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What does it mean to be "truly Conservative"?

By Tim Montgomerie
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"Be truly Conservative and the votes will come" argues The Telegraph's Philip Johnston but what does it mean to be "truly Conservative"?

A YouGov poll published this morning by Stephan Shakespeare identifies what voters associate with "Right-wing". Being Right-wing is not necessarily the same as "Conservative" but it's unlikely to be a million miles apart. Here are the top ten associations:

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In contrast the Left is most associated with supporting trade unions, increasing public spending, helping the poor, supporting public transport and advancing gay rights. See the full list.

In other words the Right is associated with what I would call tough policies and some would undoubtedly call selfish policies. The Left, in contrast, is associated with caring policies and which might be thought of as sometimes unaffordable. It's hard to look at these numbers and not conclude that Tory modernisation/ brand decontamination has failed.

The end result is, I would argue, voters choose Conservative or right-of-centre parties in tough times and Labour or left-of-centre parties in good times. An alternative way of understanding this is to think of the Conservative Party as the rescue party and the Labour Party as the construction party. Conservatives save countries from threats like debt, uncontrolled immigration and crime but it is Labour which builds those countries during non-threatening periods. And what do they build? They build nations characterised by significant union power and large welfare states.

If Conservatives are to change voters' calculations and become seen as a construction or peace-time party then we need to think of better way of presenting ourselves. Fundamentally we need a vision of Britain. This does not mean apeing every Left-wing instinct on union power or public spending but it means we need to sell our own version of what a good society looks like.

David Cameron tried and, I would say, failed with his vision of the Big Society. However much I'm intellectually persuaded by the Big Society as a modern interpretation of the Burkean small platoons I'm sticking to my belief that the Right needs something simpler to go up against the Left's vision of the welfare state as the answer to every social ill.

I keep coming back to the idea that Conservatives should say that we believe three kinds of people are central to our vision of the good society - parents, teachers and job creators. The basis of a good society isn't a bigger state or more union power but strong families, good schools and paid work. Unlike the libertarian Right the conservative Right believes that government has a limited but important role in protecting the family, ensuring every child can go to a good school and, third, fostering a job-creating economy.


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