Peter Franklin is a Conservative policy advisor, speechwriter and contributor to The Guardian’s Comment Is Free.
to this site will be familiar with its house philosophy, which goes by the
unlovely, but oddly memorable, name of ‘and theory’ (which I think is more
easily read in hyphenated form i.e. and-theory. Iain Duncan Smith defines and-theory
“I have never
believed that modernisation requires the jettisoning of Conservative
euroscepticism, or of our belief in low taxation, or of our tough approach to
crime. These principles remain enduringly popular with the public. My proposal
for the modernisation of the Party is not to subtract from these core
principles – but to add to them.”
In his ten point
briefing on the issue, Tim Montgomerie provides a number of examples of policy
positions based on and-theory:
(a) A commitment to actively support healthy,
traditional marriages and fair pension and inheritance arrangements for
(b) A bigger budget for the armed forces and
an end to the sale of arms to despotic regimes…
(c) Faster, longer imprisonment of repeat
offenders and more care for the vulnerable children of prisoners…
recognises that there can be no choice between shoring up the core vote and
chasing floating voters, we need both in order to gain a working majority. In
recent years the Conservative Party has been badly served by the ‘Mods and
Rockers’ who’ve championed different halves of the winning equation.
It is now assumed
that the modernising, floating-vote strategists are in the ascendancy under
David Cameron. In actual fact, these are much the same people responsible for
the core-vote strategy under Michael Howard. And though there is some overlap
with the Portillistas of old, this is far from complete.
unlike Michael Portillo, doesn’t want to dump core Conservative principles.
Like any good and-theorist he believes that we need to complete our
conservatism, and thus broaden its appeal, by embracing issues such as
environmentalism, social justice and civil liberties. However, he has
discomfited many in the party with what seems like an exclusive focus on these
‘breadth’ issues. In Cameron’s defence it must be said that the voters have had
year-after-year of nothing but the ‘depth’ issues (e.g. tax cuts and
immigration), thus a period of rebalancing is in order.
In effect, there
are two ‘and-theories’ – ‘parallel and-theory’ as championed by Conservative
Home and ‘serial and-theory’ as practiced by the Party leadership. A polite
debate between the PATs and SATs is much to be prefered to the Mods and Rockers
rancour of previous years.
got its first major test at the local elections. 40% of the vote was a good
result. Though it should be said that the increase on 2004 was modest, at just
2%, and that this did follow the worst possible fortnight for the Labour Party.
Nevertheless, something of real significance was achieved. In registering their
dissatisfaction with Labour, the voters turned to us and not the Lib Dems
seems to vindicate the “vote blue, go green” strategy. The voters obviously knew
we were an alternative to Labour, but we needed to persuade them that we were a
palatable alternative – and we did.
So much for the
good news. The bad news was that the strategy didn’t work in the urban north.
Does that mean that we need to take serial and-theory even further? No, because
the Lib Dems didn’t make advances against Labour in these areas either. So
should we return to a core-vote strategy in these areas, banging the drum on
crime and immigration? Again, no. We tried this 2005 and actually went
backwards in the north.
while very far from being a core-vote strategy, is shoring up the Tory
heartlands – against the expectations of both its proponents and opponents. One
explanation for this is that serial and-theory is mobilising our core vote, another
is that it is winning back the liberal-minded professional classes. Research is
needed to establish the relative contribution made by each. But neither will be
of much help in the urban north, because there is more than one kind of
Aside from the
muesli-eating professionals, there are the hard-working, aspirational C1s and
C2s – the so-called ‘strivers’ who once propelled Margaret Thatcher to power.
These take a tough line on crime and immigration, but they don’t see the
Conservative Party as being on their side. They were hurt badly by the housing
crash of the early 1990s and felt betrayed by us a result. The sleaze of the
Major-era rubbed salt into their wounds. Now they feel betrayed by a Labour
Government that has failed to reward their hard work. This group of voters
aren’t against environmentalism and the like, but it doesn’t motivate them.
Their concerns are somewhat more self-interested, but not selfish. They only
want what is due to them and their guiding philosophy can be summed up in a
single word – fairness.
There is a third
group of floating voters, further down the social scale from the strivers, and
very much more dependent on the state. Once assumed to be Labour-supporters,
they feel increasingly insecure and alienated from the political mainstream. If
they vote at all, their votes are beginning to go elsewhere – to the Lib Dems
and to smaller parties such as Respect and the BNP. As with the strivers, they
are receptive to Conservative messages on crime and immigration, but what they
really want is someone who will do something about their basic needs,
especially decent housing and the chance of a real job outside of the tax
All this adds up
to my first big problem with and-theory. The various binary propositions,
whether presented in series or in parallel, do not reflect the true complexity
of the task that lies before us. If we only worry about bridging the divide
between the traditionalist and cosmopolitan sections of the middle class, then
we are forgetting half the country altogether. Therefore, we must also bridge
the gap between the middle and working class, and, within the latter, between
its self-sufficient and state-dependent sections.
So does that mean
we have to start presenting complex four-part propositions in some sort of
‘and-and-and-theory’? No, because I don’t think conservatism needs a split
personality of any kind. Conservatism shouldn’t be about finding the balance
between liberal and authoritarian positions. It its own unified, permanent and
complete philosophy. It is a genuine third way, as opposed to the opportunistic
and ultimately incoherent triangulation of politicians such as Tony Blair and
Further more there
should be no ‘deeper’ and ‘broader’ distinction between our various messages,
no spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Environmental sustainability
and social justice are as important and integral to what we believe as fiscal
conservativism and personal responsibility. All spring from the same
assumptions and are fully consistent with one another, mutually dependent even.
What I am
proposing is and-theory without the ‘and’. This excision deals with the most
serious criticism of and-theory, which is that it is dialectical. Conservatism
does not result from a process of synthesis, because that requires thesis and
antithesis i.e. opposing principles. Because conservatism is holistic, at least
one, and probably both, of any pair of opposing principles must necessarily
originate from a non-conservative system of thought. Thus the danger of any
dialectical process is that it will progressively dilute true conservatism.
This is what we
face now as soggy centrists and free-market fundamentalists battle for control
of the Conservative Party. Rather than knitting together a programme with the
help of a box full of ‘ands’, what we really need a single ‘neither/nor’. One
could therefore call this the ‘neither/nor theory of conservatism’ or, even
better, just ‘conservatism’.
Let me illustrate
the differences between the various philosophies with a specific example: the
issue of taxation:
Core-vote theory – guarantee tax cuts in all normal circumstances
Floating-vote theory – reject tax cuts to show that the Conservative Party
Serial and-theory – share the proceeds of growth between public
spending and tax cuts, emphasising the former
Parallel and-theory – cut taxes and, in particular, taxes that hurt the
poorest most of all
Neither/nor theory – reduce the need for taxation by enabling people to
be less dependent on the state
Of these five
positions only the last is truly conservative. All the others fail to conserve
all the key conservative principles at stake. The first two set the principles
of low taxation and social welfare against one another, each taking a different
side. The next two try to achieve some sort of balance, but without resolving
the conflict. It takes true conservatism to get to the heart of the matter and,
as such, is uniquely capable of appealing to the common good.