What does the Conservative party believe any more?by Roger Scruton / February 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
One force in the Tory party calls on Conservatives to save the country; the other calls on them to update themselves © Phil Disley
The mid-term of a government is a time of reflection, in which the parties can revive their attachments and reformulate their message. Two recent volumes, Britannia Unchained, co-authored by a group of young Conservative MPs, and Tory Modernisation 2.0, issued by Bright Blue, an organisation that campaigns for reform within the Conservative party, give us some indication of the forces now at work in shaping Tory thinking. The volume by the MPs—Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss—is a detailed analysis of the ways in which Britain has been failing, and the ways in which it could regain some, if not all, of its former stature. The volume by Bright Blue is a plea for the party to “modernise.” The one calls on Conservatives to save the country, the other calls on them to update themselves in order to solve their image problem. These two messages correspond closely to David Cameron’s policies over the last two years. So it is worth enquiring whether the messages are really compatible, and whether they stem from some long-term vision that will re-establish Conservatism at the centre of British politics.
Britannia Unchained is well written and well researched. It includes many telling comparisons between our country and others from which we can and ought to learn. The argument is remarkable not least for its unideological tone, attributing much of our current fiscal crisis to the mistakes, rather than the malice, of the Labour party, and showing a readiness to share some of the blame. If all politicians resembled Kwarteng and co in their willingness to address real issues with a similar seriousness and clarity, parliament would not be the disreputable place that so many people now think it to be.
Tory Modernisation 2.0 contains contributions from two MPs, David Willetts and Francis Maude, but Bright Blue is not a parliamentary campaign, having been conceived in think tanks, including the “Progressive Conservatism Project” at Demos. The book opens with Matthew d’Ancona’s lively discussion of the Tory party’s image problem among postmodern people. What follows shows why progressive conservatism has an image problem among more traditional conservatives like me. There are intelligent thoughts from David Willetts but the…