There are five roads the Tories must avoid: Fortress Britain, Libertarian Paradise, Thatcherism Revisited, Local Everything and Scepticism Rediscovered. Success lies in a partial emulation of New Labourby Tim Hames / April 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
Almost four years ago I wrote on these pages about the future of the Tory party as it seemed set for a second crushing defeat at the 2001 election. The article asserted that the emerging alliance between the libertarian right and the “one nation” left was the most interesting development in Tory politics since 1997, and that Michael Portillo, then shadow chancellor, personified the emergence of a “new centre.” The piece concluded by asking: “To whom else but Portillo can the Tories turn?”
Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard turned out to be the unexpected answers. Yet as the 2005 campaign approaches, the party appears to be no nearer, and possibly even further, from returning to office than then. After my lamentable efforts at prophecy last time, it is charitable of the editor to allow me a second stab at the subject.
My argument here will be made from a different perspective. Four years ago, I was still rather proud that Polly Toynbee had once described me in print as a “Conservative theorist.” I might consult my lawyers if she did the same today. I could not stomach, and would not vote for, the political formula that William Hague offered in 2001. I find the 2005 version no more palatable. There will be those in Tory circles, therefore, who see no virtue in a thesis made from this quarter. I would reply that as a lot of people once backed the Tories but no longer do, and as there is no route back to No 10 unless such voters can be induced to return, my case might have merit. If nothing else, my thoughts are offered for old times’ sake.
To start negatively, the Tory party needs to appreciate what roads should not be taken. There are five blueprints in circulation that are best avoided, and I will deal with them briefly. They are: Fortress Britain, Libertarian Paradise, Thatcherism Revisited, Local Everything and Scepticism Rediscovered.
Fortress Britain would see the Tories adopt an even more vigorously nationalist stance on such issues as Europe, asylum and immigration, combined with an unreconstructed conservatism on social and cultural matters. In theory, there is a market for such ideas, but it relies on the improbable project of detaching a vast swathe of working-class support from Labour without matching the economic inducements for sticking with the left that Labour continues to offer. In reality,…