movement normalises women by focusing on their bodies, warts and all.

Vaginas are so hot right now. If that sentence shocks you, then you’ve been out of the cultural loop. Thanks to a new wave of television and autobiographies by some very funny women, female privates have moved to the front and centre of popular entertainment.

Male bits, once the only game in town, are now chiefly of interest only as a sidebar to hilarious female riffs on misfiring, awkward and unsatisfactory sex, thanks to recent work by the likes of Lena Dunham, Britain’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge (writer, actor and star of BBC series Fleabag), and now Amy Schumer, whose smash hit “femoir”, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, recently hit stores.

This is all part of a new movement – what I like to call “gross-out feminism”. It is gleeful, honest to a fault, and practised exclusively by women who long ago kissed goodbye to the capacity to be embarrassed. Its goal – apart from to make people laugh – is to provide a kind of shock therapy to those still harbouring the notion that women don’t have bodily functions, trapped gas, or insubordinate periods. Or that women must either be thin or desperately wishing they were so.

Gross-out feminism works by normalising women through focusing on their bodies: traditionally, the first and final frontier of femininity. It violently pushes all remaining cats out of the bag. Women have smelly, sometimes even extremely malodorous vaginas – Schumer’s smells like “chicken ramen”; “baby diaper” morning breath; explosive diarrhoea; acne. They sometimes fart during sex.

You’d be right if you noticed that this type of feminism doesn’t look like the iconic polemics of Shulamith Firestone, Naomi Wolf or Germaine Greer. It does not fit the sociological paradigm of Natasha Walter, Ariel Levy or Laurie Penny, all of whom have tackled a classic 20th century feminist subject – objectification – with political panache. And no, it’s not related either to the brainy fiction of Erica Jong or Marilyn French.

But gross-out feminism owes much to these. The classic texts of feminism laid down the parameters of the various struggles women engage in on a daily basis. One of these was the battle to be taken as full humans, complete with an independent sexuality. As far back as the 1790s, Mary Wollestonecraft raged against the reductive construction of doll-like femininity.

The new feminism builds on all this, but its toolbox is drawn not from an intellectual arena but rather from a peculiarly modern fascination with personal and especially sexual transparency. Honesty shall set us free: as sociologist Richard Sennett lamented, we moderns trade first and foremost in intimacies. But wrapped tightly in gut-busting hilarity, the relentless personal honesty of Schumer et al loses its potential for hollow narcissism and instead becomes powerful, adding vim to the traditional message to women to be strong and confident.

Schumer in particular paints an honest, if troubling picture of the impact of what Naomi Wolf so famously addressed in The Beauty Myth. Money, pain, time: a bewildering amount of these are required in order for most women to feel presentable, let alone attractive. Schumer nails this, but also admits to her own “beauty myth” victimhood.

Before a date she too waxes, straightens her hair, fasts, and tries to squeeze into Spanx so tight that they threaten to splice her guts in two. Schumer, then, is taking one for the team. She’s performing her truth so that we can exorcise our demons. The intriguing implication is that she, like Dunham and Fey, is an everywoman as well as herself. “I am myself,” in her words. “And I am all of you.”

A new sisterhood

Might this signal a reinvigoration of the idea of a universal “sisterhood” that since the 1970s has buckled under the weight of concerns about racial, ethnic and class difference? Perhaps so.

In her hit sitcom Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge does similar work to Schumer, if less autobiographical. She doesn’t spend much time on her appearance, but when an attractive man calls in the middle of the night asking to come over, waking her up, she excruciatingly manufactures the appearance of having just come in from a night out. She throws off her pyjamas, pulls on her glad rags, a coat, and swigs some wine in preparation. She is soon speaking deadpan to the camera while being taken up the backside. Her sexual honesty is eminently relatable to by millennials, and tinged with sadness. Waller-Bridge’s genius is reading with jaded perfection the sexual proclivities of men half her intellect and beauty.

There are caveats, of course. Some might argue that bringing feminism back into the body merely reaffirms the idea that women are principally bodies rather than whole people. And putting sex front and centre emphasises a potentially one-dimensional representation of what it is to be human. Both of these objections are fair. But when it comes to mainstream, massively entertaining representations of women, gross-out feminism may finally be what has been missing all these years, showing once and for all that the “fair sex” is human in both body and spirit. Warts and all.

Zoe Strimpel is a doctoral researcher in history at the University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.