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How the Tories can reclaim the cities

Safer streets and cheap housing could be the focus of a successful campaign. Credit: Getty

March 16, 2021 - 7:00am

The more numerous and the more abundant the civilization (population) in a city, the more luxurious is the life of its inhabitants in comparison with that (of the inhabitants) of a lesser city.
- Ibn Khaldûn, The Muqaddimah

So said the 14th century historian, Ibn Khaldûn, in The Muqaddimah and he was of course right.

Cities have always been associated with luxury and decadence, but in the 21st century the ideological gap between urban areas and their surroundings has grown considerably. In the US the biggest political cleavage is not that of class, race or even age but geography, where the gap between liberals and conservatives is heavily dictated by density. Joe Biden became president despite only winning 16% of US counties, for instance, because he was overwhelmingly victorious in almost all the most heavily-populated counties.

In Britain, similarly, class has almost no bearing on voting status, but car-ownership does — and car ownership is a proxy for how densely populated your neighbourhood is.

This makes it very hard for conservative parties to win mayoral elections, because modern conservatism has an ideological bias towards low-density living. We saw this recently when sections of the Right-wing press got furious because Kensington and Chelsea borough built a bike lane (and then got rid of it seven weeks later).

It is completely impractical to design a city of eight million people around car drivers; traffic in a city that size has huge external costs, so cycling, walking and public transport have to be encouraged. Urban conservatism has to be tailored towards a different sort of electorate. So how do they win?

Ibn Khaldun saw luxury as a vice because it made inhabitants decadent and therefore vulnerable to the rampages of barbarians and nomads, which was all part of what he saw as the asabiyyah cycle. Today hungry desert tribes are not a major policy concern to urban voters but violence and disorder are, and this is one policy area where conservative politicians have an advantage with urban voters.

In the US, where most major cities are Democrat one-party states, the most famous Republican victory came in New York where Rudi Giuliani managed to overthrow three decades of Democratic Party rule because New Yorkers were sick of crime. Sadiq Khan has a poor record on the issue, although it is part of a nationwide rise under a Conservative government, and it is nowhere near the dystopian Joker-era New York. But it’s true to say that we needlessly tolerate levels of everyday incivility in the capital.

The bigger issue is housing. In the US, every $10,000 increase in median home value in a county results in the Republican vote falling by 0.3 per cent. Expensive housing makes cities more Left-wing; in the shires, the Tory Party is constrained by its NIMBY paymasters, but in London they could become the party of cheaper housing by increasing the supply.

And what links cheaper housing with low street crime is that both encourage people to start families, which is the single most crucial life event that makes people move from Left to Right. With London’s house prices now expected to rise even further — in part driven by the Government’s Hong Kong immigration policy — we are well on our way to becoming San Francisco, a city of absurd housing costs matched by widespread public incivility, a one-party state with more dogs than children. 


Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable

edwest

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

I think it’s too late in the US. Various rural counties in either Oregon or Washington are about to vote on joining Idaho, and there is a move to divide Oregon by forming a new and rural state to be called Liberty. One of the richer suburbs of Atlanta is exploring ways to break away and become self-sufficient in terms of policing etc. Of course, the possible secession of Texas is the big one. There may well be a referendum on that quite soon.
Ultimately, the Democrat and Labour Party machines are too entrenched in the cities to be dislodged. Thus the educational standards will continue to collapse and the crime will persist. The rural and suburban taxpayers, at least in the US, are sick of paying for it all. I believe Baltimore has the third highest level of education spending per pupil IN THE WORLD, yet some of its schools produce barely a single child able to do math. reading and writing to grade level. Meanwhile, the race grifting politicians and officials in these cities – from Sadiq Khan to Bill de Blasio -continue to get richer and richer.

Last edited 3 years ago by Fraser Bailey
D Ward
D Ward
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

when you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can count on the vote of Paul (or whatever the expression is)

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

When you pay the unemployable to have children you do not get great schools in their communities, this should lead to studies to find out why this is as it would seem to contravene the above, my guess is XXXXXX xxx XXXX XX XXXXxxXXX XXXXXX X XXXXX XXXXx XXXXXXX, (redacted)

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Rich people living in big US cities send their kids to private schools. Democrats do everything they can to hurt the schools in their cities, look at deBlasio and what he has done to NYC schools. It’s a shame, they used to be good (I went to P.S 20 back when it was a great school). But decades of democrats have absolutely ruined them. If you look at where democrats in congress send their kids to school, it isn’t public schools.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

What is P.S. 20 may I ask?

