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How David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith made social conservatism fashionable again

Forsyth James Coffee House's James Forsyth has written for the Washington Post about the ways in which Britain's Tories have made social conservatism fashionable again:

"They've done it through three key moves: enthusiastically signing on to Britain's liberal settlement on homosexuality, recasting pro-family policies as part of an anti-poverty crusade and tying support for the family into a broader recognition that people aren't motivated by profit alone."

I'd agree with that:

  1. Accepting homosexuality: By essentially accepting the coming cultural settlement - the acceptance of homosexuality - David Cameron stopped fighting unwinnable battles and bought the freedom to focus on the issue that really should concern social conservatives: The stability of the traditional mother-father relationship and the enormous benefits that that stability provides children.
  2. Focusing on the poor: It's certainly true that it is the poor who have suffered most from liberal indifference to marriage, drug use and discipline in schools.  British Conservatives haven't just stated that - they've proved it.  The Centre for Social Justice's Breakdown Britain report was a massive statement of the crisis in British society, stuffed with facts, for example, on educational inequality, the instability of cohabitation and the relationship between debt and unhappiness.
  3. Conservatism is about more than economics: I've quoted this many times and make no apology for repeating it.  These words from IDS are, for me, a mission statement of modern conservatism: "At the end of the Thatcher years Britain was transformed. Europe’s sickest economy had become its strongest. The recipe had been low taxes. Simple taxes. Effective regulation. Privatisation. Free trade. Reform of the trade union movement. Intolerance of inflation. 
They were necessary things to have done and I don’t say that lightly. They saved Britain from terminal economic decline. But somehow they didn’t create a nation that was quite at ease with itself. Margaret Thatcher knew that herself and used her memoirs to regret that she hadn’t been able to initiate ‘Social Thatcherism’.

 As we rebuild our economies from today’s tough times we are going to need simpler taxes and open markets but the lesson of the 1980s is that those things won’t be enough.

 When the next period of conservative government ends I want the British people to remember us for other things too. For helping parents to stay together and to spend more time with their children. For a nation where every one has a second chance. For building schools that reinforce the values of the home. For respecting and nurturing the skill of craftsmen. For protecting woodland and other habitats of rich natural beauty. For helping a new generation to understand their country’s history.

That’s the conservatism that will help make my country strong and contented again."

CSJ I'd add a fourth explanation for the re-emergence of social conservatism: Institutionalisation. The CSJ has become a home for this agenda.  It's not just two or three people but a think tank and a network of more than 200 effective poverty fighting organisations that between them prove that every social problem is being solved by someone, somewhere.  By building relationships with and championing successful grassroots poverty-fighters Iain Duncan Smith and Philippa Stroud have won a moral authority to enter the debate.  David Cameron's green agenda would have prospered if the Tory leader had been able to call on an environmental equivalent of the CSJ.

Tim Montgomerie


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