Nostalgia

The warm glow of a time that we can remember, but without inconvenient clarity, is associated with  both small and large ‘c’ conservatives. Both can be keen on grammar schools, for example, and on those hunting prints in suburban pubs aspiring to be rural.

But two conflicting kinds of nostalgia seem to be driving the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Towards the top of the party are some libertarian tax sceptics like Douglas Carswell. Tax sceptics are sometimes nostalgic for a time when charities and true grit aided the deserving poor without troubling the middle classes, while the undeserving poor could go to the dogs (assuming that the dogs were somewhere conveniently out of the way). The libertarian David Myddelton, for example, (though not, to my knowledge, a UKIP member) has written with fondness of the 1930s, when taxes were 25% of GDP: ‘If the government didn’t confiscate our money in taxes,’ he complains, ‘we ourselves would have more to spend on what we value’*.

At the bottom of the party, on the other hand, are the UKIP voters, often to be found in landscapes of decline – seaside towns, old mining areas – ‘left behind’ by social change, and angry that no one speaks for them. They, it turns out, are by no means necessarily libertarian. Many seem to be nostalgic not for the lean state of the 1930s, but for the security of the 1960s: for nationalised energy and railways, protection for wages, workplace rights and a well-funded NHS.

But where libertarians might attribute Victorian virtues like self-reliance and luxuriant facial hair to low taxes, few, if any, voters connect post-war social security (in every sense) to the benefits of high taxes. It has been said that powerful people must stop sneering at UKIP voters, and start listening to them. Listening might remind us that there were good things about the 1960s welfare state, like escaping from slum landlords to well-maintained and socially diverse council estates. But it’s hard to connect those good things to policy without talking about higher taxes. I realise that ‘make people feel good about paying more tax’ is perhaps a hard sell to a political strategist. But surely it’s not an impossible one (they’re meant to be clever, these people, and they’re certainly well paid)? Paying higher tax makes you a good citizen. It shows that you’ve done well in the world and that you’re in a position to contribute and be looked up to. That sounds like something a lot of people could be nostalgic for.

*many of the rich now seem to spend their money on things that neither they nor anyone else values very much; I don’t know if there’s a Myddleton case for the manly virtue of buying these

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