Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Conservatives Have Never Felt They Needed an Ideology
Conservatives have never had a coherent ideology; in fact they have been proud to have eschewed such hostages to fortune. Instead they have cleverly- or wisely depending on your position- adapted their beliefs to what seemed expedient at any particular time in the winning or maintenance of power. Recently Bagehot in The Economist, observed how the party has been scrabbling about trying to suggest it has 'found' an ideology. So we have seen a brief flirtation with US social psychologists' Nudge approach to persuading people to act in a desired way rather than using coercion of some kind.
Then we had the flirtation with Red Toryism, inspired by the theologist Philip Blond which looks to attend to the needs of the poor and 'remoralise the market'. After a few enthusiastic articles in the quality press, delighted to have something interesting to write about for once, things have gone very quiet on that front.
The most recent -ism advanced by Mr Osborne and others is “progressive conservatism”. This purports to be more than just a bid to irk Labour by pinching one of its favourite adjectives, promising to realise “progressive ends by conservative means”. Examples of it in action are said to include plans to devolve power to local councils and to use the internet a lot. Mr Osborne also adduces proposed reforms to health care and schools which, he claims, would both improve provision and save cash.
Bagehot goes on however to question whether voters worry too much about ideas; it's more a concern of the party leaders themselves who maybe want to impress journalists with their intellectual bona fides. As long as the Tories can fulfill the general impression they give they can sort out the economy, most voters will buy whatever they choose to say they believe in. Bagehot points out that Mrs T. merely aserted her own beliefs and only retrospectively validated them by fitting them in with Hayek, Friedman and the like. I suspect it will soon be back to the traditional Conservative ploy of asserting a few Daily Mail prejudices, keeping quiet about the detail and avoiding any mistakes until next spring: by now it's theirs to lose anyway.
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