By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.
We planned this week's series on Compassionate Conservatism, which opens with today's article by Jesse Norman, long before last week's clash of attitudes, ideas and culture over welfare. It has an even wider application. If a single survey finding should be embedded into the consciousness of every party activist and supporter, it is the one which found that 58% of those polled said they were open to voting Conservative, but that 70% were open to voting Labour. Tim Montgomerie wrote: "Depressingly the Centre for Social Justice found similar results in 2004 when I was working
for Iain Duncan Smith. There is a low glass ceiling for the
Conservatives and it's persistent."
There isn't a single answer to the problem, but it would be surprising if the continuing story of Compassionate Conservatism, which the Deep End will write about later this week, doesn't hold a large part of it. The sense that conservatism has a moral purpose, that the Conservative Party is its political expression, and that it is for everyone who agrees with that purpose is indispensible not only if that party is to win in 2015, but if it is ever again to become Britain's natural party of government (which, at present, is Labour).
David Cameron was getting at this sense in his conference speech last year – which he's following up in his What-The-Romans-Are-Doing-For-Us tour this week – when he reminded his audience that the party has been led "by the daughter of a grocer, the son of a music hall performer
… by a Jew when Jews were marginalised, by a woman when women were
sidelined". But Compassionate Conservatism is easier said than done, and easier done than defined. What is it anyway? Is it out of date, in a country where, for example, attitudes to welfare are hardening?
Or is that to misunderstand what it's been since…well, different people will have different starting dates and offer different names, but it's hard to argue that Burke, Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Henry Willink (look him up if you've never heard of him – for it was this Conservative, not Bevan, who originally proposed a National Health Service), Iain Macleod, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove had or have nothing to do with it, and don't have something in common that may be hard to define, but is easy to recognise: that sense that the Conservative Party's at its strongest when it has a grip on "the rising class", and an appeal to a bigger part of Britain than its rivals.
We will have four more pieces to follow Jesse Norman's this morning. One of them, in the interests of balance, will argue that the whole idea is overblown. That isn't Norman's view, and he today reminds anyone who's in danger of forgetting (or who doesn't want to accept) that Compassionate Conservatism is alive and well in this age of austerity.