Last week, the CPI rate of inflation fell to a record low while the employment rate hit a record high. And yet despite also having the most popular party leader and the most generously-funded campaign operation, the Conservative Party is still behind in most opinion polls.
We know what the problem is, so what do we do about it? Last week, Tim Montgomerie and Stephan Shakespeare gave their answer in the shape of the Good Right (which Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace review here and here).
In the New Statesman, George Eaton acknowledges this could be a breakthrough agenda for the Conservative Party:
“It is a programme of precisely the kind that the Tories need to embrace if they are to attract new supporters, most notably the blue-collar voters who have gravitated towards Ukip and who enabled their past majorities. Through a combination of ignorance and arrogance, too many Conservatives have convinced themselves that the economically insecure, interventionist-minded groups attracted to the ‘people’s army’ will be appeased by the promise of an EU referendum, restrictions on migrant benefits and a relentless focus on austerity.”
Is there any chance of the Good Right agenda altering the course of the coming election? Eaton thinks not:
“The Good Right has emerged too late in the political cycle to have much influence on the Conservative manifesto currently being assembled by Jo Johnson, Boris’s younger brother and the head of the No 10 policy unit. If its vision is ever adopted, it will more likely follow defeat than victory for the Tories… Should the supposedly ‘unelectable’ Miliband… enter Downing Street, the Conservatives may finally be forced to confront the question of why they are so disliked.”
This is an appalling, outrageous and, no doubt, deliberately provocative suggestion from the political editor of New Statesman. It’s also probably true. If Cameron clings on in May, then the sense of relief will overwhelm any impetus for deeper renewal. Conversely, a defeat to the wrong brother would surely force the mother of all rethinks.
But why hasn’t the present party leadership already embraced the Good Right? Eaton blames ideology:
“It was in the 1990s that their beliefs ossified into dogma. The doctrine of free-market economics, one not inevitably tied to conservatism, was elevated to the status of a secular religion. Intelligent and practical policies of the kind advocated by the Good Right are now rejected as ideologically impure.”
On this point I believe he’s wrong.
It’s true that the conventional right is in thrall to the neoliberal consensus. But, as I’ve argued before on the Deep End, so is the conventional left (the only difference being that the latter wants to squeeze slightly more protection money from our degenerate form of capitalism).
Changing the system – restoring capitalism to what it should be – isn’t something you can do with communication grids, photo-opportunities and back-of-an-envelope policy development. True reform requires a depth of vision, a presence of mind and a bigness of heart that is quite beyond the way that any of our political parties are run these days.
And this, rather than ideology, is why the present leadership of the Conservative Party will not and cannot embrace the Good Right.