Today's Conservative party has lost touch with what ought to be its core philosophy. To succeed, it should return to its Burkean roots with a focus on strengthening local communitiesby Thomas Maidment / November 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
A focus on local institutions such as small businesses, markets and food co-ops would renew conservatism. Photo: Wikimedia commons The Conservative party has, over recent decades, fed the general public with ersatz principles.For most of us, politics has become recognisable as a matter of daily improvisation. Political principles have become secondary to individual opportunism and political flexibility. However, the current public mood demands something different. Exhausted by Blairism and conscious of political spin, the public appetite demands candour, principle, and moral integrity from its political parties. This presents a problem for today’s Conservative party. When an election is on the horizon, a party should not have to be defined solely by itsmanifestoand its current parliamentary lineup. Rather, it should be defined by a tacit and recognisable political philosophy that encapsulates both their aims and aspirations. For the Conservatives, however, it’s a philosophy that has been lost. The question is, can it ever return? Conservatism is now broadly caricatured by most as primarily a defence of global capitalism: reducing all social ills and faults to problems that can only be solved by market forces. It is an ideology that seeks to reduce all it can to the financial deal; where the answer “it’s not for sale, at any price” is never satisfactory. This is a view that has become mainstream among Conservative party politicians—and, indeed, a substantial amount of its support base. Buzzwords such as “prosperity,” “ambition” and “success” accurately define what the modern Conservative party believes it stands for, while simultaneously demonstrating why its underlining philosophy diverges from the roots of foundational conservatism. It stresses too much on financial gain and individual achievement, and not enough on community and culture. Modern conservatism has become a blend of neoliberalism and libertarianism, though it remains tightly wrapped up in the disguise of a communitarian conservative. The mainstream party forwards a neoliberal agenda while simultaneously addressing their conservative constituents in the language communitarians tend to recognise: collective responsibility, stewardship, local identity, and social harmony. This is a slow drip-feeding of ersatz conservatism to ordinary people; providing them with the verbal reassurances they need while proposing and voting on legislation that takes power away from their local communities. With anti-globalisation sentiment sweeping its way across the Western world, the current neoliberal consensus that this rherotic attempts to hide is being widely rejected. The public desires a Britain of dynamic cities, towns and villages, each of which maintains a distinct local identity. Conservatism could re-engage with its Burkean roots if it promoted a vision of Britain composed of its local communities, institutions and small businesses. While Labour have been eager to use Preston as an example of what towns and cities could look like under Corbynomics, the victories of localism should not be solely attributed to Labour. In 2011, David Cameron’s vision of the “Big Society” and the stress on the power of localism demonstrates that Conservatives have also recognised the potential in pursuing localist policies. Currently, localism straddles the ground between the two main parties. It remains to be seen who can truly claim it as their own. If Conservatives can fight to allocate resources and services away from a centralised state—and into the hands of local people—they could win the support of struggling communities outside the Tory heartlands. What is gradually becoming self-evident is the desire for the restoration and preservation of the systems that once sustained our needs. This form of localism would transfer political power over to those who are directly affected by the issues, instead of the companies and government officials that fail to understand the needs of the local community. Examples of this could potentially include new tertiary governments (small community councils granted a small degree of independence from national or local government to make decisions), workers’ councils (where employees of a workplace discuss and negotiate directly with their employer instead of via a national union), and community food systems such as allotments, farmers’ markets, and food cooperatives. A strong local community—composed of dedicated individuals, families and small businesses—combined with the devolution of democratic and economic relationships to a local level, offers the chance of creating easier solutions by tailoring policy and involving local people. While it’s important to remember that total localism is not a solution to all of society’s issues, transferring decision making powers to local communities—whether these be on environmental, economic, or social matters—could encourage greater participation in our democracy and encourage broader involvement in civic life that most of us desire. This modern form of localism could also provide a strong alternative to Corbynism, the far-right, and the neoliberal status quo, go some way to mending political divides and strengthening the relationship between people and government in the UK. With modern conservatism lost in a sea of neoliberal politics, it’s time for Conservatives to reclaim their party and translate their philosophical ideals and principles into a new system of governance. Localism can provide this. The conservative should now reject the cult of selfish individualismthat has developed alongside the rise of the free-market ideology. True conservatism means a commitment to the communities that we build. It requires having a respect for the local institutions that bind us together and giving local people the power to change their communities for a better, fairer Britain.