Conservative Diary

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The state of the Conservative Right

The first part of a new series looking at the health of the Conservative Right.


If you are a glass half-full person of a right-of-centre disposition...

  • You'll be delighted that Iain Duncan Smith is about to launch the biggest overhaul of the welfare state since its inception.
  • That Michael Gove is presiding over a supply-side revolution in our education system that will see new schools run by faith groups, businesses and independent groups of parents that will end the local authority monopoly.
  • You'll be excited that George Osborne has vowed to create the most competitive system of corporate taxation in the developed world.
  • You'll also be hopeful about the decentralisation agenda of Greg Clark and Eric Pickles, as well as Nick Herbert's police reforms.
  • The optimistic right-winger will also be encouraged by surveys of the 2010 parliamentary intake that reveal Thatcherite instincts on the size of the state, law and order and national defence. The overwhelming vote for Graham Brady as Chairman of the 1922 backbench committee - as well as for other right-wing candidates - suggests that the new intake (49% of all Conservative MPs) are indeed independent-minded.

If you are a glass half-empty right winger...

  • You'll be distressed by the failure of the Conservative Party to win an outright majority at a time when its principal political opponents were at their weakest for a generation.
  • You'll be worried about concessions to the Liberal Democrats on capital gains tax, inheritance tax, the human rights act and voting reform.
  • You'll be uncomfortable with the fact that Cameron gives every impression of being happier with Clegg & Co than Brady & Co.
  • You'll note that the Eurosceptic movement stopped Britain joining the burning building without exits - popularly known as the Eurozone - but has not delivered a government that will repatriate the major losses of national competence seen over the last two decades.
  • Even before the Coalition with the Liberal Democrats the party leadership had no appetite for selection in schools, healthcare reform or balancing the massive power of the BBC.

Whether optimistic or pessimistic about the state of The Right there can be no room for complacency. There are many influential members of our party- intimate with the Conservative leader - who want to realign the party with the Liberal Democrats. By the time of the next election they want the party to either include or not stand against LibDem MPs like Nick Clegg and David Laws. Their reading of the 2010 election failure does not focus on the poor quality of the campaign. Instead, they conclude that it is impossible for a right-of-centre ticket to win a majority in a Britain where so many people are (a) dependent upon the state for all or part of their income and (b) where the values of the BBC and Guardian are so embedded. Key party strategists are persuaded that the future of the party lies more in buying peace with Scottish and public sector workers than in championing the over-taxed private sector voters of England.

The Right needs to ask itself key questions over coming months.

  • Who are its leaders? Some of the individuals who have already started to reappear regularly on the nation's TV screens, critiquing David Cameron are reinforcing the public's negative view of the Right. They appear obsessive and out of touch with modern Britain.
  • Will the Right continue to be balkanised? Balkanised by historical differences on Michael Portillo, David Davis versus Iain Duncan Smith, and even the downfall of Margaret Thatcher? Will its dining clubs start working together?
  • Will the Right continue to define itself in terms of Europe or will it define itself in terms of popular policies on tax, healthcare provision and fighting crime?
  • Most importantly will the Right define itself in terms of its frustration with aspects of David Cameron's leadership or in terms of its support for a future-orientated agenda for Britain?

Tim Montgomerie

TOMORROW IN THIS SERIES: The future of the 1922 Committee.


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