There is a sense that with the vote share of the main parties having fallen, realignment is coming, as it did in the aftermath of the First World War. Tim Montgomerie explored this notion in an article reproduced this week in his and Stephan Shakespeare’s new project, TheGoodRight. In the piece, Tim took today’s political parties and re-shaped them into four new ones. It struck me when reading it that there was something odd about his categorisations – namely, that under his scheme he had put Margaret Thatcher into the same party as Tony Blair.
I can see there is a continuum between aspects of how both governed, but in belief, attitude and worldview – not to mention record in office – there are more differences than similarities. If one is to imagine four new parties, it would be more natural to create a new right-wing one, a centre-right one, and centre-left one, and a left-wing one, and lump Thatcher in the second and Blair in the third.
But such a scheme would not have allowed Tim to create a new National Party that excludes Thatcher, includes Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper, and proposes higher taxes on expensive properties, above-inflation increases in the minimum wage and a big new state-supported housebuilding programme.
Some will question whether such a package of personnel and policies is coherent. Tim and Stephan’s answer is that it is, because we are “beyond left and right”, as they put it – claiming that new divisions over intervention abroad or same sex marriage capture the flavour of modern politics at least as well as the old class-based ones.
Whatever your view, there can be no doubt at all about one thing: such a vision may or may not hold together on paper, but it is given momentum by the conviction, projection and consistency of one man. It is driven by a view of human nature and society based explicitly in Christianity, and which Tim has been expounding since he first put the Conservative Christian Fellowship together before moving on through Renewing One Nation to…ConservativeHome.
ConservativeHome. TheGoodRight. The words are rushed together as though to illustrate that modern life is busy, time is short, there is much to be done and attention must be grabbed and seized. Lists are used to summarise arguments, which their numbered points hammer home. There is a restlessness and an urgency about the way ideas are fired off, captured in the use of capital letters. “There has NEVER been a better time to be alive.” “Government: it is NOT the enemy.” “The State cannot love YOUR neighbour as well as YOU can.”
Thatcher, whose view of life was no less shaped by Christianity than Tim’s, would have agreed with that last proposition, but surely not with the one that precedes it. (This helps to demonstrate that “in my Father’s house there are many mansions”. Perhaps in my Father’s house there will also be a new mansion tax, or at least new higher council tax bands.)
And it is here that we come to what would underpin the new National Party, were it to exist: a sympathetic view of the state. Problems won’t be solved by it either running the whole show or just getting out of the way It is the indispensable middleman – the agency that ensures that there are schools for children to go or hospitals that people are treated in or homes than families can live in. It is the guarantor of social justice.
This is much closer to traditional One Nation conservatism than Thatcher’s own brand – an irony, given Tim’s consistent criticism of much of David Cameron’s leadership. Indeed, it is a Third Way. He and Stephan refer to a “libertarian danger” as a well as “socialist danger”. Harold Macmillan would have agreed. (He also dreamed of realignment.) “Do Good Right conservatives have more in common with many on the left than with libertarians?”, they go so far as to ask.
My answer would be a no – if only because the state has a more effective record at breaking down the civil society that Tim loves than libertarian ideas. This is also the response Mark Wallace gave in his own reaction to TheGoodRight. But the site shares Tim’s broad view of the state. This perhaps explains why there is so much overlap between his policy proposals and this site’s leitmotif of Homes Jobs and Savings – expressed in the ConservativeHome Manifesto: the state housebuilding programme, in which money would be switched from Help to Buy to new owner-occupied homes for poorer people, the Northern Infrastructure Fund, the new means of measuring poverty.
And realignment along these lines? Maybe. I would hope that there was enough in our manifesto – such as leaving the EU to regain control of our borders – to attract some UKIP voters and supporters as well as other proposals (such as more garden cities, or a federal UK) to attract Liberal Democrat-leaning ones. But the Conservative Party remains its best vehicle. It is closest to these ideas: indeed, it is their historical expression, and today’s means of delivery – the Grown-Up Government of Michael Gove’s free schools and Theresa May’s policing reforms and Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit and Chris Grayling’s rehabilitation programme and Francis Maude’s championship of culture change in Whitehall and Jeremy Hunt’s own Goveian experiment at health. It has a solid third of the vote. If only it could stop being seen as the Party of the Rich. Which is where TheGoodRight comes in…