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Very interesting speech. Something I read a few months ago really struck me. A speech from 1884 by Randolph Churchill. The part that most stuck me was :

"Last, but not least—no, rather first—in the scheme of Tory politics come the Commons of England, with their marvelous history; their ancient descent, combining the blood of many nations; their unequaled liberties, and, I believe, their splendid future. The social progress of the Commons by means of legislative reform under the lines and carried on under the protection of the institutions whose utility I have endeavored to describe to you—that must be the policy of the Tory party. Their industries must be stimulated and protected by lightening the taxation, and by a large redistribution of the incidence of taxation. Their efforts to emancipate their brethren from the vices of an undeveloped civilization—such as intemperance, crime, and a weak standard of morality—must be provoked, encouraged, and facilitated. No class interests should be allowed to stand in the way of this mighty movement, and with this movement the Tory party not only sympathize, but identify themselves.
Social reform, producing direct and immediate benefit to the Commons—that must be our cry, as opposed to the Radicals, who foolishly scream for organic change, and waste their energies and their time in attacking institutions whose destruction would not only endanger popular freedom, but would leave the social condition of the people precisely where it was before. Apply this test to every legislative proposal, to every political movement, to every combination of circumstances and phenomena, and you will know what course to take and what line of action to adopt. I was much struck the other day in the House of Commons by a sentence which fell from the prime minister, when, leaning over the table and addressing directly the Tory party, he said to them, “Trust the people."
I have long tried to make that my motto; but I know, and will not conceal, that there are still a few in our party who have that lesson yet to learn, and who have yet to understand that the Tory party of to-day is no longer identified with that small and narrow class which is connected with the ownership of land, but that its great strength can be found, and must be developed, in our large towns as well as in our country districts. Yes, trust the people. You, who are ambitious, and rightly ambitious, of being the guardians of the British Constitution, trust the people, and they will trust you—and they will follow you and join you in the defense of that Constitution against any and every foe."

Low tax, social responsibility, judging policies by their effect on the poorest, encouraging local solutions to social problems... it all sounds rather familiar. Try reading it again and replace 'Commons of England' and similar phrases with the current favourite 'hard working families'.

The full speech can be found < a href=http://www.bartleby.com/268/5/7.html> here

We need look forwards not back. Mr Willetts' speech was an interesting historical analysis but like in the 21st Century is very different to that in the 19th. Living standards, even for the poorest, are much higher.

We need our Shadow cabinet members to set out a positive vision and programme that will attract British voters in 2006 - one that is based on freedom, empowerment and small government.

First Gandhi, now Disraeli. How many more people is Cameron going to compare himself to? Cameron is definitely not Gandhi and Im pretty sure hes not Disraeli.

David Cameron should not compare himself to anyone. He must promote his own personality and vision.

Selsdon, we do need to look forward, the reason I voted for Cameron was that he seemed to be looking forward, whereas Davis seemed to be harking back to a golden era.

However, in the midst of much gnashing of teeth and mutterings of betrayal from the right, I think that a little reminder of history doesn't go amiss.

James, Cameron is not comparing himself to Disraeli, other people are comparing the position he is in, to the position in which Disraeli found himself. Cameron also did not compare himself to Ghandi, he quoted Ghandi... rather a world of difference.

David rightly points to the longstanding tension between the economically liberal and the communitarian strands of conservative thinking, but doesn't provide any answer for what combination is the right one today.

Previous "modernisations" have involved putting greater emphasis on either economic liberalism or communitarianism in equal measure--not all of them mentioned by Willets. He fails to discuss the free market modernisation of the late 60s and, again, of the late 70s. Indeed his only reference to Thatcher is to her late husband.

All in all, some interesting historical anecdotes but it doesn't answer the question.

Interesting that Willets should say this after he effectively glorified the free-market streak of Conservatism in his book Modern Conservatism, including a criticism of Disraeli's reactionary anti-capitalism.

The problem is that the modernisation of the 1940s effectively meant accepting leftist economic policies that even previous "One Nation" Tories would have found too radical. The Tories may have had a "dry" phase in the early 1950s but this was minimal and did little to mend the ravages of socialism. Let us hope Cameron's modernisation is wiser.

