January 13, 2011 Leave a comment
The Conservative Party needs to rediscover its pride in its ideology if it is to successfully take on Labour over the next few years. Just as the Labour Party is strengthened by re-affirming their identity and ideological opposition to cutting the state, the Conservative Party is weakened by Conservative Ministers going out of their way to deny their own values. Worryingly, in his New Year message, the Prime Minister explicitly denied any ideological motivation for reducing the size of the state and the Government’s policies. He said:
“This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country’s problems, not by ideology.”
This approach creates two problems for Conservatives. Firstly, it leaves the public with the expectation that cuts are only temporary and nanny state profligacy will be restored as the economy improves. For example, as the economy improves, in the run up to the 2015 General Election we will be asked if we will restore the ‘luxuries we could not afford’ like free swimming, child trust funds, EMA and health in pregnancy grants.
In response, the Labour Party and our Lib Dem partners will be keen to bribe voters with lavish promises of freebies and a larger state. But by not using strong ideological arguments throughout this administration Conservatives run the risk of appearing inconsistent by having to come up with new reasons to decline to re-instate such luxuries later on. Remember how inconsistent and weak Tony Blair looked as the reasons for the Iraq War kept changing from WMD to regime change to human rights.
Secondly, rejecting our ideological beliefs in the rhetoric used by Ministers risks leaving the Conservative Party without a distinctive identity at the next General Election. When Margaret Thatcher made cuts to the state in the 1980s she took a more sophisticated approach than to just argue they were borne out of necessity. She took on the ideological arguments and when our ideology was pitted against that of the socialists in General Elections we came out on top. This gave us an identity we could be proud of.
Back then we never hid our ideology from the electorate and whether we were privatising nationalised industries, giving people the right to buy their council homes, fighting to get our money back from the EU or challenging the Soviet Union it was always crystal clear that our Conservative values and identity underpinned those actions. The ideological base for rolling back the frontiers of the state strengthened the Conservative Party throughout the 1980s, meant that our messages were consistent and reassured that voters of what Conservatives stood for and could be trusted to deliver in Government.
Ministers today must be as robust in their approach and rhetoric, even within the constraints of a coalition. Instead of treating the ‘national interest’ and ‘Conservative ideology’ as being mutually exclusive, they must not be ashamed to embrace their inner Tory, promote Conservative ideology and put our beliefs into action. Cutting back the size of the state should not be a choice we are forced into taking or reluctantly accept because the nation is broke. It is what we should do because we believe it is right to let people live their lives as free as possible from state controls.
A coalition Government may be in the national interest because of the inconclusive election result last year, but let us always be clear in everything we say that the nation’s best interests will constantly be served by a Conservative Government in name and in action.