The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Monday, October 03, 2005
Stand Clear! How to Revive the Tories
by Steve Travis

Edward Leigh's Cornerstone Group now have their own blog, and interesting reading it makes too. After bursting onto the scene at the end of July (to noises off saying "Here come the Tory Taleban!") with a pamphlet entitled The Strange Desertion of Tory England (NB - no mention of Scotland or Wales there), Leigh & Co. present their second offering, a full-blown mini-manifesto called Being Conservative: A Cornerstone of Policies to Revive Conservative Britain (Phew! They've noticed the celts this time!).

I apolgise for the flippant tone of my first paragraph, as it would be very easy to dismiss Cornerstone as the usual collection of right-wing extremists. However, in the case of their latest pamphlet this would be (a) unfair, because this is a positive set of policy ideas worthy of serious scrutiny and (b) unwise, because a positive policy programme is exactly what the Conservative party (and by extension the country) needs. Furthermore, Cornerstone claim at least 25 supporters and so make up a significant chunk of the Parliamentary Party; many more than groups such as the TRG can muster. Consequently they will have a significant, possibly pivotal, influence on the outcome of the Tory leadership election and politics in this country as a whole.

Cornerstone feel that the cultural, social and political agenda of the country has been hijacked by the "liberal elite" to the detriment of Conservative values and thought. Indeed, Leigh urges a return to “traditional values” and states:

“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.”

From this it is clear that Leigh’s interpretation of “liberal” is “socially liberal”. This confusion, deliberate or otherwise, is worth bearing in mind when we look at the "Being Conservative" manifesto, for it is a curious mix of economic liberalism, social conservatism and “Little Englandism”.

Some of the ideas floated in the pamphlet, such as reducing the size of the state, or introducing flat tax, deserve at least a second look from a Liberal perspective. Others, such as withdrawal from the EU and the Human Rights Act would be rejected soundly as against our principles. One – the re-appropriation of the Environment as a Conservative issue (linked to Conservation), is inspired and offers a real "left-field" opportunity for the Tories.

What this eclectic and rather uncomfortable mix of policies does is reinforce how the central dichotomy that has bedevilled the Tories since Thatcher was in power has taken hold of the party. The "problem" with economic liberalism is that it both requires and engenders social liberalism, and that is anathema to most Tory members. Dynamic economies require social and geographical mobility - "funny foreigners", gays, and other such "undesirables" will be attracted in by the boom. And on the flip-side we have the human flotsam created by rapid change, as people become separated from pre-existing familial networks via work-related migration, and cease to have the time to devote to vountary activity as they work ever harder.

Whilst fully engaged in “rolling back the state”, Thatcher found herself presiding over an unintended and profound social revolution that swept away the old structures of society and ushered in a much less reverent, more discerning, individualist and less compliant Britain. Chasing economic goals meant the Tories took their collective eyes off, from their perspective, the societal ball. Lord Tebbitt admitted as much recently in conversation with Andrew Marr on Thatcher’s legacy.

So how do the Tories square this particular circle? In the introduction to “Being Conservative”, John Hayes MP argues:

“Conservatives must be both brave and authentic; brave enough to undertake the task of challenging the dominant liberal elite in all the spheres and institutions it has so effectively colonised, and authentic enough to regain the respect and loyalty of our natural supporters.
“It is this courageous authenticity that will awaken the interest of all those weary of the current political stagnation.”

Hayes has hit the nail squarely on the head. The Tories need to abandon all pretences at liberalism of any shape and form and instead stay true to their conservative nature. By so doing they can shape an authoritarian, interventionist and socially conservative programme for government designed to appeal to Conservative Britain, and leave Liberalism to the Liberals. As a result the electorate will be offered a genuine choice.

The Tories, and UK politics as a whole, will be revitalised.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:10 am  
3 Comments:
  • At 03 October, 2005 13:01, Blogger Stephen Tall said…

    Brings to mind a quote from the West Wing, something like:

    "Republicans believe in small government - just small enough to fit inside your bedroom."

     
  • At 05 October, 2005 21:56, Blogger Snafu said…

    Steve, an excellent article. Don't Tories support economic liberalism?

     
  • At 10 October, 2005 12:42, Anonymous Steve Travis said…

    Snafu - yes they, or rather some of them, do. The point of the article is that many elements of true economic liberalism require or engender social changes that are anathema to social conservatives who, lets be honest, make up the majority of the party and a sizeable constituency in the country. As a consequence we've had halfcock economic liberalism that hasn't addressed the most disfunctional aspects of social liberalism.

    I'm arguing that it would be a more intellectually coherent argument to adopt a more conservative agenda across the board - and appeal to the C1s/C2s that made up the Tory constituency in the 1980s.

     
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