In a way I was one of the first modernisers. In 1995 I told the Conservative party it was a case of “No change, no chance”. I had in mind especially a change of policy and approach.
So when people tell me the Conservative party has to change or modernise, I do not automatically disagree. It is one of the ironies of conservatism, that a doctrine that wishes to preserve the best and keep some of the continuity of our lives, has always had to embrace change. Indeed, some of the most successful Conservative governments have been some of the most radical. Maybe we are at our best when we are boldest.
Conservative radicalism is based around delivering to the many the advantages of the few. Just as enterprise capitalism retains support and gains friends by ensuring that the luxuries of the rich in one generation become the commonplace of the many in the next, so Conservatism at its best brings the rights and duties of the privileged few of a previous generation into the lives of the many. Conservatives have in the past campaigned to abolish slavery, to extend the franchise to all, to encourage the many to own their own home, and to seek an ownership revolution. It has supported more generous welfare and health provision for the many paid for out of taxation. We want higher living standards and more civil liberties and see no contradiction between the two.
I was surprised in the early opposition years after 1997 to read that Conservatives were split between mods and rockers, between libertarians and authoritarians. It seemed like an artificial conflict, as most Conservatives seek a balance between liberty and the rule of law. I was also surprised to see some advocate a modernising agenda which meant moving closer to Labour’s positions just in time for the implosion of Labour’s model of more European integration, more migration, more public spending and debt, and the eventual inevitable financial crisis.
There is nothing wrong with the underlying principles of Conservatism – belief in the individual, the family, the small platoons, the independent charities and companies, the wish to spread ownership and property, to defend the individual’s liberty against the overmighty power of the state, the wish to conserve the best of our institutions and countryside, the wish to see the inherited tradition improved and developed by the present, and the wish for the state to help those who cannot help themselves. Of course these need updating, with policies based on the modern context, on a regular basis. The ideals and values do not need overturning. Most Conservatives do not lack compassion, charity, decency or belief in liberty. We just do not believe these things can simply be bought by the government spending more of other people’s money. There needs to be money and oxygen left for the many to provide for themselves, to work for family and the common good, to profit the nation as they profit themselves.