Perhaps the most that can be learnt from the historical record is that it is probably easier for our party to make itself more electable by "moving to the centre" but that this also makes it harder to govern.

As an example, polls in 1979 showed that the Tories' lead would be three times as great under Heath as under Thatcher--even after the disaster of the 1970-74 government. The 1979 election might have been won bigger under Heath or another consensus conservative but the big decisions that enabled the government to win four victories in a row and stay in power for 18 years (as opposed to the 4 it had managed in its previous spell in government), would have been very unlikely indeed if the Tories had unwisely substituted Heath or similar for Thatcher.

Perhaps there is a lesson for us in 2006 here.

I should have thought that Disraeli was an astonishingly inappropriate example to use of a Conservative who was willing to change with the times. In 1845 he set himself up as the champion of agricultural protection in opposition to Peel's policy of Free Trade. Any sensible person could see that Free Trade would promote economic efficiency and competitiveness. Disraeli's
reactionary approach split the party and kept it out of power for a generation. It was only when he finally bowed to the inevitable and quietly ditched protectionism that the party became electable again. If Willetts is suggesting that Cameron should follow Disraeli in ditching liberal economics (free trade and low taxes) because it is currently unfashionable then the party will probably
and deservedly suffer the same fate.

Perhaps what David is trying to say, with historical flourish, is that it's ok for (what we think of as) old-school Tories to embrace Cameron's objective of rewiring the Party as a more US-style "catch-all" outfit.

If so, I agree.

Constant gradual change is what the conservatives have always been about. Most of the important changes in Britain over the last 200 years have come because of Tory modernisers. Willetts is right to make this point.

"Interesting that Willets should say this after he effectively glorified the free-market streak of Conservatism in his book Modern Conservatism, including a criticism of Disraeli's reactionary anti-capitalism."

Such inconsistency has long been a feature of Mr Willetts' ambition. In recent years, however, he has been a consistent of classical liberalism and libertarianism in the Conservative Party.

He continued that theme in his speech yesterday - see the use of atomistic (a criticims that has been refuted by many leading classical liberal thinkers).

We need an intellectual and philosophical debate in the Party NOW.


I rarely disagree with your posts but we should always remember that a central principle of being a conservative is that we look forwards *and* back (does this count as the "and theory?):

"Society is indeed a contract...it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born."
- Burker, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.

I am not a Burkean - he was too authoritarian for my liking. Adam Smith was too much of an interventionist. Bastiat is more to my taste.

Sorry, we have to disagree on this one!

Disraeli is one of the five most over-rated politicians in British history. His split with Peel over the Corn Laws was, as johnC rightly points out, almost purely personal grandstanding and rancour towards Peel. He dropped the policy three years later. Disraeli was instinctively distrustful of reform and, from his perspective, the 1867 Reform Act was a good way of getting one over Gladstone. His record on social reform in office was admittedly good, but not good enough to prevent his being kicked out in 1880.

Disraeli won but a single election. Salisbury won four. Why is Disraeli upheld as the more successful Victorian Conservative?

Thatcher won three general elections and lost none. We are told that she is not a good role model now - by those who have not held cabinet office.

"Disraeli won but a single election. Salisbury won four. Why is Disraeli upheld as the more successful Victorian Conservative?"

Because Salisbury was a reactionary anti-statist and therefore unacceptable to "Modern" Tories.

Here is an interesting (and highly biased) article by left-winger Johann Hari arguing that Cameron should choose the Disraeli route over the Salisbury route:


Ironically it was Salisbury who was the most "progressive" of the two because he realised the need to appeal to the rising middle class. Conversely, Disraeli held onto a romantic feudal notion of aristocrats and workers allying against the middle classes.

I would much rather Cameron was more like the the great Robert Peel than Benjamin Disraeli.

Actually reading Mike Christies post I was struck by how much we lost as a party when Randolph Churchill left the Cabinet, and a leading light of progressive conservatism was lost. Would the Liberal landslide of 06 have taken place?
I think Willetts (perhaps unwittingly in view of some of those selected for the Policy Groups) reminds us and the country that we are now and have been the party that puts its trust in the people, not as our opponents do in central planning and direction, in the state rather than the 'commons'.

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