In his speech to Labour conference on Tuesday 2 October, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband took up the “One Nation” idea of Benjamin Disraeli, a Tory prime minister of the 19th century.
In one sense this deserves the sneer from Scottish National Party politician Angus Robertson: “The extraordinary message in Ed Miliband’s speech is that Labour now amounts to nothing more than a party of one nation Toryism”.
“One Nation” was the catchcry of many Tories in the 1950s and 1960s. On the other hand, the Disraeli who coined the phrase “the two nations” to describe class-divided England in 1844-5 was not quite the same Disraeli who became Tory prime minister in 1868.
In 1844-5 Disraeli was part of a group called Young England, radical enough to deserve a comment in the Communist Manifesto scorning it as “feudal socialism”. Disraeli had opposed the New Poor Laws — the welfare cuts which sparked the Chartist movement — and declared in Parliament: “however much he disapproved of the Charter, he sympathised with the Chartists”.
One of the earliest socialist writings of Frederick Engels was a review of a book by Thomas Carlyle, whose thinking was somewhat similar to Young England’s.
Engels wrote: “Carlyle recognises the inadequacy of competition, demand and supply, Mammonism, etc., and is far removed from asserting the absolute justification of landownership. So why has he not drawn the straightforward conclusion from all these assumptions and rejected the whole concept of property?
“How does he think he will destroy competition, supply and demand, Mammonism, etc., as long as the root of all these things, private property, exists?”
Maybe Ed Miliband should extend his reading.