Tory! Tory! A Struggle for the Soul of Conservatism

Tory! Tory! A Struggle for the Soul of Conservatism

Murray Op-Ed in National Review Online
October 05, 2005

After three successive landslide election defeats, the British Conservative party is undergoing its fourth leadership contest in eight years. Yet this election is not just about finding the right man to present conservative policies, it is about what direction British conservatism should follow. The major candidates differ from each other not just in personality but in philosophy. What is going on is a struggle for the soul of conservatism, in which the adherents of various philosophical strands each contend that their idea must be the driving force behind British conservatism in the future, and that to follow the other routes would mean disaster. The trouble is that the party is so driven by its internal strife that it is failing to see the forest for the trees. The question is not whether conservative principles need to change, but how to convince people how those principles speak to their values.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Perceptive Tories recognize the extent of the electoral problem. As a group of some of the brightest young Tories (including Michael Gove MP, Nick Herbert MP, and Daniel Hannan MEP — all names to watch in the coming decades) argue in their publication "Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party," the Tory wagon has stalled. The party’s support, in both polls and real elections, has advanced barely at all since John Major led the party off the cliff in 1997. Their failure to advance, the young Tories recognize, is due to a combination of factors — an ageing, unskilled party base with different tastes and preferences from the rest of the electorate, a tendency to turn to unpopular populism which sprang from a failure to “develop an overarching critique of contemporary Britain,” and a rise in anti-politics that has hit the Tories hardest. As the authors say, “The Conservatives are in the unenviable position of being seen as an even more Establishment party than the party in power.”

At least many now recognize this problem. For too long some have assumed that, because they see through Tony Blair’s spin and manipulations, the public will too and that when it does, it will turn to the Tories. It is true that in British politics oppositions tend not to win elections so much as governments lose them, but the current position is that no matter how much the public disapproves of its prime minister and Labor’s policies, it still prefers them to the Conservatives. Moreover, the recent revival of the Liberal Democrats as a third force in British politics makes that party an ideal home for the disaffected. It would take an act of monumental stupidity on Labor’s behalf, equivalent to the Conservatives’ own suicidal coup d’état against Margaret Thatcher in 1990, for help to come from the other side. The Tories have to position themselves so as to be attractive to Labor doubters once again.

Read the complete article at National Review Online.