Egremont Writing Competition: David Cameron is like…

The Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties in the world, yet very few know about its history beyond 1975. Even David Cameron lets his ignorance slip occasionally: He once remarked that the Tories have always supported free trade, seemingly oblivious to both the fall of Sir Robert Peel and our commitment to tariff reform in the first half of the 20th Century.

Our ignorance about our own history severely limits our ability to think. The historian Tim Bale warns that Thatcherism both dominates and constrains how the Party thinks about a wide variety of issues, conceding the rest of the ideological spectrum to Labour. When analysing Mr. Cameron’s leadership, many right-wing pundits feel the need to compare him to either Edward Heath or Margret Thatcher – despite the Party having around twenty leaders since Peel.

In an attempt to dispel this ignorance, Egremont is launching a competition. We challenge you to write an article comparing Mr. Cameron to a past Tory leader other than Heath and Thatcher. The competition opens today and closes on Friday, 20th December, and we’ll publish them as they come in. After the New Year, the winner will receive a free bottle of wine. The entries will be judged on how well-written they are, their historical accuracy, and, most importantly, their originality. You can compare Mr. Cameron to Stanley Baldwin or Harold Macmillan, but these are somewhat predictable. We want to see original comparisons – like to Arthur Balfour or the 14th Earl of Derby.

Entries should be between 800-1000 words, though we’ll make exceptions for longer articles if we think they’re just too good. You should email them to either editors@trg.org.uk or t_ne@live.com (or both).

We’re looking forward to reading them!

The TRG: The Home of ‘One Nation Conservatism’

David Cowan

There are many strands of thought which flow through the Conservative Party’s rich history and have contributed to it throughout the centuries, but none have done as much to define it as One Nation Conservatism – and it has found its home in the Tory Reform Group for over thirty years.

One Nation Conservatism can trace its roots back to Edmund Burke, who emphasised the organic nature of society and its reliance on social and political institutions, and Benjamin Disraeli, who imbibed this vision with a social conscience. Since then it has influenced many of the party’s greatest statesmen, such as Lord Randolph Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, R.A. Butler, and Harold Macmillan. As a political compass, rather than a rigid set of rules, One Nation Conservatism helped pave the way for Britain’s transition towards embracing the welfare state and universal suffrage without compromising the fundamental social and political institutions our society depends upon.

When the TRG was founded as the modern home of One Nation Conservatism, Peter Walker put it very well when he said ‘My objective as a Tory was to get the correct balance between efficiency and compassion. The trouble with compassion devoid of efficiency was that it never provided the means to exercise compassion. The trouble with efficiency devoid of compassion was that it created a society so divisive that efficiency itself was destroyed’.

During Margaret Thatcher’s premiership the TRG lived up to this mission by supporting the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, with its 1976 publication supporting the sale of council houses to tenants; Geoffrey Howe’s 1981 austerity budget; Michael Heseltine’s Enterprise Zones and Development Corporations; and Ken Clarke’s budgets which helped deliver low debt, low inflation, and high growth. It was crucial that the failed socialist experiment be scrapped without undermining the state’s ability to help the most vulnerable in society.

Their example has continued to inspire senior Conservative figures, including both David Cameron and Boris Johnson! Today in government One Nation Conservatives are helping deliver the Coalition’s much needed public services reforms at a time when the finances are once more in dire straits because of Labour misrule. As a party we are now having a vibrant and dynamic debate about how to change the state so that it is more economically efficient and more socially compassionate. In this exciting political climate it is the Student Tory Reform Group’s aim is to inspire the next generation of Conservatives to explore the One Nation tradition and to take it into the future so the vision of Burke and Disraeli can live on.

If you want to learn more about STRG or get involved then please feel free to join our Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/studenttrg/, follow us on Twitter at @ToryReformGroup, or email me at student@trg.org.uk. You are also more than welcome to come to our events later this year, which includes our Student Reception at this year’s Party Conference in October and our Autumn Reception with Michael Heseltine in November.

This article was originally published on Conservatives Student.

Follow David on Twitter.

We are still failing to define ‘One Nation’ for the twenty-first century

Giles Marshall 11.20am

We need to define One Nation Conservatism. That is probably the most urgent task facing the Tory Reform Group, because until we do, and until we can also give it some political meat in terms of policy and outlook, we really don’t have much to offer as an alternative to the Conservative right-wing.

The problem of understanding what it should mean came up in Damian Green’s Macmillan Lecture yesterday evening. While he was on firm and fluent ground when discussing the need to articulate a case to remain a member of the EU, in my view he was uneasy in grasping the nettle of One Nation.

It is, he said, an ambiguous phrase beloved of the political classes.  That being said, what is distinctly ‘One Nation’ about the present Government? I’m afraid that I don’t believe ‘limiting immigration’ and ‘cutting welfare abuse’ are sufficient. For a thoughtful man and longstanding devotee to One Nation Conservatism, Mr Green must in his heart of hearts believe this too.

The problem we have is that our thinking remains too defined by the neo-liberal philosophy that parked itself in the Tory Party when Margaret Thatcher became leader. The triumph of individualism saw itself expressed politically through the emphasis on lower taxes, a smaller state and more self-help. There was nothing particularly ‘Conservative’ about any of this, and yet it has become the lodestar of Conservative political discussion today.

In its most traditional expression, Conservatism was defined as a transcendent alliance between the dead, the living and the yet to come.

Conservatism governed not as a form of short-term political self-interest, but as a commitment to the wellbeing of a society that was defined by more than the life-spans of those currently alive.

Within that broad vision was further acceptance that society’s prosperity and stability was best assured by considering the interests of the many.

This was transformed, almost accidentally, by Benjamin Disraeli’s articulation of ‘One Nation Conservatism’. It was a clever political commitment to broaden the Conservative party’s appeal to newly enfranchised voters and it was given brilliant form by the remarkable energies of the Home Secretary Richard Cross, who used the Victorian state to improve the lives of the poor far beyond anything the Liberals could manage. His reforming zeal was later replicated in the activities of politicians such as Neville Chamberlain and Harold Macmillan.

Macmillan in particular saw the virtue of state action to help the poor, inspired as he was by the conditions he witnessed during the Great Depression in his Stockton constituency. The social reforms enacted by Macmillan and his championing of economic planning are a long way removed from anything advocated by the modern Conservative party.  But then Macmillan’s Conservatism was inspired by a commitment to society, and to the enabling power of the state. It had no truck with the notion of an individual self-reliance that was a alien to vast numbers of citizens stuck in an invidious cycle of poverty.

The reason One Nation Conservatism has lost its sharpness is that its few remaining advocates are too willing to surrender much of the ground to an aggressive neo-liberal tendency. We seem happier to discuss social liberalism – admittedly important – than challenging some of the profoundly un-Conservative elements of the dominant ‘New Right’ tendency.

One Nation Conservatism needs to be properly defined for the twenty-first century. It could reap remarkable electoral rewards for a party that has too often in recent years seemed too divorced from the public it seeks to represent. As Damian Green said yesterday evening, “if the Conservative party does not like modern Britain, it is unlikely modern Britain will warm to the Conservative party.”

The Conservative party’s dominance of the twentieth century owed much to its One Nation outlook, in terms of both policy and rhetoric. Sadly, we are still struggling to recover either of them.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

The One Nation Tory is alive and well: a response to John Harris

Nik Darlington 2.30pm

The passing of Baroness Thatcher has elicited a great deal of Tory stock-taking and soul-searching, as well as comment upon comment upon comment as to what the legacy is of Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century. As John Harris wrote in the Guardian"Thatcher’s death has Britain peering back through time".

In a subsequent article, born from his introspective itinerary around Britain researching Lady Thatcher’s legacy, Harris asks readers to “spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory”. His argument is that “centrist, socially-concerned Conservatism” had already died long before her, and largely because of her doing.

Let’s be frank. The Tory Reform Group, its members and leading political representatives have not always seen eye to eye with all aspects of Thatcherism. Respected her achievements and they way she led the country in dark times, yes; but there have been policy disagreements along the way.

However, Harris is simply wrong. The ‘One Nation Tory’ might be a minority concern in today’s Conservative party, dominated as it is by people who cut their teeth during Mrs Thatcher’s battling leadership of the party, and the aftermath; but it is alive and well. Harris claims that every year he attends the Conservative party conference "looking for any signs of its revival…but it is nowhere to be seen". Based on attending a ConservativeHome fringe event, that is not surprising. Did he not care to call in to any TRG events, which every year seem to outnumber those of other Tory groups? Even stars of stage and screen turned up to Ken Clarke’s midnight party last year.

It is perhaps fashionable to presume there are no centrist Tories left, which is peculiar considering the efforts of David Cameron to steer the Conservative party in just such a direction - and indeed, it is more plausible to say that the party did not make it fully over the line in 2010 because it had not moved far enough in that direction, than it is to say it moved too far. It is even more peculiar coming from a Guardian writer, when that newspaper has on occasion so wholeheartedly championed Mr Cameron’s stewardship.

Perhaps it is simply thus: no Tory of whatever ilk can be as “centrist” or “socially-concerned” as the GuardianHarris may be a columnist, not an editorial writer, but he does a fine job of blending into his surroundings.

Harris is right that too slavish an adherence to the free market - a common and unfortunate conclusion reached by today’s self-proclaimed Thatcherites - has landed post-Thatcher political parties (including the Labour party) in hot water. As Sir Ian Gilmour said, “the balance will have to be redressed”.

Harris is right that the present plethora of Tory groups, if they coalesce at all, do so around one interpretation of Mrs Thatcher’s policies. Yet this misses the point, which is that the fact a plethora exists suggests how confused even Conservatives remain about her legacy and what to do with it.

Harris wonders “what would happen if the grandees of pre-Thatcher Conservatism were raised from the grave, and confronted with Britain’s current problems”. He need not resort to table-turning, though many have indeed passed away. Just look at Lord Heseltine’s continued role in public life at the ripe old age of eighty. His growth review, which at its heart recommends a more decentralised approach, has largely been accepted by the Government. Meanwhile, Ken Clarke’s experience, not least as a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, remains indispensable to the Government. Though not necessarily a ‘pre-Thatcher grandee’, Lord Baker is a life member of the TRG and remains an influential figure in education policy.

Ed Miliband, as Harris says, has “tentatively” attempted to expropriate the ‘One Nation’ theme for the Labour party. I spelled out last October why Mr Miliband’s interesting approach falls flat. His post-Blair (and by extension, post-Thatcher) Labour party is in the grip of myriad interest groups fixated by an ideological nihilism. Signs of this are bubbling to the surface even in his own positioning, until now so often non-committal.

Michael Gove recently told a Policy Exchange gathering that in order to interpret her legacy honestly, we have to view Mrs Thatcher as a “historical figure” - much, indeed, with the detachment we deploy to consider Sir Winston Churchill, or William Gladstone, or even Pitt. Most agree that her prescriptions and demeanour were right for her time. Party political Conservatism has moved on; Thatcherism has moved on too. It means different things to its adherents today than perhaps it did even to Mrs Thatcher herself. In the same vein, One Nation Conservatism, so sidelined since the 1990s (and largely to do with a single policy issue: Europe), has moved on.

Our relative anonymity, and the fact John Harris thinks we are dead, might well be a problem. Yet we have in power a largely centrist, modernising Conservative-led government dealing with economic disruption and deeply moral dislocation - not least in education and welfare policy - that the opposition Labour party refuses to confront.

So while the Tory Reform Group does need to do more to get its message heard above the cacophony of Conservative voices (small ‘v’), I respectfully believe Harris’ pessimism is misplaced.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The Lady: Reflections on a political matriach

Giles Marshall 8.00am

I was nursing a hot chocolate in a small café beneath one of the North Yorkshire peaks when someone told me that Margaret Thatcher had died.  There were no rumblings in the nearby mountains, no lighting strikes and the rain didn’t stop falling, but it was possible nonetheless to feel a sense of the profound.

All of us, after all, live in a country whose political environment she has largely created, and the acres of print and online commentary that followed her passing were produced by men and women whose own outlook was shaped by her’s.

We are all children of Thatcher.  Progressives and reactionaries, lovers and haters, nationalists and internationalists, we have all had our political consciousness defined by the woman whose funeral procession will move along the Strand and Fleet Street and up to St Paul’s Cathedral this morning.  It is an extraordinary reflection of her impact.  Just as politics seemed to be retreating into blandness, and fewer people want to be bothered with political argument, it all comes flooding back.  Thanks to her.

My earliest political memories and actions are to do with the Lady.  I canvassed for her, as a member of a relatively political family, in 1979; rejoiced in her triumph at a preternaturally early age on that sunny May day; went on to join the Young Conservatives, where Mrs Thatcher would be greeted by enthusiastic ovations on the last day of the national conference, even while it was in the hands of some distinctly non-Thatcherite chairmen and vice-chairmen.  And even when I started to move away from the Thatcherite creed, I never doubted – no one did – the impact of this woman who had taken Britain by the scruff of the neck in 1979 and sought to re-boot it.  Meeting her in person was a defining moment, even if she did spend some time attacking the profession – teaching – that I had recently joined.  But then that was – and is – the point about Margaret Thatcher.  She had no time for false niceties.  She was blunt in her opinions and her actions, in the black and white world she looked upon, and she expected others to be the same.

