Tim and Stephan preview their forthcoming book, The Good Right, which is part of ConservativeHome’s project to identify the Message, Machine and Manifesto for future Conservative majorities.
The British Conservative Party – the twentieth century’s most electorally successful political party in the world – hasn’t won a parliamentary majority for more than twenty years.
The American Republican Party that won most of presidential elections in the cold war period hasn’t won more than 50% of the vote in five of the last six contests for the White House.
In looking to understand transatlantic conservatism’s political weakness it would be foolish to blame individual policies or personalities. Something deeper has gone wrong. Conservatism is suffering something of an identity crisis. It’s not just ordinary voters who can’t agree what conservatism is. Most people on the centre right of politics are deeply confused about what conservatism is.
THE CONFUSED RIGHT
At least four broad definitions of conservatism present themselves.
Since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, conservatism has become a creed indistinguishable from capitalism in many voters’ minds. For some, this ‘conservative capitalism’ is about competition, removing barriers to the creation of wealth and cutting taxes. For others of a less sympathetic disposition it’s more about cronyism and protecting big business.
For some people, conservative parties are simply the parties of individualism. This is particularly true for many younger conservatives who frequently define themselves in terms of freedom against the state. This can, in extreme forms, become a survival-of-the-fittest Social Darwinism.
Things then start to get confusing, however. For many, conservatism is far from either liberal or libertarian. It’s the party of order, control and stability. It’s tough on crime, ill-disposed to immigration and intolerant of welfare abuse. Particularly in parts of America, conservatism stands for some very traditional values, notably towards women’s rights and towards gay people.
Those who take a longer, more historical perspective see the British Conservatives, in particular, as deeply pragmatic creatures, changing sides in big debates to adopt whatever position most chimes with the public mood of the time. This flexibility – its critics would call it opportunism – helped the Tory Party to become the 20th century’s most electorally successful political organisation. Whatever it was that electorates wanted, conservative parties aimed to supply it.
THE GOOD RIGHT
The Good Right argues for radical change in how conservative parties and movements think of themselves and how they present themselves to the world. It is not intended to be a policy manifesto.
It is not comprehensive in scope, not focusing on important questions of foreign policy, for example. Nor is it meant as a commentary on the immediate political situation. ‘The Good Right’ is an argument that conservative parties should be about more than pounds, shillings and pence. More than economics and more than authoritarian or individualistic.
We advocate a generational shift to what we regard as a conservatism that is true to its historical breadth.
We propose ten steps that will ensure conservatism first captures the moral high ground and then, as night follows day, comes to dominate politics as it has in the past.
We argue this with confidence because conservatism is not a million miles from the perfect recipe. Voters across the world remain attracted to the Right’s familiar ingredients of value for taxpayers’ money; academic rigour; a tough approach to crime; intolerance of welfare abuse; patriotic self-determination; and strong national defence and border control. What voters haven’t seen enough of is conservatism’s heart. They haven’t seen enough conservative commitment to build a society where everyone has a chance, everyone has a stake and where no one is left behind. Combine the head and heart of conservatism and centre right parties can defeat the Leftist threat from without and the Darwinian distraction from within.
We offer a simple formula for what we call The Good Right. At present we have nations where great inequalities of opportunity are emerging and we have conservative parties that keep losing elections. We believe that conservatism can become popular, authentic and effective if it rebuilds around the idea that family, education and work are the three keys to restoring social progress. Our belief is that the agents of social and economic progress are parents, teachers and job creators. A society that gets behind those will prosper and one that does not will stagnate. And we believe there can be a positive role for government, we don’t say that government should always just ‘get out of the way’ – it has a vital positive role that conservatives need to think about more explicitly.