CCHQ must find a new online home for the deleted speeches; they’re invaluable

Aaron Ellis

Several years ago I started working on an article about Afghanistan and the Conservatives, only the research ballooned to such an extent that what was supposed to be a relatively short piece turned into a fifteen-thousand-word Masters dissertation. A sizeable chunk of this research is made up of quotes from speeches by senior Tory figures over the past eight years. This material has proven invaluable when writing about the Prime Minister’s interventions in Libya and Syria, as I have been able to use his own words to illustrate the contradictions in his foreign policy. So when I learnt that the Party had deleted ten years’ worth of speeches and press statements from its website, my immediate reaction was: “Is this my fault…?”

Journalists made sarcastic remarks about Mr. Cameron’s commitment to transparent government – in speeches that were no longer publicly available. A Labour MP took the prize for perhaps the most sanctimonious response: “[I]t will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises”. What these “broken promises” are, I don’t know; I can’t think of anything on the scale of Nick Clegg and tuition fees. Perhaps it is one of those clichés that politicians use regardless of whether or not they are wide of the mark; I would’ve thought that from Labour’s perspective, the Prime Minister has been consistently heartless…

The reason why all this material was deleted is probably mundane: the site may only have so much space and whoever runs it probably thought that few people would want to read the conference speeches of Iain Duncan Smith. A Party spokesman said as much: “These changes allow people to quickly and easily access the most important information we provide – how we are clearing up Labour’s economic mess, taking the difficult decisions and standing up for hardworking people”. As vital as it is to furnish people with the information proving these clichés, I think the decision was an unfortunate one.

Whenever someone asks to contribute to this blog, I emphasise to them that they must engage with whatever the Leadership has said about the issue they are writing about, as I do with foreign policy. That way, their articles are relevant to the Tory debate. But now that ten years’ worth of speeches and press statements have essentially disappeared from the public space, it will be much harder for them to do so. More seriously, it will be harder not only for me to check if this or that senior figure really did say whatever an author claims, but also harder for the Party to rebut their opponents if they lie about us. If Labour simply made up quotes by senior Conservatives, then the Party wouldn’t be able to furnish journalists with a link to show they’re lying.

If there truly isn’t room for all this material, then I think CCHQ ought to find a new online home for it. Perhaps the Conservative Research Department should get its own website and it can be accessed there, as well as a wealth of other material. After all, it would be an odd Tory Party that didn’t conserve its own history.

Follow Aaron on Twitter.

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!

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

Getting below the skin of democratic reform

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.15am

The world is a-turning. The classes shift from lower, middle and upper to under, indebted and hereditary. Real power slips through MPs’ hands into those of constitutional lawyers, NGOs and financiers. Voters are confused and apathetic, confronted with a menu of social democrats donning different ribbons, that lack either the ideas, the conviction or the courage to extract the UK from debt-ridden paralysis.  

It is in this precarious environment that democracy has to be protected. If this sounds melodramatic, consider it is complacency that has reduced us to this position. I am often accused of pessimism but I would argue, with Spengler, that i am not a pessimist - pessimism means seeing no more duties.

Parliament has become little more than an acting pit, its real purpose - the coordination of interests - occurs behind the scenes. As Charles Moore recently noted in Standpoint, politics has been reduced to an:

"all-consuming pseudo-science of trying to guess what people want and then find ways of pretending to give it to them."

Man in this barren environment uproots himself for money despite risk of grave anomie, and allows as compensation his public and private  responsibilities to plummet. Into this vacuum has seeped a state that continues to increase exponentially in size.

The global flipside has been fluid labour - i.e. immigration - encouraged by political elites who sell a Benetton advert and hide behind an aegis largely composed of rhetoric invoking diversity and inclusivity while pursuing cheap labour and the postponement of overly-optimistic pension plans.

The elites told us they loved everyone when they in fact saw everybody as equally worthless unless contributing to their own net-worth. Anybody who did not appreciate their own country becoming alien to them in matter of decades was turned into a social leper overnight by being turned into the modern equivalent of a witch - a “racist” - a word that has become such an invidious tool.

Social entropy has defiled the national fabric. Technology and urbanity has distanced us from ourselves, each other and our environments, to the point where large numbers of sybaritic younger generations who have never known any better feel vaguely apathetic about annihilation

A point that recalls Toynbee’s admission: “Civilisations are not murdered, they commit suicide”.

I harbour much hope though. UKIP’s success at council level demonstrates the seams are distressed. It is in times of crisis that the biggest and best opportunities come about. A national debate on the lifeblood and symbol of our people, our sovereignty - our parliamentary democracy - needs to take place.

