Roger Scruton is a writer and philosopher
Some time ago I got together with Rodney Leach, Gwythian Prins and a few others to discuss the question what exactly do conservatives believe, and how do their beliefs apply in our present context. After a few attempts at drafting a short statement of principles we put the matter on hold for a while. But then, exasperated by the level of debate within the Conservative Party, and by the empty progressivism constantly forced upon David Cameron by Nick Clegg, I composed a manifesto out of the fragments. Here it is. I present it under my own name since only I take responsibility for it. But I acknowledge the great help and inspiration of Rodney Leach and Gwythian Prins, and also other friends with whom I have discussed these issues. A shorter version of the manifesto has already appeared in The Spectator, but this fuller text represents the position that I and many others hold, and which I believe to be the heart of the conservative worldview for us, here, now. I still cherish the hope that something like this position will animate the decisions of some future Conservative government.
Conservatives believe that our identities and values are formed through our relations with other people, and not through our relation with the State. Our rights and responsibilities as individuals are informed by customs that have stood the test of time and have been protected by the rule of law. In the modern world the State’s role is inevitably extensive, but Conservatives believe its reach should always be subject to challenge. It is therefore time to reaffirm the fundamental axiom of conservatism, which is that the State is not an end but a means. Civil society is the end, and the State is the means to protect it. The social world emerges through free association, rooted in friendship and community life. And the customs and institutions that we cherish have grown from below, by the ‘invisible hand’ of cooperation. They have rarely been imposed from above by the work of politics, the role of which is to reconcile our many aims, and not to dictate or control them.
Conservatives believe in respect for individual freedom and for the agreements, customs and institutions that flow from it. Justice means ensuring that the obligations that arise naturally between free and accountable agents obtain the recognition and protection that they need. This does not mean that the less advantaged members of society should be abandoned to their fate; it means that the taxes used to support them should be justly raised and efficiently distributed.
According to many on the Left people possess social and economic rights regardless of how they have conducted their lives. Increasingly these ‘human rights’ are not confined to negative freedoms, such as the rights to life, limb and the pursuit of happiness as advocated in the American Declaration of Independence, but include positive claims, such as the right to housing, health-care and welfare benefits. The ever-expanding grant of these entitlements is administered by national and international courts without regard to their cost. And the growing injustice, both to honest taxpayers and to the future generations who must meet the cost of our present extravagance, is justified in the name of ‘social justice’. Conservatives believe that it is time to move back to a more natural form of justice, which rewards responsible behavior and upholds the free agreements on which a healthy civil society depends.
By thwarting reform of a skewed voting system and endowing the Scots with two votes – one to govern themselves, the other to outvote the English – the Left has made it all but impossible for the Conservative Party to achieve the kind of majorities that enabled it to revive individual enterprise and national pride in the 1980s. And by opening our borders to immigration without limit as to numbers or quality New Labour has planted the seeds of a social fragmentation that has poisoned debate and made patriotism of the traditional kind a fruitless exercise in nostalgia. In these circumstances we need to rethink the principles that should guide our policies. And we need to embed, within those principles, the complementary aspirations of both sides of the conservative temperament – Burke’s vision of a social order based on continuity and the rule of law; and Robert Peel’s and Margaret Thatcher’s belief in free trade and greater liberty for those who seek to better themselves and their families.
We believe that the following principles should form the foundation of a modern Conservative policy.
1. The Nation State is the sole vehicle for democratic legitimacy. New Labour sought to weaken the nation externally and divide it internally – externally by its unquestioning acceptance of the primacy of EU supranational authority, internally by indiscriminate immigration and class warfare, which were at the top of the domestic agenda in the time of Blair and Brown. We need to remind the people that as the most elected party in history the Conservatives are dedicated to forging a new unity for our country, one that will integrate all our communities into a shared national idea.
2. Civil society depends upon a common loyalty and a territorial law, and these cannot be achieved or retained without borders. Immigration must therefore be controlled and contained. Although “free movement of people” was in the Treaty that the electorate endorsed 40 years ago, and although our present anxieties are shared on the Continent, it is not enough to rely on hopes of renegotiation. We have in the last resort to be prepared to challenge, or defy, the Treaty in the national interest. With its open welfare system, its universal language, its relative wealth and its carefully defended freedoms our country is the preferred destination of Europe’s new wave of migrants. Our services and infrastructure are being stretched to breaking point, and our legal and political culture is at risk from communities who cannot or will not endorse it. If we do not take the need for restraint as our starting point we forfeit the right to call ourselves One Nation Conservatives.
