When Tim Montgomerie launched The Good Right, it was to widespread acclaim. But as he remarks in a post for CapX, not everyone is happy:

“I am what most people would regard as right-of-centre but in recent times I’ve been accused of being a wet. A lefty. A big government conservative.”

In answering his own question – “Am I right wing?” – he focuses on the free market / small state / low tax aspects of rightwingery. In doing so he freely admits his heterodox views:

“Our draft 12 point manifesto was definitely intended to be provocative and it included some ideas associated with the Left. Those ideas included a bigger role for the State in building affordable houses; a progressive consumption tax aimed at luxury goods; and inflation-beating increases in the minimum wage.”

He goes on to make an impeccably conservative case for why such measures can help achieve conservative goals:

“Many small statists hate what is popularly referred to as the nanny state. They hate the way that the state seeks to interfere in our lives by discouraging us from smoking or eating too much or drinking to excess. I have to say that I have no principled objection to the nanny state. My only concern is whether nannying works or not. If it works I’m not just in favour of it, I’m enthusiastic about it. I’m all for state interventions that produce more independent and socially-useful citizens.”

Seen in this light, the nanny state is better described as what Tim calls the “preventative state”:

“Early, focused, empirically-evaluated interventions should save the taxpayer a lot of money in the long-run.”

He contrasts the conventional rightwing approach of “cutting the supply of government” with the Good Right preference for reducing the demand for government:

“Build more independent citizens – by helping them to be nurtured by stronger families; helping them acquire the academic, vocational or hybrid skills necessary to be gainfully employed; helping them to become drug-free – and you find that the big state problem starts to take care of itself.”

It’s wonder why any of this should be controversial (at least to conservatives). However, what Tim doesn’t mention is that his critics on the right don’t just want to cut the supply of government, they want to cut the supply to government. On one level this means ‘starving the beast’ – i.e. cutting taxes in the hope that government will have to cut spending. On a deeper level, though, it means starving government of moral legitimacy.

The hard right’s problem with the Good Right is that it positively imbues government action (of the right kind) with moral legitimacy. The fact that such action is legitimised in regard to conservative objectives only makes the argument all the more objectionable. It’s one thing to claim that the state can succeed in achieving recognisably collectivist objectives like rationing and redistribution, but to suggest that government  can nurture stronger, more independent individuals and communities… well, that really is turning the old orthodoxy on its head.

One last thought: the Good Right agenda implies more than just a change in government objectives, it also requires a change in the nature of government itself – a transition from a top-down bureaucracy to a decentralised network of elected bodies, community institutions and empowered individuals. Without the structural contrast between the monolithic state and the fluid market place, established ideological battlelines lose their relevance – something which the fundamentalists of left and right won’t like at all.