Douglas Carswell MP has already started us out along a certain path with his iDemocracy. I would take his principle and extend it towards its natural conclusion. I think political parties are no longer required, they are an anachronism in an age where identities are so fluid that parties feel obliged to be concrete but alienate people with their packages or become hypocritical fudges incapable of enacting any manifestos. These parties have created what Francis Fukuyama calls a "vetocracy" - systems where myriad actors have just enough power to veto, dilute and delay decisions but no single actor has enough power to push through an agenda.

Instead we should take parties, which have morphed into a single cartel with different franchises, out of the equation. Most people have an eclectic smorgasbord of views that are very compromised by the current menu. Why not compile a government file that can be shared via an online cloud in which under the subtitles of ENERGY, DEFENCE, HOUSING etc, people add solutions, answers, resolutions, policy ideas which, after the civil service has redacted, the electorate vote on either all together at a certain time or spread out over a period?

Logistics are a bit irrelevant once the principle is admitted. After policies have been elected, people who believe their lives, their beliefs, their actions, their thoughts most fully represent certain issues or approaches that are popular can put themselves forward to execute proposals.

Referendums should be used, in a similar manner to the Swiss, for issues of great importance, and politicians should be paid in proportion to past and current salaries and posts. Politicians would also be forbidden to take up post-political jobs in which it was decided figures were trading on past public service. In all matters but defence and policing small, directly accountable councils, parishes and townships would replace the monolithic behemoths that are today’s councils.

Direct democracy, devolution and decentralisation are the three Ds that will power Britain into the 22nd century as a leader instead of a relic.

If all this sounds rather ridiculous, scary and fanciful, I can assure you that the nation has undergone far greater changes in its history and will do again. When it’s done so, it’s usually been for the better.

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

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.

With railways, the many smaller reforms matter as much to this Government as the big projects

Matthew Plummer 10.49am

One of the reasons I was motivated to go out canvassing in the snow last weekend – not something I thought I’d be writing in late March – is the manner in which the Government has got stuck into overhauling the rail network. There’s been a lot of noise about the 50th anniversary of the Beeching Axe, which fell hardest under the Wilson Labour government. But what many of those nostalgic about the steam era haven’t realised is the extent of the work taking place on the railways today.

Of course, there are the high profile schemes – Crossrail and HS2 – both of which will address badly needed capacity shortages, as anyone travelling into Euston or on the Central Line during the rush hour will tell you. But there are other smaller projects that will bring dramatic improvements to local services, such as Manchester’s Ordsall Chord (which the Economist wrote up glowingly last week).

At the bottom end of the glamour spectrum, hundreds of platforms all around the country are being extended so that longer trains can be run – even the sleepy branch line down to my Dad’s place in the High Weald is having money spent on it. Stations are being reopened, while signalling is being modernised. And not a moment too soon: passenger use of the railways has doubled in the last two decades and continues to grow, despite the economic downturn.

Around the country, Conservative councils and MPs are lobbying central government for better railway services, and earlier this month Brighton’s Conservative MPs and councillors came out strongly for the innovative Brighton Mainline 2 scheme that will drive economic growth and transform travel across Sussex and Kent.

At a more fundamental level, we’ve taken action to bring the railways into the 21st century. Despite howls of protest from Labour, the Department for Transport has pressed on with reducing the number of ticket offices, which add to the already high overheads of running trains. Besides, when did you last actually buy a ticket over the counter? Most people purchase their tickets online or at ticket machines. Labour has consistently argued the union’s line that this is a precursor to closing railway lines, when the exact opposite is true – by bringing down operating costs we are putting our railways on a sounder footing and ensuring their long term viability.

The next election will see commuters look at their wallets and purses and ask what we’ve done for them. We’ve got a great story to tell motorists on freezing fuel duty, but railway season ticket costs have increased, albeit at a lower rate than was planned by Labour. Our action to keep these down is a good thing, given that the average commuter spends a fifth of their pre-tax salary on train travel.

So it is essential that we make sure the hard pressed commuter knows about our track record: we are an unashamedly pro-railways government that has balanced protecting people’s pockets with investing in the service they rely on every day.

Or in other words, we need to talk less about the exciting headline projects, and concentrate on telling the people who pour through London Bridge each weekday about the hundreds of small improvements we’re getting done to make sure they can get a seat on a train that’ll run on time.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mwyp

Some lessons from Eastleigh for the Tory party

image

Giles Marshall 7.37am

That the Liberal Democrats won at all is a minor triumph and let no-one tell you otherwise.

This is a party mired in a truly demeaning scandal, whose media operation looked utterly out of shape and whose leader was subject to the sort of scrutiny usually reserved for pariahs and criminals.

Add to this the fact that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems enjoy the support of not a single major media outlet, but can count on the active hostility of all of them, and this really does start to look like an extraordinary triumph.