There is an irony in the Ding Dong brigade being so triumphalist.  You can sing Ding Dong Socialism’s dead.  Or communism.  Or militant trade unionism.  And you’d be right in those instances.  Indeed, if you really must, you can remind everyone via a 1930s Munchkin song that the Lady herself is dead.  But her ideas aren’t.  Her legacy isn’t.  Enjoy the song while you can, you preening lefties, for Thatcherism has survived everything you sought to protect.

Yet of course, she also managed to destroy One Nation Conservatism, Egremont’s creed.  She gave it lip service, commenting, “We must learn again to be one nation, otherwise we shall end up as no nation”.  It was not truly a commitment to what we understand as One Nation Conservatism.  She was as happy to spell the end of a brand of conservatism that she considered weak and inarticulate as she was the trade unionism which had halted much of Britain in the months before her march on power.  Yet even for us, the last remaining outpost of old Toryism, her death is an event to provoke respect and to stimulate reflection.

Why should we respect her?  Why should we draw ourselves to mark her passing on this funeral day?  Because she is of a rare breed.  She is of a breed that sees politics as a can-do vocation.  A breed that allows no obstacle to stand in the way of political passion.  A breed that comes to political maturity at just the time they are needed, to change things, whether through conflict or persuasion, because actually, the change is so very needed.  A breed that makes the political world seem so much larger and so much more important because the scale of their own thinking and activity is so monumental.  We mark her passing because we know very well that she will be one of only a handful of political leaders whose name will remain part of the common currency of discussion and memory a century or more hence.  That is what makes her passing worth marking.

When this day is done the passions won’t much die down, and her name and legacy will still inspire furious argument on either side.  Nevertheless, we shall return to the oft dead-ended politics of today and may occasionally wonder what could happen if another person of the Lady’s ilk were to bestride the political nation again.  We might have some nostalgia for a time when ideas really seemed to matter, or we might be grateful for our less troublesome, more mediocre politicians.  But we will know that the era to which Margaret Thatcher gave her name was indeed an extraordinary one in the annals of British politics.  We are still living in its shadow.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

Mrs Thatcher’s Marching Band Woke Me Up!

Jack Blackburn 10.40am

So, having been so rudely awoken by Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and Swing Band, I watched the rehearsal for Lady T’s funeral.
 
It was all deeply impressive. Loud music, orders being barked down Fleet Street and then followed in perfect unison, uniforms immaculately turned out, officers swishing swords, moments of mass stillness and silence, and, by the end of the run, Herculean amounts of horse dung across Ludgate Hill.
 
The whole thing, effective and moving (one way or another) as it will be, absolutely stinks of militaristic celebration of a cult of personality. In short, it’s rather like the sort of thing that The Lady fought against. 
 
David Dimbleby was walking along in the procession taking notes. Top effort for a 74 year old in the chilly morning light.
 
Favourite moments: Sergeant Bilko completing the presenting of his arms a second too late - there’s nothing like the sound of a singular cock-up echoing off the steps of St Paul’s; walking back up Fleet Street and watching the soldiers change the arm they were holding their weapons with, simply because I’d never really thought of them getting tired.
 
This piece was originally published on The Bore of Venice

Margaret Thatcher’s message for the TRG’s inaugural conference in 1975

Nik Darlington 9.00am

The morning’s newspapers are devoted to the death of Baroness Thatcher. The TRG made a statement yesterday and I made my own comments later.

While millions around the world mourn her passing, we remember her words at this organisation’s birth, in September 1975.

"I am pleased to learn of the formation of this new and vigorous group, and thank you for your good wishes to me as Leader of the Conservative Party.

As a nation, we face three problems:

First, we must beat inflation, or it will destroy the basis of our society.

Second, we must secure the future of economic and political liberty by genuinely distributing power and property among our people—a policy which is the reverse of that which the present Government is pursuing.

Third, we must play an active and influential part in world affairs, showing concern both for the western democratic ideal and for those nations whose primary task is to overcome poverty.

It is good to know that the Conservative Party can look to the Tory Reform Group for creative and practical ideas on these matters and for the will to see them through. We face the future with a sense of hope, and confidence in the capacity of our people to cope with whatever lies ahead.”

