Alex Massie

Defining Authentic Conservatism

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Tim Montgomerie tried to define his "Mainstream Conservatism" project again this morning. (My first take on it is here and Pete's astute view is here). Bear in mind that Tim contrasts liberal conservatism with what he calls "authentic conservatism" and that while he insists upon the importance of breadth (good!) his movement is the one that's deciding which conservatives are "authentic" and which are not.

To take Tim's points in order:

1. "Co-operation with the Liberal Democrats in government is working well, but far from perfectly." By "far from perfectly" he means that the coalition agreement isn't an entirely Tory document (just 80%!). Well, yes, that's what happens in a coalition. Most liberal conservatives want a Conservative majority after the next election but recognise that compromise and partnership is, especially in the present circumstances, not a bad thing simply because it involves compromise and partnership.

2. "Mainstream Conservatives do not want to jettison the new breadth of Conservatism. Mainstream Conservatives believe in the social justice of Iain Duncan Smith, the civil libertarianism of David Davis, the internationalism of Andrew Mitchell, the transparency revolution, respect for gay people and the green conservatism of Tory councils." Really? IDS is certainly part of the Tory "mainstream". None of these other issues are. I suspect the Tory membership doesn't give a hoot about greenery, doesn't like protecting the International development budget, thinks gay issues command much too much attention and, when push comes to shove, is not overly concerned by civil liberties either. I'd like Tim to be right about this but am not convinced he is.

3. "Opposition to the EU superstate, lower taxation, a fair deal for English taxpayers and a tough approach to crime are not right-wing issues. They are not causes that Conservatives should be embarrassed about. They are causes supported by the vast majority of the British people but not by the left-wing majority of the Liberal Democrat party." Well, liberal conservatives don't agree with the left-wing Liberal Democrats either. If this is the dividing line between mainstream and liberal Tories then it's a dividing line that's of no use whatsoever. Again, from a traditional Tory perspective, talk of "a fair deal for English taxpayers" is all well and good but it needs to be weighed against the party's traditional, previously instinctive Unionism.

4. "Mainstream Conservatives believe that the Conservative Party can win the next election if economic growth is restored. Mainstream Conservatives believe that tough measures to increase British competitiveness are as important as measures to reduce the deficit." Well, find me some liberal Conservatives who disagree with this!

Again, I think most liberal Tories would like to see the party win an overall majority at the next election. But they also think the current government is doing a pretty reasonable job in less than ideal circumstances and see the value in maintaining the relationship with the Liberal Democrat Orange Bookers (who may well be a larger proportion of the Lib Dems after the next election than they are now) in case the Tories don't actually win an overall majority.

In the comments over at ConservativeHome Tim says:

Mainstream Conservatism is actually a more Middle Way and a more inclusive path. Mainstream Conservatism encompasses traditional and Liberal Conservatism in a way that Liberal Conservatism doesn't reach out to the more traditionalist conservatives.

Nevertheless, here too we may see that, like it or not, Cameron really is the Heir to Blair. One can easily imagine concerned Labourites writing something like this:

Mainstream Labour is actually a more Middle Way and a more inclusive path. Mainstream Labour encompasses traditional and New Labour in a way that New Labour doesn't reach out to the more traditionalist members of the Labour party.


Finally, NormanC's point, made in the comments here, is a good, general starting point:

To me, a conservative is a conservative. We believe in individual freedom, the responsibility that comes with that, which means the state staying out of the way, low taxes to match that, a sense of community rather than centralisation.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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