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Andrew Lilico


I wasn't saying that it was about me. My contention is that the Whiggish form of Conservatism is dominant in the Party today, and that our approach in reaching out to other sorts of voters should recognise this.

The Tory element is a perfectly legitimate part of the Conservative coalition, and at other times a Conservative programme focused on Toryism would indeed be electable - I hadn't meant to suggest it would *always* be unelectable. But, for better or worse, it is unelectable for now.

As I have said, I do not recommend, either, offering a programme of purely Whiggish thought. Instead, what we need, is a coalition of our Whiggish and Paternalist elements. I think that Cameron and Davis and Willets and Osborne and I would all agree on that. Our point of dispute is only whether that programme should have Paternalism as its focus (the Cameron/Osborne view up to now) or whether it should be focused on using Whiggish ideas and solutions to address Paternalist concerns (my view). The Conservative Party is dominated by Whigs, numerically and in terms of its intellectuals, and has been for many years. We must embrace that.


I have re-read your article to be sure and I simply do not accept your definition of Whiggish. The Whigs believed in order because they were a political party of the ruling classes. They were never interested in social justice until they were overtaken by radicals under Charles James Fox and Earl Grey and Lord John Russell and subsided into being Liberals. To give them their due they believed in liberty for every county family and they believed in a strong state but a nightwatchman state not an interventionist one. All of which is completely academic as the Whigs died in 1832.
The modern Whig party is new Labour with its corruption and love of celebrity (modern aristocracy) and big business and managing Parliament (to eviscerate it). Its nausea inducing insistence on its own rectitude and moral right, despite all evidence to the contrary, is classic Whig.

There have always been whiggish figures in the Conservative party and they have almost always been near its top - Whigs tend to rise and float like scum. But they have not been the soul or body of the Party.

I was not suggesting that the principles above were policies that should form a programme. They are principles against which any policy can be tried to see whether it could be Conservative and worthy of support. Quite often in a particular political climate one must have policies that contravene one's principles to buy votes in a certain area. It is still important to be able to understand that these are not Conservative policies just because they are enunciated by a Conservative party worker. They are areas where an effort should be made to reverse the zeitgeist (it is extraordinary how many people on this site have literally no concept of being able to alter the zeitgeist)but where a non Conservative policy will have to do for now. Equally the principles say nothing about education or health but, for instance, they allow us to see that a policy requiring everyone to attend a state school and follow a syllabus decided in Brussels would not be a Conservative policy.

Andrew Lilico

I didn't suggest that it is a Whiggish view to believe in state action to promote social justice or an otherwise-interventionist state. Which part of my article proposed that notion?

The eighteenth century Whigs did not die. We, under the inspiration of the Whig Burke, just changed their name to "Conservatives". Subsequently, in addition to its Whig core, the Conservative Party absorbed other elements - in particular neo-Tories such as Disraeli. But the Whiggish element of Conservatism has never been wholly absent, and today is almost utterly dominant. How many Conservatives would deny that they believe in a sovereign elected legislature, free markets, tolerance and ordered liberty? (Answer - almost none.) Compare that with the number that would deny that they are nationalist in contrast to internationalist, or that they are English nationalists (Answer - many.)

I don't seek to squabble - I don't deny that Tory-ism is part of Conservatism. But I do assert that Whiggism is the core position in the party today.

Another Voice

Jonathan, I love studying history. However, I also know its limitations. I have exactly the same concerns with your essay as I did with Andrew’s. Your five principles are fine and we could argue about their applicability to today’s problems. However saying they have been rooted in Conservative philosophy since Harley in the early eighteenth century is stretching matters.
You give a number of historical instances to illustrate each principle. I can come up with a series of instances to prove exactly the opposite.

British nationalism
The party that supported French-backed pretenders in 1689, 1715 and 1745.
Signing the Treaty of Rome

Against foreign entanglements
Pitt and the ‘saving of Europe’
Guarantees to Czechoslovakia and Poland in the 1930s
The ‘special relationship’ from Churchill onwards
Signing the Treaty of Rome

Small government
Measures by Shaftesbury and Disraeli using the state to mitigate perceived failings in the factories.
The reorganisation of local government and obliteration of historic counties.

Low Taxation
Introducing income tax

Individual liberty
Resisting Catholic emancipation
Resisting the removal of restrictions on homosexuals.

This is just a quick list. I’m sure we could come up with other examples supporting your view, others supporting mine. No doubt, you will have the get-out that a particular policy pursued by conservatives in the past was not truly conservative but this sets you up as an arbiter of what to include in the canon. Our history is so rich you can find any number of precedents to legitimise a current view. Facts may be true or false, but only certain pieces of evidence survive. The way we order these, which ones we select and the importance we give to each alters our interpretation. Few are as brazen as Disraeli, who just made up his history.
We need to look at currents issues and problems and find solutions to remedy or mitigate them. These solutions will be informed by a set of general principles and we can certainly learn from history and try to avoid making the same mistakes. Why do I think this is important? We are in danger of letting history get in the way. I like some of your ideas and I like some of Andrew’s. I want to use them and other ideas from different traditions without being told I’m not a true Conservative. Otherwise, like Ulstermen, we’ll spend valuable time fighting old battles. There will be times when we will need to advocate policies to address today’s needs which we have not advocated before or policies which contradict ones we advocated previously.
He does not seem to receive much of a mention nowadays, but it was by reading Oakeshott that I realised I was a conservative. He looked beyond a partisan historical basis to describe this disposition, although he affirmed that he was ‘more grateful for being brought up to read history than for almost anything else’. He realised the importance of the politician as well as the policy. He saw politics as a practical art requiring skill and nous rather than dogma. Wisdom, patience and experience were more valuable than nostrums. It will not provide you with a blueprint of what to do, but it’s the spirit in which our policy making needs to be conducted.

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