Peter Walker, the founder of the Tory Reform Group, who served under Mrs Thatcher as Energy Secretary in the pivotal period of the miners’ strike, responded with the following words:

"The members of the Tory Reform Group are holding their inaugural conference in London today and have asked me to convey to you their good wishes and to express to you their determination to do all in their power to see the early return of a Conservative Government and the defeat of the Socialist Government that is doing so much harm to our country.

They have also asked me to tell you that besides your being able to rely upon their fullest support in bringing victory to our Party they hope they will be able to make a creative and constructive contribution to the preparation of our Party’s policies for the years that lie ahead.”

The “Socialist Government” was indeed defeated in 1979. Margaret Thatcher went on to revolutionise British politics, and change the course of not one but two political parties as even her Labour opponents under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown comprehended the sea change before them.

For our part, the Tory Reform Group remains wholly committed to continuing that “creative and constructive contribution” as we all work towards the return of a Conservative Government in 2015.

What is Mrs Thatcher’s legacy? Britain.

Nik Darlington 4.30pm

Margaret Thatcher did not get everything right. What politician does? But her legacy is not just a few policies here, a few new organisations there. Her legacy is the Britain we know. For how many politicians can we say that?

She changed the direction of the country’s travel. Not by a margin of degrees, but by right angles.

The Telegraph's Peter Oborne wrote recently:

"In a way that is probably hard for those who did not live through this period to understand, for the best part of that decade the very existence of the British state appeared to be under threat. Politicians from all mainstream parties seemed quite unable to cope with what appeared to be insoluble problems. Only the far Left was wholly confident of the answers, and the situation only started to clarify with Margaret Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 general election."

The very existence of the British state. Say those words again. The more you do, the more implausible it sounds - but on a certain level it is as plausible as the rising sun. Over the course of the troubled 1970s, Britain had become nigh on ungovernable. Like today, global currents were in part sweeping the country along a course it could neither understand nor control. Yet infamous “enemies within” wrecked successive government attempts to reign them in - whether Ted Heath’s industrial policies of the first half of the decade, or Wilson and Callaghan’s palliative care in the latter half.

Ken Clarke said in 1985, when Paymaster-General:

"When we returned to office in 1979 one very major reason was that we were elected to curb excessive trade union power…and the abuse of trade union power vis-à-vis employees within trade unions.  The background was that a good Government had been swept out of power in 1974 by a political miner’s strike, and the Labour Government in the late 1970s had been firmly controlled by trade union bosses."

Mrs Thatcher’s government learned valuable lessons from her Tory predecessor’s failures. In contrast to the popular perception of her as a bludgeon, she was cautious. She knew when to pick her fights. She was better prepared. And she had an answer to the economic malaise of the time.

Following the 1984-85 miners’ strike, Britain witnessed its lowest rate of industrial unrest for half a century, with 1.92 million working days lost in 1986. In 1974, the country lost 14.75 million working days and over 6 million in 1975. The alleged ‘Winter of Discontent’ contributed to almost 29.5 million working days lost in 1979 alone. Thenceforth, strike activity was in overall decline - with the obvious exception in 1985.

We can argue till the end of our days about the merits, motives and consequences of Mrs Thatcher’s policies - and people will continue to do so, not least because hers is a fascinating period of study. When an undergraduate, I took a history course named, simply, ‘Thatcherism’ (taught by one of the 364 economists, no less). It converted me from a misty-eyed admirer to an awed, respectful and yet critical supporter. It enthralled me like only a genuine watershed in history can.

It cannot ever be doubted that Mrs Thatcher stood firm to her purpose. Her obduracy on certain issues earned her enemies, but it earned her many, many more adherents. ‘You may not have agreed with her, but at least you knew where she stood,’ is the typical refrain.

The Thatcher legacy is rich and multi-faceted. On industrial policy, certainly, she made the greatest break with the immediate past - not least in that she succeeded in bringing (relative) harmony where there was discord. On many other policies, she set in train a revolution that has traversed three decades of British life: privatisation for instance (a word she hated), a liberal economy based on a powerful and flexible financial sector (and subsequently fruitful symbiosis between other professional services such as law and accountancy), and - oft forgotten - a firm hand of environmental protection.

Today we remember across the newsreels - and tomorrow across the newspapers - a great woman, and a great Briton. Meanwhile a family weeps, a country stops, and an entire world mourns.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington