When David Cameron set out on his long media march to modernize the Conservative party, he could have done so with a look at the idea of ‘Crunchy Conservatism’. It might sound like a breakfast cereal, but in these marketing-friendly times, that might not be such a bad thing.
It began life (sort of) in the United States in the early 2000’s, when Rod Dreher, a journalist at the conservative National Review, mentioned to his colleagues that he was off to shop for organic vegetables and became the office laughing stock. Emboldened by the experience to clarify his political beliefs, Dreher wrote a series of articles and then a book making an impassioned plea for a return to an old-fashioned, anti-modern variety of conservatism.
Crunchy Conservatism (CC), according to Dreher, is a sensibility as much as a political movement. CCs are as anti-consumerist and as sceptical about big business as the left; they detest suburban sprawl, shopping malls, fast food eateries, and all the other detritus of the consumer society. They distinguish themselves from the hippies of the left, he says, because they are more interested in beauty and aesthetics, and more suspicious of the power of the state. Rather than invoke regulation, the CCs seek to lead by example. The Dreher household, for instance, rarely watches any television, and makes its own muesli and apple butter.
Dreher is a bit too much of a god-botherer for British tastes, and a little too uptight, but otherwise his insistence that there is more to life than money echoes Cameron’s campaign. CCs think that they can answer the question that the market cannot – how we can enjoy our wealth once we have made it. And, like Cameron, who freely admitted to cycling to work followed by a government car to carry his briefcase, the CCs care as much about aesthetics as they do about the environment.
CC comes with a distinguished pedigree. Only since the 1970s, it is often forgotten, has environmentalism been associated predominantly with the left. Before that, Dreher’s quixotic approach would have seen him pigeonholed as one of the fading aristocratic elite, those responsible custodians of the land (with servants who prepared their organic meals). Even now, a hand-to-mouth existence is most elegantly achieved with the help of a silver spoon. In Britain, would-be CCs would include characters such as Zac Goldsmith, Jonathan Porritt and Prince Charles – toffs of the highest calibre, and all keen to conserve the land in the most traditional sense.
The role models and paraphernalia surrounding CC might sound a little antediluvian, but in an era where Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are taken seriously, this might not be as much of an issue as first appears. At any rate, this could be finessed and adapted by party officials in focus groups later. After all, an alliance of cyclists, joggers and dog-walkers might not sound very promising, but there sure are a lot of them about.