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The Good Right

As readers may have already seen, today Tim Montgomerie and Stephan Shakespeare have launched their new project: The Good Right, which they first trailed on ConservativeHome a year ago.

As the authors laid out then, The Good Right seeks to achieve two goals: a conservatism which is compassionate and electorally successful. It’s born of their belief in moral policy and their knowledge of political strategy – the latter being something that the founders of this website and YouGov enjoy in bucketloads.

The thinking is rooted in William Boetcker’s “Ten Cannots”, summed up in their statement of Foundational Beliefs and made flesh in a founding platform of 12 policy ideas:

1) More housebuilding, more home ownership, with a particular focus on Garden Cities.

2) Higher taxes on expensive properties and luxury goods, in return for lower taxes on low-income workers.

3) Above-inflation increases in the minimum wage.

4) Cancelling plans to raise the income tax threshold, and instead allocating the funds to increasing work incentives through the Universal Credit.

5) Renegotiating our relationship with the EU to a) cut energy and food bills and b) restrict free movement in order to benefit low-paid workers in the UK.

6) Use the revenue from northern shale gas to fund infrastructure in the north of England.

7) The state should pay for 25 per cent of private school places to be provided to scholarship boys and girls.

8) Refocus state spending to prize long-term goals, including investment in infrastructure, science and long-term research. Reduce public sector pay, perks and pensions to a state of equivalence with the private sector.

9) Fairer spending – by a) abolishing the Barnett Formula and instead allocating spending to regions and localities across the UK on the basis of need, and b) reducing the benefits given to better-off pensioners to fund deficit reduction and early intervention programmes.

10) Adopting measures of poverty and support services structure that combat underlying causes of disadvantage including family breakdown, addiction, indebtedness and social dislocation, rather than just focusing on income redistribution.

11) Strict and low limits on political donations. No taxpayer-funding for political parties, but charitable relief on small donations.

12) A £1 million bursary scheme to assist the less well-off in becoming Conservative MPs.

You may agree with all of those ideas, some of them, or none at all (I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comments). They’re certainly radical and inventive; personally I’m in broad, if not total, agreement with eight of them (Numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12). But I don’t think the authors’ intention is that everyone must be on board with the whole platform – and they’re not primarily seeking the interest and approval of existing Conservatives. Rather they want to deliver a pitch which is sufficiently widely shared that it would win votes beyond the Conservative core. In effect, their belief is that the centre ground is fundamentally located on the centre right, and this is their sketch of what it looks like.

There is, I’m pleased to say, a good deal of cross-over with the ConHome Manifesto - from the motivating concern that the essentials of a good life are unavailable to millions (essentials we named as Homes, Jobs and Savings) to the broad principles that what limited opportunity there is for tax cuts should be focused on the least well-off (we suggested reducing Employers’ and Employees’ National Insurance on young people earning Minimum Wage) right down to some of the specific policies (using shale gas revenues for a Northern Infrastructure Fund, their sixth policy, is straight out of our manifesto).

In short, we agree with The Good Right in the need for Conservatives to propose radical measures which will drastically improve life for the people who find themselves most hard-pressed in our society. Implicit in both our work is a concern that the Conservative Party is yet to propose enough ideas along those lines – though we certainly hope that they will read our work and take some inspiration from it, and we’ve yet to see the official manifesto. That is partly because of the risk-averse nature of the current political climate, but it is also due to a lack of long-term strategic thinking.

There is cross-over with our work, but that’s not to say that we’d necessarily sign up to everything that TGR proposes. I think a lot of Conservatives and potential Conservatives would instinctively dislike any proposal for higher taxes – and particularly those which might seem to appeal to the left’s love on envy taxation - as Boetcker wrote in those brilliant Cannots, “You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred”. As I wrote on Sunday, the difficulty around political donations is less that large donations are allowed than that the parties don’t really want to attract the large quantities of small donations which would replace them (largely, I suspect, because it would require far more grassroots power and direct democratic control over policy). As a libertarian, I prefer TGR’s emphasis on the idea that public services should focus on helping people back on to their feet to the socialist approach of services which simply create dependency, but I also think there are dangers in over-romanticising the capacity of the state to fix problems.

While applauding Tim and Stephan’s work, I confess I also have a niggling discomfort about the name. Compassionate conservatism was laudable for its intentions, but it always had the weakness that it hinted that other conservatives were lacking in compassion. “The Good Right” is openly a rebranding of that movement, but the new brand may hold some of the same risk – suggesting implicitly that the rest of the Right might be bad.

Then again, that rather goes to the heart of the project – too many voters from all sorts of backgrounds do think negatively about our motivations, our values and actions – in a democracy, whether that’s fair or not is beside the point. If people believe or suspect you’re bad, Montgomerie and Shakespeare would argue, then it’s down to you to prove them wrong, not just moan about the unfairness of it. And that’s where The Good Right comes in.

123 comments for: Here comes The Good Right

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