This old canard is back on the agenda. It is being placed there by the Leader of the Opposition, seeking to portray the Prime Minister as “same old tory”. Meanwhile many Conservatives, perhaps helpfully from his point of view, say the Prime Minister is not Conservative enough. They define Conservative according to their own beliefs – tough on crime, supporters of traditional families, Eurosceptics, low tax enthusiasts or whatever.
My heart sinks when we get back into this kind of discussion. It acts as an overlay or even a complete impediment to intelligent debate about the country’s problems and what might fix them. Too many well paid intelligent people spend their lives formulating soundbites or trying to interpret soundbites with these political questions in mind. Too few wrestle with what might work, what could make the economy and society better. They either are not interested in what works, or they fear coming up with something new which will put them on the wrong side of the row between little or big enders, on the wrongside of the divide between modernisers or traditionalists.
It generates a strange passivity amongst the political classes. It engenders the thought that public opinion is as it is, and so the politicians have to poll the public to find the answers then stick to what the polling says. In truth public opinion is mobile, and many views on how to solve a problem are not deep rooted or not based on experience or probability of success. The public on the whole thinks the politicans with their armies of expensive government advisers should come up with the answers. Within reason the public is there to be persuaded about the answers, as long as the politicians have got the point about what are the main problems. Intelligent dialogue is important, but passive acceptance of majority poll findings can be silly. Most Opposition parties cannot accept the findings of the polls, as the polls usually say they cannot win. Sensible opposition parties know they have to seek to change opinions.
I do not know whether I am a traditionalist or a moderniser. What’s more I don’t care. I don’t think it is a meaningful or helpful way of looking at the challenges facing our country. If so called traditional remedies fix the economy and lead to faster growth and more jobs, the public will vote for them when they see they work. If modernising agendas do that, they will vote for that. If it’s a mixture, then have a mixture.
It’s not entirely clear what is modern and what is traditional. Traditional Conservatism includes a tradition of generous support for the disabled and unfortunate. It includes strong interventionist tendencies for law and order and the offer of a better life through state education and welfare. Modernising Conservatism can include tax cuts as well as social liberalism. The belief in better civil liberties unites some so called traditionalists and some modernisers. Practically all modern Conservatives are Eurosceptics, arguing over how and how far rather than whether we should move to less EU interference. I know many of you say they do not do enough, but they will say if challenged they agree with Euroscepticism. Most of them are not trying to get you to believe the EU in its current shape is a good thing.