The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Liberal Principles - Part 2
by Jabez Clegg

First, I have a confession to make. The article Liberal Principles – Part 1 posted recently was not all my own work. Shocking to relate, but it was copied (with a couple of slight snips to remove indications of its provenance) from the Aims and Values of the Tory Reform Group. By so doing, I achieved my purpose - which was to see whether anyone would recognise from whence it came.

That it was not obviously a Tory programme raises some questions. First, look at the nature of the programme itself. Notwithstanding some points about the nature of freedom by Bishop Hill and Patrick, contained in the comments to this first article, it offers a set of values and principles that many Liberals would not feel too uncomfortable with, to say the least. In some respects this is not surprising, for the TRG remains unashamedly on the left of the Tory Party, and is good evidence for the way that the heritage of the Liberal Party was appropriated by the Conservatives in the middle years of the Twentieth Century following the Liberal Schism.

So who are the TRG? Their website lists Ken Clarke as their president, with active support from MPs David Curry, Stephen Dorrell, Damian Green, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Sir George Young. Given Clarke’s entry into the Tory leadership race, on the face of it this represents a problem, to say the least, for Liberal Democrats. The Tories’ inability to break out of their 30-33% box of support has largely been about the desertion of the sort of centre-right voter they used to have sewn up, first to New Labour, but also increasingly to the Liberal Democrats. With Clarke at the helm and Rifkind in a prominent position on his Front Bench, so the dream scenario goes, the Tories would now be free to tack leftwards and hoover up the floating voter grown tired of Tony and too cautious for Charlie.

Yet before we get too excited at this peospect, let's examine how representative TRG views are of the present Conservative Party, and how likely they would be to prevail even in the unlikely circumstances that Clarke manages to win the leadership election.

The old adage about “judging a man by the company he keeps” holds true in these circumstances. We already have evidence that Ken is prepared to trim his views to help ensure his candidature is more palatable to his colleagues and party members. Edward Leigh’s Cornerstone Group boasts “at least 25 like-minded MP supporters”, considerably more than the TRG, and warns that We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based.

Elsewhere Lord Tebbit has put forward his opinion of what the Conservative Party stands for. Much of this flies in the face of the TRG’s internationalist, socially liberal viewpoint, and is in all honesty far closer to the views of the typical Tory member.

The core of the TRG programme could be supported by many Liberal Democrat and Labour voters, and not a few MPs. Yet it remains deeply unattractive to much of the Conservative Party.

Given this state of affairs, one wonders why the TRG have not begun to detect the aroma of fresh-ground Arabica. Political allegiances are often about more than policies, and it is perhaps no surprise that loyalties to a party should prove stronger than the realisation that they no longer stand for what you believe in. And perhaps TRG members calculate that under the current electoral system, it is difficult to make significant electoral progress from outside one of the bigger two parties. Yet, it is exactly this sort of One Nation Tory voter who is disillusioned with the current direction of the party who might be persuaded away, as Vince Cable amongst others recognises.

So we are left in the situation where a broadly Liberal programme potentially has widespread support, but that that support is spread across three parties fighting each other tooth and nail. The outcome is that we suffer in turn either from the Statist Labour Party, or else the authoritarian, socially conservative Tories.

Would that we had a political system that was mature enough to allow co-operation across party boundaries in pursuit of common ideals.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:00 am  
  • At 03 September, 2005 18:13, Blogger Patrick said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 03 September, 2005 18:33, Blogger Patrick said…

    Actually the part 1 contained also other elements, which I didn't see that liberal - or which at least could as well be supported by the German CDU, for instance - individual responsibility (in the meaning used by the conservatives, that people shouldn't use their freedom in a deviant way, for instance by entering a homosexual relationship, because it is "immoral"), social justice and community are values which aren't in any way in conflict with social conservatism. And as for economical liberalism, only individual responsibility, in the meaning that liberals use the word, is an important part of it.

    I was actually somewhat disappointed by the way you defined liberal principles in the part 1, but I wouldn't have commented it at all, if Bishop Hill wouldn't have first commented the nature of freedom. I wanted to complete his arguments, as I saw they were quite similar to those of Isaiah Berlin. But don't take it as the rest of the part 1 would have been OK to me.

    As for the Conservative Party, I have the impression that the wing which supported Michael Portillo in 2001 would be the one within the Conservative Party which is closest to the liberalism in the way the word is generally understood in most of Europe. And last April Michael Portillo wrote very kindly about the Lib Dems in The Times. Beside that, I have understood that the "portillista" think tank Policy Exchange has had some co-operation with such think tanks close to the Liberal Democrats as Reform and Liberal Future. Maybe that is the direction from which the Lib Dems should seek friends within the Conservative Party?

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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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