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Westlake Legal Group > The Right

Dean Godson: There are plenty of ideas on the centre-right. Here’s how it can create a new, decent, patriotric consensus.

Dean Godson is Director of Policy Exchange.

Where next? For the last two years, British politics has been stuck in paralysis. There has been a lot of noise and clamour, but no side seems capable of creating consensus and winning broad support. That is not to say that this is a dull time in our national debate – a deep ideological contest is under way for the future of our country. It will reverberate long after Brexit, in whatever form, is complete.

It is often said today that all the intellectual energy is on the Left. But is this true? There are no leaders of the quality of Clement Attlee on the Labour benches. There are no economists or thinkers of the ilk of Anthony Crosland. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have people aspiring to power in this country who are proud to call themselves Marxists – including the Shadow Chancellor.

The problem is not that there is an absence of ideas on the centre-right. It is that they have yet to coalesce into a coherent vision of national renewal. Policy Exchange, for example, identified the plight of the “just about managing” classes in our country – the JAMs – in 2015. So many in the country would put themselves in this camp. But has enough really been done for them in the four years since? Do they think the state is on their side, or that the political class is fighting for them?

The election of a new Conservative Party leader is the moment – perhaps the last chance – to get this right. One of the greatest mistakes that the Tories could make is to play the only game that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is capable of – sectional, identity politics that sets different groups of voters against each other.

Last year, Policy Exchange organised a Conservative conference event with the title ‘Can the Conservatives win in Canterbury and in Middlesbrough at the same time?’ But you could ask the same question of Labour. As it stands, the UK risks being treated as if it exists in balkanised sub-electorates, each with niche interests and obsessions. The only way to electoral victory in this model is with temporarily cobbled together coalitions of rival groups.

Yet despite polarisation on Brexit and other issues, there is more agreement – and more consensus – among voters than often appears, and therefore more cause for optimism. This is not a jingoistic nation. Instead, there is a deep tissue of patriotism in the best sense of the word – a fidelity to constitution, citizenship and community – that has too often been dismissed out of hand. Policy Exchange’s polling on the Union revealed that a clear majority of people in the UK say their support for it has remained constant or has risen in recent years – 78 per cent in England, 60 per cent in Scotland, 69 per cent in Wales, 70 per cent in Northern Ireland.

There is also, among immigrant communities in the UK, a complete rejection of the gatekeeper politics that sees putatively “national” representative organisations claim to speak on behalf of millions without their consent, in the most damaging form of identity politics. Only 20 per cent of British Muslims, for example, saw themselves as represented by such organisations. Fifty-five per cent of British Muslims felt ‘very strongly’ that they belonged to Britain and 38 per cent ‘fairly strongly’ that they belonged to Britain; only seven per cent did not feel a strong sense of belonging to the UK.

Consensus can be found elsewhere. Our work on lawfare – the unfair hounding of British troops through the courts – has had huge cut-through with the British public, whose outcry on the issue has forced our political and legal establishment to wake up.

The same goes for housing, where our research was based on the simple proposition that the way to overcome opposition to building more homes – so-called Nimbyism – is to make sure they are designed in a way that fits the tastes of local communities and makes our country more beautiful. This is a vision with massive support.  Traditional terraces with tree-lined streets, for instance, are by far the most popular option for the design and style of new homes. They may be unfashionable among “starchitects” but they are supported by 48 per cent of the public, with some of the strongest support among working-class Ds and Es. And how many want housing developments or estates in a modern style? Just 28 per cent.  Our polling shows a clear majority favour traditional design over modern developments. In housing and more, the first job of the new Prime Minister is to come up with a coherent national narrative that restores our sense of direction as a country.

There is the chance for a new Unionism, not just making sure that the individual countries of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland breathe comfortably within the shared home of the United Kingdom, but also that the Union itself is to an extent reconceptualised – so that we build a union between young and old and address the challenge of generational justice. A union between newer arrivals in Britain and long-established communities, so that suspicions and enmities can be overcome. A union between those whose faith means so much for them, and others for whom faith is vestigial and whose values increasingly shape the public space.  In short, we need a new social contract for post-Brexit Britain.

Social care is one concrete policy example. It is increasingly plain to those involved in the care sector that the state should cover almost all of the costs of long-term complex social care, which can involve ruinous costs for individuals and families, particularly for those suffering from dementia in old age. It can lead to the forced sales of family homes and wipe out a lifetime of saving and hard work. This idea – effectively the completion of the Welfare State – was proposed in a recent Policy Exchange research paper and embraced, perhaps surprisingly for someone on the right of the Conservative Party, by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who argued in the foreword that “It is far better to pool risk and for the taxpayer, where appropriate, to step in and help those who would face ruinous costs on their own, making social care largely free at the point of use.” He is surely right.

Where else could the next Prime Minister discover a quiet majority? On the environment, perhaps, where there are strong arguments to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 – with support especially high among the young. On investment in R & D and industry, especially in the North East, which could become a leader in the high-value, green economy. Certainly, on protecting British troops from pernicious forms of lawfare, which has high levels of support because of the obvious injustices involved. On education, too, where our polling revealed that poor pupil behaviour is driving teachers from the profession and undermining children’s education – 72 per cent of teachers know a colleague who has “left the teaching profession because of bad behaviour”. On countering extremism online, 74 per cent think that the big internet companies should be more proactive in locating and deleting extremist content, with 66 per cent of people believing that the internet should be a regulated space.

