Cllr Jack Perschke is a Conservative Councillor at
Runnymede Borough Council. An ex-army officer and aid worker, he is currently
studying MSc Sustainability and Management at Royal Holloway University of
Much has been written recently about a need to return to ideology
within the Conservative party. This talk isn’t confined to elderly backbenchers, it’s something I often hear amongst younger
conservatives who pine for an ideology to love as much as their
parents’ loved Thatcher’s free-market revolution. However, I’d like to
take a few lines to briefly speak out about the dangers of searching
too hard for ideology and forgetting in the process the importance of
Ideology tells people what you’re all about. For us it’s all about the
allocation of resources through the market, the social value of wealth
creation, the dangers of crime and social breakdown as well as the
provision of efficient and good value public services. The problem is,
of course, that this is exactly what the current Labour government (if
not the party that backs it) stands for. After years of wrangling with
socialists of various hues, we seem to have won the argument but lost
the war. How can we argue ideologically with a Labour government that
has stolen our clothes and cuts income tax, promotes big business, puts
record numbers of criminals in jail and delivers public services almost
entirely through public/private partnerships?
There are, of course, ideological areas in which the Labour government are ripe for attacking. Centralisation, scope of government powers, foreign policy, the environment, civil liberty, Europe and immigration to name but a few. However, the divide on these issues is not left and right and, instead, seems to run horizontally through both the parties. Therefore, for our party to adopt an ideology that keenly counters the government position we’d have to tear ourselves apart first and, let’s be honest, we’ve all just about had enough of doing that.
So what is the option? Do we simply roll over and die in the face of a government of Tories in red ties? The answer is to be found in the current actions of (most of) the shadow cabinet. They are accepting the ideological consensus and concentrating on how a Conservative government could deliver that ideology better than the current one. It is in delivery, not in ideology that the next election will be won so, for example, if we all agree that low taxation is right for growth but a decent amount of fiscal revenue is needed to fund public services, is the current burden of taxation fair? Is the complexity of our taxation good for anyone other than accountants and lawyers? Can it be more transparent, more egalitarian, more efficient? If we all want to see more criminals jailed, is the prison system up to the job? Why are places so short despite a clear march towards capacity over the last ten years? If we want to control immigration but understand the need for it, are there better ways to at least ensure we know who’s in the country if not to keep them out? If we are set upon military intervention overseas is it not wise to understand the conditions that will face soldiers post conflict? If we agree on well-funded and efficient public services why has this government failed to see performance returns commensurate with the extra money contributed by the tax payer? In each of these areas, the government has left gaping open goals of failed delivery and we’ve been so busy fighting over the ideology that we’ve failed to kick the ball in.
So, in my opinion, the answer today is in the complexities of delivering the consensus and not in finding a separate ideology. In all policy areas, the public do respond to complexity if they are trusted and spoken to honestly and frankly. Our tendency to simplify and vilify is a huge turn off for most voters. There has been lots of recent talk of “re-branding”, taking the Tory party from nasty to nice. I don’t think this is happening and I don’t think it is needed – the brand we need, having lost it in the early 90’s, and the brand we are lacking in the eyes of the public is “competent”. I’m sure that one day this country will be ripe for another revolution but now is not that time. We have a good thing going and most people just want that delivered better.
Better means; without raided pensions, without cash for honours scandals, without ill-conceived wars abroad and without intrusive centralised targets invading our lives. However, until the public thinks we have what it takes to provide them with this, we don’t have a hope of government. This is why leadership squabbles, leaks, scandals and lack of unity matter so much. We don’t have a better ideology than the government (they stole our best one) so we have to prove that we can deliver it better than them. Sadly, as long as the party can’t even announce a grammar schools policy that is nearly 30 years old without causing resignations and in-fighting, we will fail to gain the trust in our capability to deliver that we need to win an election.
So let’s come to terms with the fact that there is little ideological ground between the Conservative party and the Labour government and concentrate on proving that we have better ways of delivering it. Delivery does mean importing talent (even if they were at a Labour fund raiser the week before), it does mean understanding the successes of the current government, it does mean party unity and, most importantly, it does mean creating a political team that people trust, admire and would like to see running the country. We’re a long way from that now and cries for a deeper conservative ideology are, at best, going to distract us from it and, at worst, lead us in the opposite direction.