George Maggs works as a constituency coordinator for Charlotte Leslie, and is a final year PhD researcher at the University of the West of England. He writes in a personal capacity.
I recently began teaching undergraduates at University and started the semester by discussing the British Empire.
When I asked students whether or not we should feel pride in our national story, I was genuinely taken aback by how few of them seemed to know very much at all about our past, and how even less were able to draw any positives from our history.
Very few also appeared to take any pride in being British, something I confess I found a little disconcerting.
So I did some research, and sure enough, according to a 2013 British Social Attitudes survey, only 20 per cent of respondents in their 20s said they felt “very proud” of their country. This compared to 66 per cent for over 75s.
Graduates were also found to have much lower levels of national pride than non-graduates. Again, only 20 per cent of alumni said they felt “very proud” to be British, compared with 59 per cent of those with no formal qualifications.
British history and patriotism appear never to have mattered less to our young and educated. This fact was reinforced during the summer’s election campaign.
Many Conservatives thought it would be enough simply to point out Corbyn and McDonnell’s links to the IRA and to the disastrous socialist experiment this country embarked upon during the 1970s to ensure a thumping Conservative majority. But times have changed. The past no longer seems to matter.
This should frighten Conservatives across the country as it is critical to explaining the current unpopularity of Conservativism amongst our young. Conservativism as an electoral force is contingent upon the majority of our countrymen and women feeling pride in our national history and wishing to preserve the best of our culture, institutions, and socio-economic system.
Patriotism is therefore a necessary pre-condition for Conservativism to exist. Without pride in what exists, there is no desire to conserve.
Socialists and nationalists, on the other hand, have a vested interest in seeking to undermine British history and in portraying British foreign policy in particular as cruel and vindictive. Only if people feel shame in what Britain was and what it remains will they become susceptible to the fallacy that radical change is necessary in the form of huge state intervention or national isolationism.
Mhairi Black, the SNP MP, recently described Britain as “economically selfish, increasingly xenophobic, cruel and reckless”. Tragically, it is this nationalist/socialist narrative which seems to be winning through amongst today’s young.
If Conservativism is not only to endure but flourish, it must be prepared both to defend Britain’s past, and to explain its relevance in contemporary society. Thankfully, this should not be too difficult a task.
Although we cannot be proud of everything done in the name of Great Britain, our country, more often than not, has been on the right side of history. Without it, international ideals such as private property, limited government, independent judiciaries, freedoms such as freedom of speech, association, exchange, religious freedom and habeas corpus would not be regarded as ‘good’ in the modern age.
Britain defined and exported liberalism to the world. Without it, those currently wishing to pull down statues, and protest against “austerity”, Brexit, and whatever else so-called “liberals” currently happen to be complaining about, would not have the freedom to do so.
In our modern, increasingly secular and multi-ethnic society, history, custom, tradition and patriotism are essential ingredients in the promotion of social cohesion. Such is the extent of our varied demography in contemporary Britain that few social traits remain constant, save for our Britishness. It is something we all have in common and which should act as a platform for greater social unity. The best defence against extremism and social isolationism is to keenly promote traditional culture and to generate a sense within all citizens that British identity is positive and worth defending.
Whilst leftist and nationalist ideology is constructed on division and the promotion of greed, envy and class hatred, Conservatism is centred on love: love of neighbour and of country, regardless of social background. It is this message of hope we should proclaim to our younger generations.
At its root, Conservativism is about strengthening social ties not just between different generations or social groups, but as Burke put it, “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”. These values are timeless. And they are needed now more than ever.