3. The nation state requires the sovereignty of Parliament. The right to vote out our rulers and to change our law is the premise of democratic politics. We willingly sacrifice some independence to conduct international trade and to use the world’s sea, air and wireless lanes. But whenever possible our law should be made in Westminster, or in the common-law courts of our kingdom – not by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels nor by courts of European judges. Our taxes too should be fixed by our elected representatives in a sovereign Parliament.
4. As believers in civil society conservatives must protect the institutions and customs that turn human animals into responsible citizens. Ours is a tolerant society, in which liberty is extended to a variety of religions, world-views, and forms of domestic life. But, as Locke argued three centuries ago, liberty is threatened by licence: liberty is founded on personal responsibility and a respect for others, whereas licence is a way of exploiting others for purely personal gain. Liberty therefore depends on the values that protect individuals from chaotic personal lives and which cherish the integrity of the home, in the face of the many threats to it. A conservative policy should reward stable households. It should not reward, through the welfare system, the kind of fecklessness that has become so widespread. We must protect children from the predatory culture that has grown through the Internet, and an attempt must be made to tackle pornography, and the attitude to human relationships that is fostered by it.
5. We must make the environment, the countryside, and the settled communities of our nation into priorities of government. Conservatism is a philosophy of inheritance and stewardship; it does not squander resources but conserves and enhances them. Environmental politics therefore needs to be rescued from the phony expertise of the scare-mongers and from the top-down manipulation of the activists. Properly understood, environmental protection is not a left-wing but a conservative cause.
6. The State should not be permitted to confiscate the work of civil society. Through quangos and official bodies the State has been amplified under New Labour to the point of swallowing private initiatives and distorting the long-established charitable instinct of our citizens, improperly using tax money to create ‘sock puppet’ charities and quangos that lobby for New Labour policies. Civil society must be freed from the regulations and the officialdom that make volunteering difficult.
7. Freeing civil society must go hand in hand with encouraging small businesses and economic initiatives. The regulations that make it difficult for people to help their neighbours also make it difficult for them to help themselves. In this sense the old conservative call to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state’ is as valid today as it ever was. Left-wing thinkers often caricature the conservative position, as one that advocates the free market at all costs, introducing competition and the profit motive even into the most sacred precincts of communal life. Adam Smith and David Hume made clear, however, that the market, which is the only known solution to the problem of economic coordination, itself depends upon the kind of moral order that arises from below, as people take responsibility for their lives, learn to honour their agreements and live in justice and charity with their neighbours.
8. Education must reflect the real interest of future generations. A conservative policy must therefore free education from all the non-educational purposes to which it has been subjected, so that schools, colleges and universities can offer opportunities suited to the needs of all children. We should free schools from the dead hand of the bureaucrats, and remake education as a contract between the teacher and the parents of the child. There is a vast knowledge bank contained in the brains of older people, and it must be made easier for them to enter the teaching profession, so as to pass on their knowledge to those who seek to acquire it.
9. Law and order must regain their place at the centre of political thinking. We have too many laws, too loosely applied. The safety of citizens, and their freedom to go about their business undisturbed, must be a priority. The police force should be an integral part of the local community, inspiring trust in the law-abiding citizen and fear in the criminal. Likewise our armed forces should return to governance by Queen’s regulations and allowed to create the spectrum of forces required by the defence of the nation and its interests.
10. Conservatives should advocate a cultural policy that reaffirms our national heritage and values. Such a policy should acquaint the people of this country with the institutions, traditions and achievements of which they can be proud. We need to change cultural direction, away from self-denigration towards a cheerful and confident reassertion of the national idea.
Those ten principles seem to us to be straightforward common sense, and would have the support of the vast majority of our people once explained to them. The time has come for the Conservative Party to recognise this, to adopt those principles as its message, and to present that message confidently to the people.