How will the Conservative Party adapt to a post-modern world?

Alexander Pannett 10.30 am

Over the last few decades the Western world has been swamped by a revolution that has undermined all its previous assumptions about the world. Truth, progress, humanist values, even democracy itself have all had their imperious hold over Western consciousness shattered by a force of ideas that is invincible as it is ethereal.

I refer of course to that terror of terrors; post-modernism.

This concept largely started as a rejection of the grand narratives of modernism. A renunciation of the modernist idea that only Western rationalism pointed to the one true vision of the world. A rejection of the concept, amongst others, that the Enlightenment’s achievements would be unassailable and that humans were destined towards perennial progress. Post-modernism grew to challenge all universal beliefs wherever they were found, from science to architecture and spawned the emergence of identity politics and value plurality.

For Tories, a generally reticent bunch who pride themselves as the guardians of traditional values and culture, post-modernism appeared to be a gift from the Greeks. On one hand it eroded the centralising and universal tenets of socialism and its belief in the progression of mankind. On the other it cast traditional values, bourgeois ambitions and existing social hierarchies to the winds.

But it may be time for the Conservative Party to re-analyse its relationship with post-modernism. Whilst it is impossible to form policies based on a concept that effectively denies the narrative of its own self, the Tories should recognise the changing, post-modern Zeitgeist of society.

Post-modernism has brought about a re-evaluation of human’s relationship with the immediate, putting emphasis on the local and practical rather than the universal and abstract. This shift, far from undermining conservative values, is in fact a simulacrum of Tory localism and pragmatism.

As the belief in a universal political creed has fallen away, identity politics has risen into the void left by its disappearance. The rise of post-modern identity politics is well suited to a Tory party that has always seen itself as a “Big Tent” that encompassed a plurality of seemingly divergent views and opinions. It has appointed both a female and a Jewish leader in the past, a chairman from an ethnic minority and has a healthy representation of LGBT members, as Ken Livingstone so recently and gallantly observed. Its ranks include environmental campaigners to human rights activists. Its divergent views range from the socially liberal to the more authoritarian right, economically libertarian to state interventionist.

There is no universal ideology that unites and drives the Conservative Party. Instead a patch work of communities find common cause with a political will of toleration and freedom of expression, united by emotive catalysts such as compassion, community and patriotism rather than by artificial, academic ideals such as “equality” or “progress”.

There have been signs that the Conservative Party has adapted to the post-modern world.  Its localism agenda and support for elected mayors and police commissioners shows an increasing desire to give voice to the fractured identities of the polity.  The emergence of modern Tory movements such as Red Tories, Progressive Conservatives or Compassionate Conservatism suggests a hybridisation of previously inalienable values and identities.  David Cameron’s careful cultivation of a “normal” image through cycling, washing up and family barbeques with Obama suggests a blurring of the social hierarchies that previously dominated the symbols of power.

This hybridisation reflects the wider fracturing and re-moulding of identities, values and aspirations in society that post-modernism has enacted. As values have fallen away, we have been left with “one issue” politics where alliances are formed and broken between different interest groups as idiosyncratic political issues gain attention, such as with the AV referendum or Scottish Independence. The Coalition is another example of this shifting mass of ideas and views whose lack of a definite ideological centre ground is contrasted with its kaleidoscope of opinions that vary, merge and mutate as they seek the most practical course.

The Conservative Party is well poised to benefit from the post-modern world and should no longer fear it. But it must resist the temptation to cling to outdated political and economic narratives of the world that are as empty as they are damaging. Pragmatism should be prioritised and political single issues confronted on their merits rather than on how they fit into a holistic vision. The errors of believing in market orthodoxy or liberal interventionism are presently all too plain to see.

From foreign policy to economics, the Conservative Party should eschew the dogmas of the past and seek policies that prize the needs of the local over the temptations of the grand alliance or ideology.

Only by placing the needs of the diverging human in its natural environment over the dictates of social, political and market grand theories will the Conservative Party truly embrace and represent the post-modern world.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett