Despite writing regularly on ConservativeHome, I don’t think I have ever explained why I am a Conservative.
As a child of illiterate working class parents, I understandably grew up supporting the Labour Party. Like many young people, I took a detour into Trotskyism at university before returning to mainstream Labour. I remember feeling gutted by the 1979 general election; an event I now regard as the starting point of the saving of our country!
Around 1980 I joined the Liberal Party for a couple of years, but in 1983 left them to join the Conservative Party. I have been a Conservative ever since.
The reason I joined is very simple. Milton Friedman’s TV series “Free to choose”, and book with the same title, convinced me of the virtues of capitalism and free markets, washing away any residual socialist or Marxist leanings.
In passing, although I am a Conservative, I am not a conservative. I joined the Party because I saw Margaret Thatcher radically changing Britain for the better. I am a Conservative because I want to change things!
Policies change from time to time, but principles, values and ways of seeing the world endure. Accordingly, below is a short, non-exhaustive list of the key principles that make me a Conservative.
Other may agree or disagree about whether these are the principles of the Party; they are what I believe and what I see the Party as upholding.
Successful people make a successful society
Some people simply are more talented or more motivated than others.
When they are driven to succeed, for example by making lots of money, their activities make the world better for others as well.
Steve Jobs of Apple made enormous amounts of money for himself and other Apple shareholders, but he also improved the lives of millions of customers by creating iPhones for them to buy.
I see socialists as wanting a better society, but a society without any exceptionally successful people. Hence their obsession with inequality.
Fundamentally, I think most socialists believe that if someone is very rich, they have taken that wealth away from everyone else; that their success has come by making other people poorer. That is simply untrue.
If your understanding of how economies work is so flawed, if you don’t understand that wealth can be created which previously did not exist at all, you can never govern successfully.
I am best placed to make decisions about myself
Once I have earned my money, it is mine. Accordingly I am the person best placed to decide how to spend it.
Socialists are far too keen on telling people what is good for them and mandating how they should run their lives and their finances.
A concrete recent example of the Conservative Party rolling back paternalism is the recent legislation to allow people with defined contribution pension schemes to decide how they take their own money out of their own pension fund, instead of limiting how much they are allowed to take out each year.
The state should only do what the state does best
The state is terrible at running businesses. Businesses operate best when they are run by the people who own them, (owner managed businesses) or by people appointed by the owners (for example listed companies).
At one time the UK used to own telecommunications businesses, ports, airports, airlines, water companies, trains, electricity companies, steel companies, coal mines etc. The Conservative Party sold them off, and they now operate much more efficiently than when state owned.
There are some activities that only the state can do. In economics they are known as “public goods”. Examples are external defence, a civil justice system, the police force, maintaining a diplomatic service. Government clearly has to be the provider of public goods.
Beyond that, it is sometimes efficient for the state to be the provider of a service.
One good example is the National Health Service. Healthcare is far more efficiently provided in the UK than in the USA, because we avoid all of the deadweight costs incurred by US insurance companies and the temptation to over-treat to increase medical incomes.
Also, the state acts as a monopoly purchaser of doctors’ services, nursing services and pharmaceuticals, keeping down the prices in each case.
The evidence of our greater efficiency is that Britons have longer life expectancy than Americans despite UK spending on healthcare as a percentage of national income being about half that of the USA’s.
While some government spending is essential, because we cannot run society without it, government spending is not an inherently good thing of itself. Unfortunately most socialists talk as if government spending is always good, while private spending is always bad.
Recall Gordon Brown’s relish as Chancellor of the Exchequer in boasting about extra government spending, which he always called “investment”. Every pound the government was spending was a pound that some taxpayer was not able to spend or invest for themselves.
Willingness to take tough decisions
In the last five years, the Conservative led coalition government has managed to cut about one million public sector jobs. That was obviously unwelcome to the people who lost their jobs.
However it means that public services are being provided at much lower cost, often with higher levels of satisfaction. At the same time, some public services have had to be reduced or eliminated, because the state could no longer justify taking money from taxpayers to pay for them.
Meanwhile far more jobs were created by the private sector, resulting in overall unemployment going down dramatically despite the reduction in the number of public sector employees.
“Warm and cuddly” policies are often self-defeating. I have previously explained the “Principles of job creation” on ConservativeHome, with the paradoxical point that making it easier to fire workers is one of the simplest ways of encouraging private sector job creation.
However socialists are always seeking to enhance employment rights, thereby favouring people who already have jobs at the expense of the unemployed.