What does the 21st century Conservative party stand for?

David Cowan 10.16am

The preservation of institutions has always been a guiding principle of the Conservative party. In the ‘Tamworth Manifesto’ of 1834, traditionally seen as the founding moment of the party, Sir Robert Peel stated his belief in traditional Tory values and the importance of institutions. As the historian Andrew Roberts put it, in his superb work about another Conservative leader, Salisbury: Victorian Titan, the Conservative party has stood for: 

“The Established Church, the British Empire, the House of Lords, High Tory and High Church Oxford, Crown prerogatives, the rights of property, the landed aristocracy, the Act of the Union…the very foundations of English governing society.” 

Most of these institutions have either faded into history, are in their last death throes, or currently at threat. With such rapid change in the fabric of British society, what does the 21st century Conservative party stand for?

On many occasions, David Cameron has said that he hopes to forge a modern political party based on ‘progressive conservatism’ and ‘liberal conservatism’. He believes that “conservative means are the best way to achieve progressive aims”.

Mr Cameron has emphasised the NHS, non-selective state schools, Sure Start, and the national minimum wage. He has in essence committed his party to the preservation of the institutions / policies established by past Labour governments. A reason why the Conservative party failed to gain a majority in 2010 is because they couldn’t articulate what they stood for. The ‘big society’ and the ‘Invitation to Join the Government of Britain’ were bold attempts but they arrived too late. 

Now that the Conservatives are in government with the Liberal Democrats, the ‘new Conservatism’ has become more apparent. The ‘big society’ is in the process of being transformed from a failed electoral strategy into an exciting, governing philosophy. David Cameron has focused on encouraging the ‘little platoons’ of civil society, instead of state intervention. In fact, one could argue that the Conservative party now stands for the preservation of: 

“The Established Church, free enterprise, family, community, charity, education, Sovereignty of the People, Personal Liberty, the aspirational classes, the Act of the Union…the very foundations of English civil society.” 

Modern Conservatism must seek to bring about a radical change in British culture. Instead of the state interfering with our lives from the top down, ‘little platoons’ should be able to flourish from the bottom up. Steve Hilton, a central architect of the ‘big society’, is correct about the change that Britain needs. As Paul Goodman put it superbly, “If you want to understand Steve Hilton, imagine Edmund Burke transported to contemporary San Francisco”.

After the recent run of U-turns, particularly over the Health & Social Care Bill, it is important that Steve Hilton stays in Number 10 to help keep the Government on track. By 2015 it should be clear to everyone that the Conservative party stands for dynamic free markets, a vibrant civil society, and the preservation of our national heritage.

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