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20 May 2013

Robert Halfon and Jesse Norman are the future of the Conservative Party

What does the leftwing ‘Occupy’ movement have in common with the rightwing ‘Tea Party’? The answer to that, remarkably, is ten per cent of American voters:

  • “...polls show that 21 percent of Occupy Wall Street supporters self-identify as ‘conservative’ and one of 10 Americans support both the Tea Party and OWS.”

This, if nothing else, is proof that millions of ordinary people are angry with big business and with big government.

Writing for the Atlantic, Amitai Etzioni has some friendly advice for America’s centre-left:

  • “Liberals console themselves, when they learn that for every American voter who identities as a liberal there are two conservatives, by saying, Ah, you don't get it; studies show that the majority only subscribe to conservative philosophies but they are 'operational' liberals. The majority support gun control, the social safety nets, climate protection, and many other liberal programs. As long as we remind the people of what the government really does, they will vote liberal.

Etzioni calls this a “lovely thought”, but then debunks it:

  • “...people cannot vote for these programs. Instead, they must cast one vote that covers all the various programs and issues – domestic and foreign – before them. In doing so, they do not build some kind of index where they award five points for promoting Social Security, four for Medicare, three for parks, minus two for farm subsidies, and so on. Rather, voters fall back on political philosophy as a shortcut to reach their summary choice – the only one they have. And when it comes to general philosophical leanings, the overwhelming majority of the population lean conservative…”

To win people over, the Democrats need to show that they are against all selfish vested interests – whether of the public or private-sector variety: 

  • “Instead of dismissing Tea Partiers as a bunch of redneck hicks, liberals should tell them they are half right -- the government all too often is not serving the people – but have the wrong address for their very justified anger. It should be directed at the special interests that have captured and perverted the government rather than at the government itself, which can readily serve good or nefarious purposes.”

There a lot of this that applies to us in Britain – only it tends to work the other way round. Thus while increasing numbers of people are coming round to conservative positions on issues like welfare, immigration and deficit reduction – they still vote Labour or, if they’ve had enough, turn to protest parties like UKIP. The one thing they don’t do is vote Conservative.

While they may be disgusted with the incompetence and irresponsibility of the state, they feel just the same about the banks and other corporate interests. While Labour is associated with former, the Conservative Party is associated with the latter – and for a lot of people that either makes us the greater of two evils or just one of two cheeks on the same backside.

British Conservatives need to follow Etzioni’s advice to American Democrats – and become the party that crusades against all vested interests. 

Two Conservative MPs are showing the way. The first of these is Robert Halfon who has run a brilliant campaign on allegations of price fixing by oil companies. The second of them is Jesse Norman,  for articulating a new – or, rather, an age-old – philosophical framework for a Conservative Party that is pro-market and pro-community, but not pro-corporate. 


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