The launch of a new “Compassionate Conservative Caucus” is an important internal Tory development:
- Downing Street is backing it. That officials from Downing Street attended the group’s first meeting is a sign of approval and evidence of interest. Social justice, equality of opportunity, boosting aspiration – call it whatever you will, David Cameron is interested in it. “The One Nation Thingy” has become his big theme. It was the subject of his speech a fortnight ago on life chances. It was also the theme of his first major post-election speech, which contained three main sections – on families, schools and work; not unlike the homes, jobs and savings trio that is stamped on ConservativeHome’s masthead. The Prime Minister is using these big Monday addresses to shape the political week. One will be delivered soon on education. This new initiative is a resource for him, and will remain so until he stands down.
- The passing of a baton to a new generation. The name most associated with social justice in relation to the Conservative Party is that of Iain Duncan Smith. He was not at the launch, and this is significant. The torch is passing to a new generation, two of the most important members of which are the Ruth Davidson/Stephen Crabb duo. Both were there. Crabb is viewed in some quarters as a future leadership candidate if the Party leaps a generation in its choice. I understand that the Centre for Social Justice, which the Work and Pensions Secretary set up, will support and help the new group.
- The return of Tim Montgomerie: No Tory social justice initiative is likely to be launched without this site’s former editor being there. I gather that Tim helped to organise the meeting and the attendance of its speaker, Bill Gates. David Burrowes, who together with Sajid Javid and Robert Halfon started out with our former editor at Exeter University, chaired the meeting. Nadhim Zahawi, a columnist for this site and another old colleague, was also present. Tim is off to the United States to help cover the American election for the Times, but will remain involved in the group’s activities. Were Javid or Boris or perhaps George Osborne to become the next Party leader, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see our former editor in Downing Street or back in CCHQ for the 2020 election.
- A challenge to future leadership candidates. Two senior politicians who made speeches for the Legatum Institute’s Future of Capitalism project, which Tim set up, were at the launch: Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. But my take is that the new group is less about supporting a particular future leadership candidate – and the former is still a possible contender – than challenging them to meet a standard. Members of this Compassionate Conservative caucus will want to hold all the candidates to account when the time comes. Gove himself told the gathering that its members must put as much pressure on Ministers over social justice as Eurosceptics put on them over Europe. It is possible to imagine that it will publish some sort of manifesto itself or, more likely, issue a checklist of policies which it will ask the candidates to support. It is also worth noting that one contender was not at the meeting: George Osborne.
- The new Tory Left. The Party’s Left has long been associated with the support of Britain’s membership of the EU and politicians who had reservations about, if not Margaret Thatcher’s policies, then certainly her style of leadership itself. The Tory Reform Group’s website seems to be down, but find its list of patrons and you will take the point. The terms Right and Left are controversial, but I would argue that this new initiative displays something of the differences about economics and politics that gripped the Party on a bigger scale during the early 1980s, and which run back through its history all the way to Disraeli and even further.
- In boiled-down terms, the Right puts its faith in better markets: there are few problems, in its view, that freer markets can’t solve. The Left, rather, puts its faith in renewed people – believing that those from broken and failing homes, or who have alcohol and substance abuse problems, or whose family are long-term unemployed, or go to the worst schools are less likely to enjoy rewarding work and happy lives than others. It thus places less stress on markets than the moral framework that makes them possible, and is more disposed to take a positive view of government intervention and of the state itself. This is part of what the CSJ is all about.
- One doesn’t have to be a Christian to hold this view but the new group has a strong Christian flavour: Colin Bloom of the Conservative Christian Fellowship was in attendance, and Gary Streeter, Caroline Spelman, Fiona Bruce, John Glen, Alistair Burt and Lord Bates are some of those supporting the enterprise. Caroline Ansell, Johnny Mercer and Tom Tugendhat from the 2015 intake among others are sympathetic. I gather that Jesse Norman will address the group shortly about Crony Capitalism. There is a lot of overlap with Oliver Letwin’s recent speech on Opportunity for All to Bright Blue. And there is some with Bright Blue itself, though not necessarily on, say, immigration.
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You may well be asking: where’s the beef? What would this Social Justice conservatism mean in practice? Here are ten examples – five from Tim’s Good Right project and writings, and five from the ConservativeHome Manifesto.
- Opposition to Osborne’s Google deal and the company being compelled to pay more in tax to the Treasury.
- More support for marriage in the tax system.
- Companies being strongly discouraged and perhaps barred from paying their highest-paid employees more than X times the salary of their lowest-paid employees.
- Higher levels of housebuilding so that more young people can own their own homes.
- Caps on donations to political parties and mandatory voting.
- A switch from Help to Buy to direct support for councils, housing associations and other landlords building homes for sale to boost home ownership.
- Moving resources from higher education to vocational education. Despite the Government’s work on the latter – see Zahawi’s article on this site from Monday – the balance between graduates and apprentices is out of kilter.
- The endowment of every school with seed capital for an investment portfolio.
- A northern Infrastructure Fund.
- Fairer pensions tax relief. (Light the touchpaper and retire.)