Jack Perschke: The search for 3G conservatism
Cllr Jack Perschke is a Conservative Councillor at Runnymede Borough Council. An ex-army officer and aid worker, he is currently studying MSc Sustainability and Management at Royal Holloway University of London.
Do you remember the world before mobile phones? When plans had to be stuck to, telephone numbers remembered and one prayed that the vital phone box hadn’t been vandalised. Into that stone-aged darkness came an invention that was to change they way we all lived. It was, of course, the first generation (1G) mobile phone. These clunking heavyweights ran out of battery after a two minute call. This was fortunate for the average caller as they were so expensive to use few people could afford a third minute. They held little appeal to most people and were largely the preserve of poseurs. However, despite unpopularity at the time, they were at the cusp of a revolution and destined to change all our lives.
At a similar time in history there was a Prime Minister privatising, de-industrialising and embourgeoisieing as fast as her iron will could propel her. Her methods were as unsubtle as they were revolutionary and like our first generation mobile phones, came with their share of unpopularity problems. There were real and crippling side-effects for our public services and, no matter how necessary we may feel it was now, the personal costs for many hundreds of thousands of Britons were extreme. Thatcherism was finding its limits and so was the country. Conservatism was ripe for an upgrade but the Conservative party was in no position to innovate and improve. Like other organisations that believe the need for innovation has passed, the Conservative party was soon to find that its key product was being copied and improved upon to devastating effect.
In 1997 I got my first mobile phone. They had, at last, become affordable, practical and usable. Getting networks in, developing the technology and establishing the market may have been the hard work but, with those foundations in place, the market was open and the consumers weren’t going to be buying on the basis of who’d had the vision but on the basis of who supplied today’s best product. These 2nd generation (2G) phones had mass appeal and, whilst not offering much more than 1G phones, they offered it without the nasty after-taste of inconvenience and personal cost.
Of course, 1997 also marked the beginning of 2G Conservatism. The Blair government stormed to power supported by privatised industry, empowered by an increasingly wealthy population and with the difficult decisions of de-industrialisation already made. They were branded as “New Labour” but really were “2G Tories”. No-one outside the conservative party cared about the rip-off and, as Tories dismally pined about their lost revolution, Blair set about making Conservatism appeal to the mass market. Like 2G phones, 2G Conservatism was lighter, more reliable and flexible enough to have an appeal for all.
Ten years on from my first taste of mobile communications, the mobile phone industry searches frantically for the “killer application” for its 3G phones. Email? Video calls? Music? What is it that will build on past success and secure dominance of the market-place? In the political world, the search for 3G Conservatism is equally frantic and equally important for market share. Is it the environment? Europe? Immigration? What is going to be our “killer application”?
For my part, I’d keep it simple. What do the first two generations have to teach us? Whatever we come up with must be based on 1G principles of flexible free-market capitalism and 2G social conscience. So any calls for moves to the right as an alternative to Blair are unwise. Just as he did, we must use the successes of the previous government as a foundation from which to build. What has been popular over the last 10 years? A successful economy, cordial compromise in Europe and heavy investment in public services, these we must maintain and improve upon. What has been unpopular? De-liberalisation in the form of excessive legislation, recent foreign policy, lack of environmental progress, inefficiencies in the public sector and a detached, arrogant and responsive (rather than proactive) political class. It is in these issues that we will find the “killer applications” to form 3G Conservatism.
3G Conservatism shouldn’t be about reversing the last decade and taking conservatism further away from the people but about building on what has worked, scrapping what hasn’t, and creating a product that is so clearly viable that people instinctively want to invest in it. For me a phone must provide really good voice and text facilities as a minimum, and a government must provide a sound economy and well funded public services as a minimum. Beyond that, my ideal 3G government would reduce and simplify legislation, radically re-examine our position in Iraq and Afghanistan, recognise the importance of promoting an agenda of environmental sustainability across our culture and provide an accountable and in-touch political system with its roots in local communities. I feel that, in these areas, we can outgun a dying government and effectively regain our legacy that was so hard won by the pioneers of the first Conservative revolution.