JP Martin
JP Martin
3 years ago

It’s not only the rich. In CA (where I have spent a lot of time), many middle-class families are spending a huge portion of their income on private schools. Some relocate for better school districts but usually end up back in the private school system. This is out of necessity. Given the state of the public schools, they simply have no choice. CA public schools are simply too dangerous and children graduate without learning basic skills.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Spot on!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

When I was a student in the mid-70s, I used to walk through the centre of Sheffield on Friday or Saturday night without even thinking about it.
When I moved to Wales the nearest city was Swansea (much smaller) and on a few occasions 30 years ago I picked up my wife on Saturdays from a pub or club in the city centre when she had a night out, without thinking about it.
Today (pre-Covid) I would not go into the city on any nights. Main areas are full of drug addicts and prostitutes. You would certainly not take a family there.
The city centre has lost a lot of business and the council is thinking of spending ÂŁ2 billions on a covered city centre with restaurants and parks and places to sit and spend time.
For me, the idea of making the city a nice place to live, of good and safe transport in and out of the centre, parking where the car is safe, etc, a place for families to spend quality time – is a matter of strong and steady policing. That is, more police, police who ‘pick on’ people who are making trouble, police who prosecute cases, sentences which are meaningful. The chances of this happening are almost nil because it would be seen as ‘strong-arm tactics’ and removal of freedoms. Imagine the headlines if black people were arrested or ‘picked on’ !!
So, freedom means two things. Freedom to scream and shout and vomit and frighten or assault people and freedom for minorities. It does not mean freedom for ordinary people.

Last edited 3 years ago by Chris Wheatley
Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

 Imagine the headlines if black people were arrested or ‘picked on’ !!

You forgot about the horror if some poor “child” was accosted by the nasty policeman. Not that there would be any punishment or rehabilitation for the “child”. Using the legal age for child of course.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

At least if they do cover the city centre in all the druggies and prostitutes will be nice and dry whilst they ply their trade and habits.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago

People owning houses in cities like London don’t want cheaper housing.
For all but the very rich, most of their income goes to pay their mortgage, their savings are therefore tied up in their house and utterly depend on it being worth much more when they sell than when they bought. Then they can retire to somewhere cheaper and drive up prices there.
Fixing that will not be popular with them, no matter who’s in government.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago

The more numerous and the more abundant the civilization (population) in a city, the more luxurious is the life of its inhabitants in comparison with that (of the inhabitants) of a lesser city. 

– IBN KHALDÛN, THE MUQADDIMAH

So said the 14th century historian, Ibn KhaldĂ»n, in The Muqaddimah and he was of course right.

So if civilization is not really the right word (and it certainly does not seem to be if abundant is correct) and population is, why not just delete civilization?
And a more significant quibble – its not correct to say the bigger the city, the more luxurious the life of the inhabitants. Otherwise, wouldnt we all want to live in say Lagos (13 million) rather than London, Paris or Berlin?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

The bigger issue is housing. 
I’d say that is backward. Public safety is as fundamental a function of govt as there is. If it is not tended to, not much else matters. Housing, meanwhile, is a problem often caused by govt attempts at finding a solution.
The US is full of cities – San Francisco among them, since this article mentions it – where restrictive codes, rules, and regulations artificially inflate prices. Some of those cities ignore a certain level of crime as if that won’t lead to more of it. Expensive AND dangerous is not an attractive sales proposition.

Last edited 3 years ago by Alex Lekas
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Reduction in crime generally makes previously unattractive inner city areas more attractive.
At the start of this, bohemians and hipsters move in and revel in the funky and raffish atmosphere with everything in walking distance! And such good transport connections!.
Then they have kids , schools improve, committees get set up, prices start to rise and everyone goes nuts about the “curse” of gentrification.
Or that doesn’t happen for some reason and it slides back into seediness, those who can, move out , leaving the old and vulnerable behind.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

I’ve just read the article for the second time. Anyone able to explain it to me?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

Bunch people up and they vote Liberal. The second point is like too many rats crowded into a cage they also get to fighting. Instead of SF the writer should have used NYC.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

Nope.

Richard E
Richard E
3 years ago

Law and Order.
Efficient public services.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

Never going to happen in Labour or Democrat run cities. The Labour/Democrat machines in the cities either buy the votes of the welfare dependant etc or fix the voting. Even if the Reps/Tories do manage to win, there is too much resistance to their efforts and policies from the public sector layabouts. So, never going to happen.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard E

Dream on Sunshine!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

Hippodamus of Miletus said it all centuries ago, well before Ibn Khaldûn.

Last edited 3 years ago by Charles Stanhope
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

What did Hippodamus say? Please inform those of us who were denied a Classical education due to Shirley Williams’ appalling Comprehensive system.

David J
David J
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Hippodamus was the original city planner, who laid out the port of Piraeus on a grid pattern. Not always the right solution in my view, but he was certainly a pioneer.
As for comprehensives, My schooling was in the 1960s, when we were guinea pigs for the Mason Plan, a comprehensive system that streamed Secondary-Moderns into Grammars. My own ghastly Leicestershire ‘school’ has since been knocked down I believe, and quite right too.
Much of my education was via the county library and its excellent librarians.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Actually, being in the top stream we were taught a sort of ‘Classical Studies’. We also did Latin for a year, in which subject I came second behind the class swot.
However, it was all very random and tended to focus on the various gods and legends etc. There was very little wider historical context or mention of figures like Solon.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

In other words “Sanitised for your protection”.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Unfortunately a full reply would drive the UnHerd authorities incandescent with rage.

