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Dr Andrew Lilico: The role of paternalism

Andrew_lilico_1 Dr Andrew Lilico is Managing Director of Europe Economics, a member of the IEA/Sunday Times Shadow Monetary Policy Committee, and author of more than forty articles, pamphlets and reports on political and economic questions.

Tim Congdon, in today's Daily Telegraph, has said he is abandoning the Conservative Party for UKIP.  His main grounds for doing so appear to be that he sees David Cameron as a Paternalist.  As he puts it:

"I never imagined that the modern Conservative Party would again embrace old-fashioned Tory paternalism, with a frank advocacy of expanding the state's responsibilities."

Back in 2000, I published a series of articles on what was the correct political philosophy for the Conservative Party to be projecting in our age.  In one of them, "The Next Conservative Coalition", I considered the role of Paternalism. I consider the basic argument still valid today, and I would like to rehearse it for you. 

Political scientists traditionally divided the coalition of ideas that is the Conservative Party into four key components:

  • traditional Tories (believers in a strong, hierarchical state, order, morality, duty, and patriotism);
  • classical Whigs (believers in a sovereign elected legislature, free markets, toleration, and ordered liberty);
  • Paternalists (Tories for whom the duty to help the poor was particularly important - the able should help the less able); and
  • Corporatists (believers in the role of the State as arbitrating between big business and Labour, so as to agree on wages and working conditions that would promote sufficient social justice to maintain order and permit the enjoyment of private property).

Typically Conservative governments would involve a stronger coalition of two of these elements, focused on one, with the others "coming along for the ride" because it was better than supporting the alternative (Liberal or Labour).  In the first thirty years after the Second World War, the main combinations were between Tories, Paternalists and Corporatists - perhaps Tories and Paternalists (focused on Tories) in the 1940s, then perhaps Paternalists supported by Corporatists from the late 1950s, then perhaps Corporatists supported by Paternalists in most of the Heath period. 

Mrs Thatcher's genius was to find a way to combine two elements traditionally thought almost irreconcilable - the traditional Tories and the classical Whigs.  The 1970s provided her with the crucial issue - statecraft.  Whigs needed good statecraft to keep inflation under control so that their free markets could function and so that their elected legislature could stay sovereign (against threats from the unions).  Tories needed good statecraft to maintain order against the threat of strikes, riots, and crime.  Thus was born Thatcherism - the coalition of traditional Tories and classical Whigs, focused on Whiggish statecraft.

Understood thus, it should be clear that Thatcherism was a coalition for its age.  Our society is not riven by inflation and strikes.  Perhaps our elected legislature faces threats to its sovereignty, but these come (if at all) from Brussels, not from anarchists.  But philosophically, Conservatism has moved very heavily in the Whiggish direction in the past 30 years.  We are almost all Whigs now.

In the meantime, the Thatcherite coalition, not including, as it did, Paternalists, was less able to hold on to Paternalists when another coalition arose to appeal to them. New Labour has been enormously successful at combing Social Democrats, Corporatists and Paternalists.  In my view, today as it was in 2000, the way for us to win is to form a coalition of the Whiggish and Paternalist elements of Conservatism.

By 2005, I think, the Conservative Party hierarchy had come round to this point of view.  The remaining debate of principle was about focus.  Should it be a coalition of focused on Whigs but appealing to Paternalists, or focused on Paternalists but trying to appeal to Whigs?  In a sense these two positions broadly set out the difference in approaches personified by Davis and Cameron. 

Davis said he wanted to use free-market methods to address social problems.  In this article we may understand that as Whiggish solutions to appeal to Paternalist concerns.  In contrast, Cameron set himself as a straightforward Paternalist, but tried to appeal to Whigs on certain key issues such as Europe and ID cards.

In my view it is a mistake for us to try to paint ourselves as Paternalists.  We aren't.  We are Whigs, and cannot and should not pretend to be anything else.  The way for us to appeal to Paternalists is for us to undertake to use our Whiggish techniques to address Paternalist concerns.  We should say to the Paternalist:

"If you really want to help the poor and the oppressed, then come with us, we shall use our methods to help them, and everyone knows that our methods work."

The more straightfoward Paternalism Cameron has offered so far must set him always at tension with the intellectuals in his party - and not in healthy tension, either.

But this is not to agree with Congdon that Paternalism is bad and should be eschewed.  Cameron's people sometimes, I think, misunderstand critiques from Conservative intellectuals.  We want to assist in a Paternalist project, but in doing so we want to be true to ourselves.  We are Whigs.  We can be no other.


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