It can be difficult to work out what is conservative these days. The Conservative Party sure as hell ain’t, but what is? Amusingly, it’s the darlings of the progressive left which are truly conservative. We could always hope that it’s the progressive left which has woken up of course, realised that it is actually conservatism which works but that’s much too much to hope for. This is probably just because it’s in opposition to the Conservative Party.
For, think what the Tories do seem to believe these days – that there’s a government answer to everything. A plan, a direction, from the centre will solve whatever it is. The left can’t therefore retreat to the usual instinctive statism for that ground is already occupied. So, instead, praise the people doing it for themselves. Which is what most of Aditya Charkrabortty’s reporting is about now. Locals experimenting with local solutions to local problems and nary a national – often not even a local – politician in sight.
Thus our view of food banks:
Do note the most common, modal, reason for a food bank referral is a failure of the benefits system to disgorge the cash. And no, we’ve no evidence at all that this has become more common. I for one would welcome a proper study into whether it has become more, or less, common over time for I, like everyone else here, am only able to rely on anecdata. I know, absolutely, that it used to happen but more or less, dunno. Still, so, we’ve a known problem, some level of State incompetence. We’d like a solution, no one wants hungry children mugging dogs in the street for their milk bones. What to do, what to do? The conservative – and to the extent that Conservatives are conservatives these days ie not much – solution is to look to Edmund Burke. Let’s see what the Little Platoons, those undirected by any central commissar, can come up with. The answer is those food banks. No state direction thus none of the problems which led to our initial problem of feral brats robbing pets. But a decent, humane, charitable, solution to hunger among those failed by the centralised state. Take food not being and not going to be used elsewhere and give it to people who have no food. Excellent, job done.
And so too with the Biscuit Fund as reported by Frances Ryan.
It was a eureka moment that inspired her and friends to launch the Biscuit Fund – a charity gifting service named after the rumour that, while austerity hit the country, one Tory minister was spending £10,000 a year on biscuits. Jemima knows all too well that one of the worst parts of poverty is the shame of asking for help. The Biscuit Fund turns this on its head: instead of people in need having to turn up to a charity, Jemima and volunteers scour the internet – anything from benefit forums to cries for help on Facebook – and come to them. The premise was simple: no judgment, no fixed criteria – just a helping hand for people when times are tough, whether that’s a washing machine when the old one packs in and you’ve no savings to replace it, or a food hamper to get through a benefit sanction. As Jemima puts it: “This is a chance to gain some breath before you go back under.”
Excellent idea, isn’t it? And do again note how conservative, Burkean, it is. The State screws up, the voluntary interaction of free people sorts it out. This is also what the left used to believe – thus all those Friendly Societies and the like and their connections with the early Labour Party and the Co Op movement.
It’s almost enough to make us think that we’re on the left these days. Because of course we have always been on the left, we’re liberals around here, we really do recommend those policies which we think best improve the lives of the poor, the average. Smith, Ricardo, Mill, all were considered lefty in their day. It’s just that for most of the past century the official left wandered off into the error of statism. And hey, if they’re finding their way back to reality then that fat veal over there should start looking worried. We’ll welcome them back, have a party to do so.