openDemocracyUK

Are the Tories the new Levellers?

Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell lay claim to the radical tradition of the English Levellers.
Guy Aitchison
5 March 2010

I was interested to see this letter by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, head of the UK's new anti-tax "Tea Party" campaign, in today's Guardian:

You describe me as "Daniel Hannan, the hard-right Conservative MEP". Well, OK. Just for the record, though, I opposed the invasion of Iraq, argued against section 28, supported civil partnerships, and backed Barack Obama. The context in which you mentioned me was my praise for Michael Foot, whom I liked and admired: we were both, I wrote, inspired by the radical-democratic tradition of the Levellers.

If the Levellers were around today, I doubt they'd be planning to vote Labour. They'd support withdrawal from the EU, an end to quangos ("Crown placemen") and democratic local control of the police and judiciary. I'm pretty sure they'd also want referendums. Michael Foot was, in many ways, their heir; Gordon Brown is not.

Daniel Hannan MEP

Con, South East England

I wasn't aware that Hannan, an unreconstructed Thatcherite, had opposed the Iraq war, which improves his standing somewhat in my estimation. But what really struck me was his determination to lay claim to the radical tradition of the English Levellers and his assertion that they'd support the reforms outlined in his book, The Plan, co-authored with Douglas Carswell.

Carswell, too, recently claimed on his blog that "the Conservative party is the party of the Levellers" (and Labour that of Charles I) sparking off a long discussion in the comments.

My immediate reaction to this is that neither the Tories nor Labour are the "party of the Levellers" because - and this is pretty fundamental when it comes to the Levellers - both support the monarchy and the essentially royalist structure of sovereignty that goes with it. But it's an interesting question. What do OK readers think? Are the Tories the true heirs to the English Levellers?! 

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