Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tiptoeing back to the old conservatism...


For a while, from the time Auberon Waugh called Maggie's 'mad period' in the late 1980s through to just a few years ago, the Conservative Party lost its purpose. We became captivated (as did Tony Blair, but that's a different story) with billionaires, millionaires, celebrities and the shiny lights of the big city. The real purpose of the party - set out at its founding by Benjamin Disraeli - was never the celebration of laissez faire, it wasn't some sort of whiggamore wet dream, yet this was what we got. We forgot that the purpose of the party is to better the condition of the working man.

Now I'm as keen on classical liberalism as the next man, the enlightenment settlement made for a better world in every way and capitalism is responsible for most of that betterment. But too many in the Conservative Party confused the idea of free choice, free assembly and free markets with a different thing called 'business'. We placed the businessman on a shiny pedestal, we wrapped public services in the language (if not the ethos) of business and we pretended that somehow better governance came from getting those business people into authority in government.

And the ordinary working man - the folk the party was founded to serve - watched as well-meaning policy was captured by the business class. There are, quite simply, too many business people who owe their wealth to tenders and contracts issued by government. There are too many cosy deals, consultants and  contracts that serve the interests of those commissioned and those commissioning rather better than they deliver for the receivers of service. The left chooses - out or either ignorance or misinformation - to call this 'privatisation'. Yet that same left is guilty of using 'in-sourcing' - bringing in well-paid outsiders and experts to manage public services.

On Saturday morning - because our ward surgery was quiet - I has a good chinwag with Baroness Eaton. We bemoaned some of the party's problems and agreed that, regardless of the actual policy solution set out, the current leadership too often start in the wrong place - with a sort of technocratic, elitist mindset rather than asking what the policy will do to meet our party's purpose.

All so gloomy. Made worse by there being no political party offering a positive, hopeful future to that ordinary worker. Rather we have UKIP's populist and exploitative agenda - forming a giant echo chamber for the anger, irritation and annoyance of those regular folk. The task for the Conservatives is to remember where we came from, what we're about. We aren't the party of the mill owner and mine boss - or their 21st century equivalent. We need to break the view - described by Charles Moore a day or two ago - that the Conservatives aren't the workers' friend. And this means finding policies that talk to those workers concerns.

Not the shouty, anti-everything policies that UKIP (and the raggedy bits of the left) promote but ones that link what we know about how free choice, enterprise and initiative raises everyone with the everyday worries of those ordinary folk - the cost of housing, the electricity bill, the need for a mortgage to fill up the car and the lack of a pay rise since we don't know when. Add to this a sense that those running the place - not just politicians but lawyers, doctors, social worker, policemen and legions of civil servants - are doing so in their interest not yours and mine.

Now I know most of these people aren't like that but I also know that unless we change the framing of policies we will ossify as the party of an elite. To change that frame we have to do three things - ask how every policy choice with affect ordinary folk, change the language using less of the 'save the planet' or 'change the world' nonsense, and set the policy platform exclusively on those who feel left out by what passes for economic recovery.

We make much of Adam Smith (and we should) but we can we remember that he supported progressive taxation, considered high degrees of inequality an outrage and warned us that giving business interests too much influence in government is a recipe for tyranny. It should be our task to work for a system that rewards enterprise but does so through the benefits of exchange not the machinations of government. And a system that offers the worker protection, support and a route to a better life.

The old conservatism - the one those maligned ragged trousered philanthropists espoused - served working people well. The new conservatism, all wrapped around with whiggish business interests and unwarranted moral judgement, serves those people less well. So let's tiptoe back to the old ideas of community, aspiration, opportunity and independence in a welcoming society. And away from the 'we know better' metro-liberal sanctimony that too often leads our policy thinking.



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Boris Johnson and ABP

Sparky said...

This was a really, really interesting blog. If the betterment of the condition of the working man was the objective of the Conservative party, in the ways in which you describe, I would vote for them like a shot. And I have never voted Tory before.

At the moment, the party however is the political vanguard of a very ruthless elite who seem to have the interests of high finance and the 'C Suite' as their political priority. One only needs to look to the composition of the cabinet to realise that they will struggle to understand the needs and desires of the working man.

I wish you the very best of luck in realigning the party with your noble interests.

oldcobbler said...

Indeed. One of Mrs. Thatcher's many "achievements" was to destroy the uneasy coalition which used to make up the Conservative Party, alienating many traditional Tories by her obsession with business and privatisation.

Good luck, but I fear you are fighting a lost cause

Luis Enrique said...

I am surprised somebody with these sentiments decided to join the actually existing Conservative party, or thinks it is a remotely plausible vehicle for attaining these goals.

I am not overly enthusiastic about Labour's on this count either, but at least there's some prospect of it actually supporting policies on the basis that they serve the betterment of the 'ordinary working man' as opposed to dribbling on about wealth creator etc.