What’s more important, protecting the livelihoods of skilled white working class men endangered by globalisation, or getting the cheapest, and most convenient possible service? What you think about Uber probably says a lot about, at a fundamental level, what kind of ‘conservative’ you are.
Around the world, popular taxi hailing app Uber is encountering stiff resistance, and even punitive legislation being pushed through governments and transport authorities by unionised, traditional taxi operators. The service is presently partially or fully banned in a number of countries including the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Australia. Now London’s transport authority is pondering moves to ban the app’s key features – effectively legislating away the elements which make it competitive.
The legal changes proposed by Transport for London seem tailor-made to fit the demands of the London cabbies who have been so belligerent in their opposition to newcomers Uber. Just yesterday columns of taxi cabs parked up and down one of the cities main thoroughfares, causing gridlocked traffic in all directions for hours – a protest that seems to be a weekly event. This unionistic striking was condemned by thousands – over 110,000 have signed a petition calling for less regulation of cabs in London, not more.
Liberal conservatives celebrate Uber as a powerful expression of the free market kicking the teeth in of an out of date, heavily unionised, and overbearingly regulated industry. Uber is cheap and convenient – it leverages the latest technology to provide a service tailor-made for the expectations of modern man. There is a lot to love.
Another way of looking at Uber is as a blunt tool of globalism, enabling large numbers of migrants (and let us not fool around by presenting for a moment the vast majority of Uber drivers in London aren’t born abroad) to completely undercut the business of, and threaten the livelihoods of thousands of predominantly white, working class Brits who drive taxis.
The black cab trade is a staunch outpost of traditional cockneyism which has against all probability defied the diversity of London, and the vehicles they drive are as iconic as the red Routemaster bus or the Palace of Westminster.
Legislating to damage Uber while protecting the black cabs is naked protectionism. It is also inherently conservative – one might almost say old Tory. Any old-fashioned ethno-nationalist, paternalist, or patriot, would be delighted to stand behind such a policy. And many do in other industries – there is no doubt whatsoever Britain could buy its warships cheaper abroad – equipment very nearly as good for a fraction of a price.
Yet the Royal Navy is required by law to build warships in the United Kingdom, and it doesn’t matter if the market is monopolistic and consequently inefficient and expensive. There is a tacit understanding that this is the way things must be, and Britain would be a lesser place were it otherwise.
This conflict within the broader conservative movement, between the paternalistic instinct to protect your own and the equally strong desire for the clean efficiency of the free market is nothing new.
These problems, in modified form, would have been extremely familiar to Sir Robert Peel in the 1840s. For many, the argument within the conservative movement in the United Kingdom seemed to have been settled by Margaret Thatcher as she crushed the Tory ‘wets’ and saved the nation from stifling statism and protectionism.
Yet the Iron Lady settled this argument in a Britain before mass migration as we know it today.
Today the free market doesn’t just mean opening up previously nationalised industry to competition – it means opening borders to all the people of the world and accepting the price of having a few pounds shaved off a taxi fare is irreversible demographic change.
This goes some way to explain the fragmented right in Britain today – the battle between the principle-lite, free market Conservative party and the at times more nationalist, protectionist UKIP.
The question isn’t settled, and the battle for Uber perfectly encapsulates the conflict and frustration that must exist in the hearts and minds of so many on the right.