How can the right get it right? Conservative MP Lee Rowley—part of the 2017 intake— casts his eyes to the horizonby Lee Rowley / June 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
The conservative perspective is not always associated with big picture visions, but there is today a pressing need to demonstrate how our policies will bring a better tomorrow. It’s an especially important challenge for a Conservative MP like me. For two years, Brexit has so absorbed British politics that other debates have been downgraded. Irrespective of how we all voted, we should recall that there is life beyond March 2019.
Of course, Brexit is a fundamental milestone on our national journey. But when the NHS, schools and welfare struggle for airtime between the breathless re-telling of summit dinners in Brussels, we are in a very odd place. Beyond that, the last few years have shown something is amiss in society. There is a growing dislocation between the rulers and ruled. We are facing technological change so dramatic that our basic ideas of work, rest and play could all be disrupted. How might pragmatic conservatives—or for that matter anyone else—chart a course through?
My contention is simple: western democracies, and Britain in particular, need to place greater emphasis on the long view.
What do we want this country to look like in 20 years’ time? What objectives are we seeking to fulfil for British citizens? And how will we deal with new challenges?
The notion of a grand national strategy conjures up natural scepticism in the pragmatic Tory mind. Visions are disdained as the semantic playthings of the oligarch and the autocrat; democracies just don’t do them. Those in the west who have tried their luck at scanning more distant horizons have seldom seen their efforts rewarded. In 2008, Kevin Rudd, the former Australian PM, held a 10-day summit of 1,000 delegates to think up ideas for 2020. A year later, with less fanfare, 135 out of its 138 recommendations were abandoned.
As well as the lack of any obvious electoral rewards, those of us on the right are especially mindful of the inefficient and dehumanising results of the left’s heavy-handed planning. (Just think, for example, of the refusal of 1960s tower blocks to turn into the happy, orderly streets in the sky that the bureaucrats of the day had envisaged.) And there is no doubt that debates about how to solve the most challenging questions have, all too often, defaulted towards central planning.