However, briefly, Aristotle, writing about sixty years after the death of Hippodamus described him as the “father of city planning”.

Hippodamus was one of those splendid, polymath, Hellenic nutters, who shaped the Western World. Not only did he describe and attempt to build the perfect city (polis) he also had firm ideas of who should live where etc, and how space should be allocated for for Commerce, Leisure, Law, Religion etc. Some of his more utopian ideas were scathingly commented on by Aristotle, but that was the nature of the Ancient World,; Question and Answer, Logic and Criticism.

Although credited with the Hippodamian plan ie: the grid plan by Aristotle, this had in fact been utilised at least a millennia before by the great cities of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

Finally, I completely concur, Shirley Williams & Co have done considerably more lasting damage to this country than even this current Scamdemic.

,

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Yes, I agree. Hippodamus seems to have been an early version of Robert Moses. Careful interventions and adjustments are much better than tearing it all down, as we have seen many times.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That’s a trifle unfair to Hippodamus who besides being an outstanding polymath seems have espoused the Hellenic idea of “ moderation in all things “ or the “golden mean” as it is sometimes called.

To compare him with ‘Satan’ Robert Moses, is inaccurate I’m sorry to say.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

I attended Hull Grammar School and I remember the change in culture and environment when (around 1968) our intake went from the ones successful at the 11+ to the “less academically minded”

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I went to a cash-strapped Christian Brothers’ secondary day school, so can’t claim to be well-educated. Their plan seemed to be that Catholic boys would get ahead by studying accountancy, as that was the profession least closed to Catholics. So we spent some time on balance sheets and compound interest.
I did get 5 years of Latin though, including 1 year by correspondence when I moved to the state high school.

And at least in our overcrowded Catholic primary school, the hobnailed Sisters of NF Mercy had made sure we could spell and count by the time we left.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

It sounds like a first class education, and no doubt correctly they “didn’t spare the rod” and “spoil the child”?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

‘And what links cheaper housing with low street crime is that both encourage people to start families, which is the single most crucial life event that makes people move from Left to Right.’
That’s the crux of it – is the tendency for people to move right when they have families going to be a sustained one? That would be an interesting thing to explore. The impression I get from the bit of London I live in, which has a high birth rate and very left wing voting habits, is that once people have become established in an area and established their belief system they maintain it.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I think Ed has missed the tendency towards single parent families. After all if the state will pay – why worry.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago

How, in this context, is “city” defined? The few very rich live in the city centres, then the wealthy live in rich suburbs, which, in a London context can be as close as Islington, or more likely suburban High Barnet, Surbiton, etc. The poor are slowly migrating to outer suburbs too, Enfield, Norbury, Abbey Wood. The inner suburbs are mostly upwardly mobile in income terms. So the city conurbation of London cannot be treated as one entity, it is a series of income driven compounds, and that applies to most major cities (some do not have residential city centres).
The Republicans and the Conservatives tend to have small natural majorities in the USA and UK, but they do not live in what I think the writer is defining as “cities”; they live in suburbs or commuter communities. Which is not to say “cities” do not deserve attention to make them safer, of course they do, but the future of the Tories and the GOP do not depend on those city votes – it is just that their voters have moved.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
3 years ago

Crime is falling and has been falling steadily since WWII. You can’t trust crime figures collected by the police – they have a vested interest in making it appear that they need extra funding.

maccy.james64
maccy.james64
3 years ago

“In the US, every $10,000 increase in median home value in a county results in the Republican vote falling by 0.3 per cent.”
1) I would be thoroughly surprised if median home value accounted for most of the variance here. High IQ, trait openness, minority ethnic background, university education… all these predict migration to areas with higher property prices AND voting liberal.
2) Even if we take the equation at face-value, lowering urban property prices might actually increase the left-wing political dominance in a census-linked FPTP system.
Take Manhattan, and see what happens when we decrease prices by 1/3:
Democrat share of the vote = 86.7%
Average property price = $657,637.
$657,637/3 = $219,212
21.9 x 0.3% = 6.57%
 86.7% – 6.57% = 80.13%
Assuming the drop in house prices was achieved by home-building, all you’ve achieved here is to inflate the number of representatives awarded to an area that is overwhelming Democrat-leaning. 
Obviously Manhattan is a cartoonish example, but handkerchief calculations for London and Manchester reveal a similar dynamic. Would be interested to see the calculation applied at a constituency level.

Last edited 3 years ago by maccy.james64
Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
3 years ago

hungry desert tribes are not a major policy concern to urban voters’

They are when they blow up the Manchester Arena.