There is more thinking to be done across all policy areas – People, Prosperity, Place and Patriotism, as Policy Exchange’s work is organised – as a new Prime Minister is chosen. With that in mind, we will be publishing a series of proposals under these themes in the forthcoming weeks, which will seek to answer the question: what do we want from the next Prime Minister? We will also be hosting a series of events, including one in partnership with ConservativeHome, on electoral politics, housing, the economy, education, energy and the environment, lawfare and the rise of China. Only by hunting out areas of existing consensus will the next Prime Minister be able to start bringing the country together and healing the divides of last few years.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Richard Ritchie: Christianity and politics at Easter. Do the Gospels present a manifesto?

Richard Ritchie is the author of The Progress Trust (Without Hindsight: A History of the Progress Trust 1943-2005). He is Enoch Powell’s archivist and is a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Eastertide presents Christians with an obligation, as well as an excuse, to think about something other than Brexit. But it is probably no exaggeration to say that anyone interested in politics who professes also to be a Christian is bound to wonder whether the political beliefs he or she advocates meet with the approval of Jesus Christ.

This presents a problem – because while Christ has a great deal to say about morals and motivation, his words are not so easily transcribed into political practice. An obligation to feed the hungry and protect the poor, for example, is not necessarily achieved by the introduction of a wealth tax. But if a Conservative’s sole reason for opposing such a tax were the dislike of having to pay it oneself, he would be on shaky ground. And even then, it’s not simple. Can anyone be confident of the purity of one’s motives? And yet, if pressed too far, scrupulosity might easily lead towards political paralysis.

For socialists, it’s easier. Christians with left-wing views almost always tend to think that their politics are consistent with their faith, and one can see why. Literal readings of the parables all lean towards condemning the rich for having too much and for lacking compassion. Hence, the need, in the eyes of many on the Left, for redistribution – although a redistribution dictated by the state rather than freely offered by individuals which, it could be argued, is not at all what Christianity is about. It’s hard to see why simply paying taxes should help to get one into heaven. But it is not just politicians of the Left who make this mistake, and who seek to mould Christ’s teaching into a political philosophy. Margaret Thatcher, for example, used the parable of the talents to justify capitalism. But Doctors of the Church remind us that these talents represent God’s grace – not money in the bank.

This is why for a ‘literal’ reading of the parables, one might more accurately substitute ‘superficial’, because it is clear that they were never intended be interpreted from a single standpoint. Almost every parable has a deeper theological meaning, which is peculiar not only to Christian morality but also to the very nature of Christ’s Church. If anyone doubts that, they only have to read Harold Macmillan’s great friend, Monsignor Ronald Knox. His Mystery of the Kingdom interprets the parables as being primarily about Christ’s purpose in creating his Church and the characteristics which it will hold – including the presence of good and evil within it.

But this doesn’t mean that an avowedly Christian politician should expect to end up politically in the same place as, say, a Muslim or an atheist. One’s religion should make a difference – and then the question is whether a religious person has a duty to ensure that the law of the land reflects his religious values.

Most today would say not, but again it is not that simple. A recent essay by the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, has recently been published, in which he returns to his favourite theme of ‘absolute’ rather than ‘relative’ moral values. He challenges today’s central assumption that morality should be determined exclusively “by the purposes of human action that prevailed.” He concludes that the current approach to morality means there can “no longer be anything that constitutes an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil.”

Any Christian whose conscience is in the same place as Pope Benedict would have found it necessary to oppose, in his words, “the unprecedented radicalism” of the 1960s. In particular, he singles out the proliferation of pornography as a serious source of evil which no Christian politician should have countenanced, however ‘libertarian’ his or her outlook. But he goes further in the following passage, which goes to the heart of the dilemma facing any Christian politician:

“After the upheaval of the Second World War, we in Germany had still expressly placed our Constitution under the responsibility to God as a guiding principle. Half a century later, it was no longer possible to include responsibility to God as a guiding principle in the European constitution. God is regarded as the party concern of a small group and can no longer stand as the guiding principle for the community as a whole. This decision reflects the situation in the West, where God has become the private affair of a minority.”

Most people today would say :“and a good thing too.” Religion should only be “the private affair of a minority.” But that is not what a Christian politician should think, whether of the ‘right’ or of the ‘left’. One doesn’t have to be a Roger Scruton to note, in Pope Benedict’s words, that “in the twenty years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely.” Christian politicians are under an obligation to challenge a morality based entirely on private judgment and relativity, especially if they conclude that these normative standards are endangering the spiritual welfare of children.

It is because socialists in particular have liked to claim for themselves a monopoly of Christian morality – except, of course, when it comes to sexual morality – that the politics of this country has drifted into a religious ‘no man’s land’, where everyone is judged by the standards of the BBC and nobody asks difficult questions. But however important issues such as the distribution of wealth or child poverty should be to a Christian, it does not follow that the Gospels contain a political message or solution.

All we know is that ambition and material sufficiency can be barriers to holiness – and the more comfortable we are, the greater this danger. Such thoughts don’t write a manifesto: at best they only provide the moral foundations on which a manifesto is based. And Christ’s resurrection certainly doesn’t help us out on Brexit – unless it be to remind us of the Christian virtues of temperance and respect. Perhaps that should be the focus of our Easter meditation before political hostilities recommence.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com