Shane Frith is director of the classical-liberal think-tank
Progressive Vision. He has worked for Conservative MPs in the UK and
National Party MPs in his native New Zealand. He is a former chairman
of the International Young Democrat Union, linking young people
involved in centre-right political parties worldwide, including the
Three years ago, Mark Littlewood and I established Progressive Vision, a campaigning think tank which brought together a coalition of classical liberals from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. We did this because we recognised that true liberal DNA, if somewhat suppressed, existed in both parties. Indeed, both parties even share a hero in the form of Winston Churchill who served in both Liberal and Conservative governments.
As a Conservative, I would have preferred to see a solid majority for my party, but even three years ago it was clear to see that there was a real risk we might need to work with the Liberal Democrats to undo the damage of the disastrous Labour administration. Having seen coalition governments at work in New Zealand I knew that it was possible for supporters of different parties to work together for the good of the nation.
While supporters of these two parties disagree on much (notably Europe), there is much common ground. The Lib Dems I work with are generally described as "Orange Bookers", whose policy recommendations are often more ambitious than those of the Conservative Party. The Orange Book called for ambitious reform of the NHS, which while not as bold as Dan Hannan’s proposals for health savings accounts advocated in "The Plan", shamed the Conservative Party’s official position. Even in the Lib Dem manifesto, they bravely refused to “ring fence” the NHS from spending cuts.
While coalition governments will have challenges, they also offer opportunities. None more so than to transform the image of the Tory Party. The lame attempts by socialists to claim the mantle of “progressive” should now be laid to rest. One look at the current state of the British economy should dispel any notion that 13 years of Labour government has seen progress. Despite David Cameron’s generous acknowledgement of advances in tolerance and openness seen in the last decade, I would argue that the majority of this has come from the bottom up, rather than led by the government. Remember, only the Conservative Party has been progressive enough to elect a woman as its leader.
Hopefully, this coalition will also help dispel the myth that the Conservative Party is here to serve to interests of the rich. As a non rich supporter of the Conservative Party I know that it is capitalism and free societies that allow social mobility, not the clunking fist of the state. It is the poorest who are suffering most in this economic downturn and they are the ones who will benefit most from sensible economic policies. Yes, the rich will benefit from a strong economy, but this is a very welcome side effect, not a goal.
After a decade of regressive Labour Party policies, I look forward to bold policies to achieve real progress. In this current climate, this can be best be achieved by combining the best in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.