chapter  6
18 Pages

The State

As the previous chapter demonstrated, there were important dis­ agreements on the Right between those who supported and those who opposed state intervention in the economy. However, these disagreements skirted two critical questions: What kind of state did right-wingers favour? And why? And these questions prompted others that related to the democratic process in general and the role that the parties played in particular. Of course, such questions did not emerge suddenly in 1918. As we noted in Chapter 1, anxieties about democracy and the constitutional balance were evident well before 1914. But accounts of the British Right in Edwardian England have not been able to shed much light on their attitudes towards the state. J. R. Jones, writing in 1965, argued that the radical Right (prior to 1914) were primarily distinguished by their readiness to use the state in pursuance of policies such as tariff reform or compulsory military training but that they remained ‘empiricists and pragmatists’ who wanted ‘first the conversion of the Tory Party, and then of the nation’.1 Geoffrey Searle, writing in 1979, concluded that the Right were in fact ‘populists’ who became increasingly ambivalent about the Conservative Party,2 although two years later he revised his opinion by admitting that alongside these radical populists were a group of ‘elitists’ intent upon ‘a restructuring of the political system’.3 More recently, Alan Sykes has argued that there was a ‘major realignment of factions within the Right’ after 1909 to such an extent that by 1911 ‘the “ Radical Right” was all but swamped in a sea of traditional Con­ servatives defending traditional causes’4 although he, in turn, exaggerates the significance of the argument since, as Gregory Phillips has pointed out, the remarkable feature of the Diehards was the extent to which they combined traditional ends with uncon­ ventional means.5 If one can conclude anything from these studies it would seem only to be that the Right did not possess a coherent attitude towards the state in the years before 1914. In fact, how­ ever, it was only that they did not share any single view of its role and limits, and the same was true of the right wing between the wars.