No leader since John Major has received quite such a pasting from the right-wing press, and even then some papers maintained a veneer of regard for the party Major was leading.

No such exceptionalism exists for Nick Clegg. Any triumph he gains, any achievement he chalks up, is and always shall be done in the face of an extraordinary hostility from the media.

So how did the Liberal Democrats win in Eastleigh?  I can offer two reasons.  Number one – their organisation on the ground is excellent.  They have a large number of councillors and activists in Eastleigh and they used feet on the ground to considerable effect.  In the age of big media and social network politics, localism still counts and a motivated ground force can still make the difference.  This is what can rescue the Lib Dems from oblivion in any general election.

Number two – they faced the split opposition of the right, and herein lies a serious problem for the Tories. Eastleigh was a Conservative seat not so very long ago, held by a middle-ground Tory of cautiously pro-European opinions who tragically was subject to personal demons.

In this by-election, conscious of the UKIP threat, the local party fielded Maria Hutchings, who has forthright views on immigration, is a determined Eurosceptic and would have been no Cameron patsy if elected to Parliament. She is the dream candidate for the Tory right.

And she lost. Not marginally. She lost substantially, coming in third behind the party whose image she tried to emulate and whose implicit endorsement she tried to achieve.  

The Tory party will try to garner all sorts of lessons from this defeat and most of them will be wrong. The one thing that should stand out is the reality that the right-wing vote in this country is too small to permit of two competing parties. It is arguably too small to permit of even one successful party.

The Tory party’s split identity is becoming ever more harmful, but that is nothing to the rump it will become if the lesson drawn from Eastleigh is voters desire a more unvarnished brand of Tory rightism.

It seems the party will never be right-wing and Eurosceptic enough to appease UKIP supporters without alienating the crucial centrist vote that all parties need to sustain themselves in government. This is a simple matter of electoral arithmetic.

As for UKIP, they should enjoy their triumph. They didn’t win, but they scored their best by-election result to date.

However, it isn’t quite as great a triumph as Nigel Farage is trumpeting. At a time when both governing parties are massively unpopular, this party of protest failed to wrest a seat from them.

In their heyday, the Social Democratic Party – a party of protest that sought to extract voters from the Labour Party in much the same way as UKIP does from the Tories – managed to pull off extraordinary by-election victories in both Conservative and Labour seats. They did it when the governing Tories were pursuing unpopular economic measures. And they never managed to translate their extraordinary by-election success into general election success, descending into third party misery each time.  

UKIP’s achievement is weaker than the old SDP’s. If Farage’s lot can’t win a seat like Eastleigh in a by-election, with protest votes aplenty, then they shan’t win anything in a general election.

Eastleigh has produced a victor, whatever the gloom that the national pundits may be pronouncing for all parties. That victor, to the dismay of Conservatives, is their coalition partner. It will keep the coalition going, but it offers no hope to the dominant party.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall

My Open Letter to Westminster

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.53am

There is a caustic and remarkably resilient strain of liberalism that is proving intransigent in spite of an unravelling of the trends that caused it. We live in a post-white, post-Christian society; however, an entrenched elite refuses to yield political ground to the sincere viewpoints of Islam and other minority faith groups on a range of vital issues from dress to diet, from war to homosexuality.

These vested interests are manifestly preventing many ethnic minorities from flourishing. I therefore call upon all liberals - a political class that is almost exclusively white - to resign immediately so that a new political order, perhaps one that can reflect the new demography of the country somewhat better, can take root; and liberalism - that relic of an old order - be extinguished alongside the late imperialism that devised it.

This late imperialism may come with extra servings of hand-wringing but its first principles remain the same. Countless Islamic countries are invaded on an almost annual basis in the name of foreign ideals Muslims never subscribed to.

When Muslims do manage to escape their homelands (countries that have become war-torn thanks to western well-wishers whose enthusiasm for demolishing our governments has never quite been matched by their zeal to replace them), they have been exposed to the unrelenting judgement of “the English” (a misnomer surely, for m’learned academics tell us that no such people exist), who no less unremittingly chime to the high heavens panegyrics about their levels of tolerance.

It is this “tolerance” that informs Muslims that the ideals they teach to their children are wrong. It is this tolerance that tells Muslims that protecting their women’s dignity is oppressive. It is this tolerance that tells Muslims that eating their meat in the Qur’an-honoured way of their forefathers is a disgraceful way to treat livestock.

Historically speaking, we can all understand why this uppity and entitled elite think they have the whip-hand over us. But we are no longer living in an occidental hegemony circa 1945, and we call on Westminster to reflect this.

————————————- Spoiler Alert ~ May contain satire ———————————-

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower