Why are you a Conservative? How are your views different from those of a New Labour supporter? How do you believe that your views are better than those of a New Labour supporter? I’ll tell you how I think matters lie.
New Labour is the current manifestation of one of the oldest and longest-serving political programmes still active: Catholic Collectivism. Catholic Collectivism was the major political doctrine enacted during the middle ages, and has evolved and found new expression in each new age - as all vibrant political philosophies must. It is a coherent, attractive and powerful foe. Earlier this century its major expression was Corporatism, a programme explicitly inspired by two Catholic encyclicals - Rerum novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo anno (1931). New Labour’s ‘Third Way’ is its most recent form.
Catholic Collectivism advocates close co-operation between employers and workers over working conditions, wages and prices, production and exchange, with the state as overseer. It aims to promote social justice and order by substituting collective considerations in the place of competition and the price mechanism. Catholic Collectivism has always promoted a pan-European hierachy, and still does. New Labour’s philosophy adds a populist side, with a collectivist notion of democracy. For New Labour, democracy is something we do collectively. It is how we ‘rule ourselves’.
For New Labour the People’s Will is sovereign. Focus groups and opinion polls are not mere marketing devices, as some naive Conservatives suppose. They are how New Labour’s policies find their moral legitimacy. New Labour wants to reflect the People’s Will, so that those who oppose it are automatically wrong — they oppose the People.
What today’s Conservativism offers — as reflected in its intellectuals and in the instincts of its members, albeit not in the programmes offered by our leadership for the past seventeen years — is quite different. It is a somewhat newer philosophy than Labour’s, but it has a good pedigree. Modern Conservatism reflects closely its Whiggish tradition. The Whigs were the dominant party for most of the eighteenth century. Famous Whigs of this period include Walpole, the two Pitts, and Burke.
Towards the end of that century the party split into two factions - the Pittites and the Foxites. Over time the Pittite faction came to be called ‘Tories’ (though they had had nothing to do with the seventeenth century party of that name). This faction went on to form the Conservative Party in about 1830. During the 1830s many members of the Foxite faction (now called ‘Whigs’) defected to the Conservative Party, including Edward Stanley, later a Conservative Prime Minister as Lord Derby. The remains of the Whig Party defected to the Conservatives in the 1880s on the Irish Question. The Conservative Party is thus the inheritor of the entire eighteenth-century Whiggish tradition, and modern Conservatism reflects this tradition very closely.
In modern Conservatism we can identify four key Whiggish principles — a New Whig Agenda around which our future policies could be formed. These principles are:
- favouring Parliament over the Executive
- favouring the interests of small traders over concentrated wealth
- favouring toleration of non-conformists
- promoting ordered liberty against the arbitrary powers of the State
In short, the New Whig is the champion of the individual and the underdog.