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The three kinds of compassionate conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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In the latest ConservativeHome survey we asked respondents to rate the importance of 23 policy themes for convincing voters "that the Conservatives are a modern, compassionate party". Respondents voted between 0 (unimportant) to 10 (very important). The average ratings are pasted below:

  1. Improve schools: 8.48
  2. Keep inflation under control: 8.33
  3. Fight crime: 8.29
  4. Helping the unemployed into work: 8.07
  5. Cut welfare bills: 8.02
  6. Looking after people who do the right thing: 8.02
  7. Cutting the debt burden on tomorrow's taxpayers: 8.01
  8. Reduce taxes on low income people: 7.77
  9. Address problem of long-term care for the elderly: 7.70
  10. Protect income of pensioners: 7.55
  11. Supporting marriage and the family: 7.46
  12. Improvement of the NHS: 7.10
  13. Early intervention programmes that prevent the most disadvantaged children becoming tearaways: 6.89
  14. Ensuring bankers and the rich make their full contribution to the nation's finances: 6.56
  15. Protection of Britain's environment: 5.85
  16. Help for poorer children to get into university: 5.66
  17. Better childcare: 5.56
  18. Improve the rights of disabled people: 5.25
  19. Reduction of regional inequalities: 5.23
  20. Encourage more giving to charities: 5.16
  21. Promote more northern candidates: 4.29
  22. Guard the rights of gay people: 3.39
  23. Fight hunger and disease in the poorest parts of the world: 3.38
I suggest there are at least three different conceptions of compassionate conservatism.
  • First there's the minimalist, do-no-harm variety. This belief involves controlling inflation, keeping crime down, paying off the nation's debts. I've marked those choices in green above.
  • Second is the aspirational variety of compassionate conservatism. This involves more than creating a conducive environment but involves actively helping people to prosper. Improving schools, helping the unemployed into work and supporting marriage and the family, for example. Those themes are coloured red above.
  • Third is the justice variety of compassionate conservatism - and includes early intervention programmes for dysfunctional families and overseas aid. I've coloured these blue.

My distinction isn't perfect and I've left a few black in the list above because some didn't seem to neatly fall into any one category of compassionate conservatism. Improving the NHS could fit into all three, for example (and btw gets a much lower rating from members than it should in terms of its electoral potency). For me all of these three conceptions are genuinely conservative but it is interesting to see how the first two kinds are viewed much more sympathetically by Tory members than the third.

(On Saturday we published the latest Cabinet rankings and also readers' economic growth priorities).


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