In our last post before Christmas (we return on the 27th) here is a brief guide to the eleven shields that have crowned ConservativeHome.com since our launch on Easter Monday, 2005.
The shields represent the breadth of the ideal conservative coalition - 'the politics of and'. Each of us come to the conservative colours for different reasons. Our interests overlap and are sometimes in tension but we are at our best when we recognise that diversity is a strength and absolute unity is impossible. There needs to be respect for difference if we are to form a coalition that is broad enough for victory.
Each of the eleven shields represent important causes:
Home and family is the first shield. As John Hayes MP has said, the home comes close to being a unifying emblem for all conservatives:
“The idea of the home can define a Conservative agenda for the twenty-first century. Homes are a symbol of social justice – of private ownership – of security – of independence from intrusive government – of local identity - of embryonic community life…”
Next is prosperity. If socialists come in to politics to redistribute wealth, conservatives prefer to start with the creation of wealth. This shield also represents fiscal and supply-side conservatives.
Compassion is the third shield. Some of the greatest conservatives have been social reformers. This year David Cameron celebrated the example of William Wilberforce. Shaftesbury is another giant in the Conservative Party's one nation tradition. Iain Duncan Smith is the greatest champion of this tradition today. The conservative approach to compassion is distinctive. We understand that the institutions of civil society form the soundest basis for a caring society. School choice, zero tolerance of crime and a safety-net approach to welfare are other favoured hallmarks.
Law and order is the fourth shield. For most conservatives the protection of the public is a primary responsibility of government. But it is not just about laws and policing, it is about the nurturing of what David Cameron has called social responsibility. Without responsibility from families, neighbours and businesses, order is impossible.
Humanity is the next shield. The image is sometimes interpreted as being a statement about abortion. For many conservatives the defence of the unborn is foundational but this shield is actually meant to represent a broader understanding of a pro-life philosophy. In his 2000 inaugural address George W Bush said that "no insignificant person was ever born". That is what the shield attempts to capture. Conservatives believe in the importance of the individual or, as Catholic Social Teaching suggests, "the person". Conservatives will always put the value of the individual ahead of any system.
Faith is the sixth shield and the shield at the centre of the design. Not all conservatives are religious but most conservatives are still affected by Britain's Judaeo-Christian inheritance. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, reminds us of part of that legacy in today's Times:
"Christmas reminds us of a God who is completely committed to the weakest, who uses power only so that human life can be fuller, more peaceful and generous, who gives us the help we need to make our relationships stable and faithful – and who requires of us a complete honesty about ourselves, and gently, steadily, chips away our self-deceptions. Christmas tells us that our best instincts about human nature and what’s needed for a healthy world and society aren’t just things we’ve made up. They are rooted in the way the whole universe is shaped by God."
Shield seven is about the conservative commitment to conservation. Tories disagree about the nature of climate change and what should be done about it. There is, however, broad agreement that the planet is entrusted to us and we need to be good stewards of its richness and diversity and that we begin by protecting our local environments.
The next shield is media and culture. If conservatives have been successfully engaged politically for many years they have been absent from many cultural battles. The BBC, the world of theatre and of criticism have been surrendered to the liberal left. Even during the Thatcher years many public appointments, from the Arts Council to the National Council for One Parent Families, remained in the hands of the left. New groups like the New Culture Forum aim to tackle this failure.
Patriotism is the ninth shield. As C S Lewis has written: “As the family offers us the first step beyond self-love, so [patriotism] offers us the first step beyond family selfishness.” Defence of nation, for conservatives, is the first duty of government. That includes protection from foreign aggression and from domestic assault on settled institutions. This time last year David Willetts listed Britain's great institution-builders.
Shield ten is about international engagement. Few nations are so engaged with the rest of the world through history and outlook. The fourth largest economy in the world, at the centre of the Commonwealth, the inspiration behind the Anglosphere, a member of the European Union and seated on the UN Security Council, Britain remains an important world player.
The final shield - the blue rosette - is about political involvement. Not all conservatives are big 'C' Conservative activists. A whole army of people who defend religious freedom, the local environment or volunteer for a good cause are contributing to the kind of society that conservatives love. But political involvement is a vital expression of conservative commitment. ConservativeHome.com promotes democratic participation and a political conservatism that isn't centralised in the hands of a few but where power is shared with hundreds of thousands of local representatives and activists.