A senior Conservative Minister, Francis Maude, whose father, Angus, was a Minister in Mrs. Thatcher’s Government and one of those who modernised the Conservative Party after its 1945 defeat, and who has been at the forefront of recent attempts to ‘detoxify’ the Conservative Party, has warned that the ‘Conservative Party must modernise of face extinction.’ His views are worth analysing as they point to the malaise which afflicts conservative politics in the UK and the USA.
Maude warns that the party risks “electoral oblivion” if it failed to keep pace with new “social norms”. It has to be, he tells us, a genuinely ‘contemporary party’ if it is to succeed electorally. ‘We can’t’, he said, .look like we want to turn the clock back to an imagined golden era. “We should not assume that society will be willing to conform to our own expectations if they’re out of kilter with the mainstream,” he said.’ He went on to conclude that: “If we fail to keep pace – fail to understand and influence the spirit of the age – we will be rightly punished by the electorate.”
My response would be to ask him in what degree such a conservative party differed from the Labour or the Liberal-Democratic parties? His answer would relate to economic policy, tax rates, welfare reform and the like; but he misses, as all modernisers do, the point: these things are means, not ends. If a Conservative Party is not willing to make the case for prevailing social norms then what is its point? What sort of society does this Conservative want? He doesn’t know, he’s happy to go with whatever flow is going – as long as he is in power.
This is a natural point of view for a politician, who earns a better living if he is in power; but it marks a dangerous division between him and many of those who vote Conservative. It may well be that his own electoral prospects will vanish down the gap he opens up.
There is an assumption here that there are no real norms, no standards other than those of the market, and that all that matters is success in electoral and financial terms. Were those views widely shared then there would probably be no Conservative voters. Most people, including myself, vote Conservative because we wish to keep the best of what is. We are sensible enough to know that change happens, but we wish to make it as difficult as possible, to ensure that only essential change happens. The itchy fingers of liberals need a balm, and we are it.
But what are we to make of a Conservative Party which brings in a bill to legalise same-sex marriage? There was no evidence that anyone much wanted it, and even in the manifesto, the furthest the party went was to say it would consult on the issue. The consultation has shown that many people do not want it. But our Conservative leaders will bring it in any way. That way they show how ‘modern’ they are.
Well, it may be that they win some new voters that way. But are these new voters fiscal conservatives? When push comes to shove will they really vote for a party they have always hated? On the other hand there are those, of whom I am one, who have worked and and voted for the Conservative Party for decades. They will not be getting my vote. If that brings in a Socialist Government all well and good. I expect Socialists and liberals to want to move with the times and the new social norms, and would rather they did it than so-called Conservatives.
In the end, as the cynic said, it does not matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in.
A Happy 2013 to all Jessica’s readers!