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« Crispin Blunt MP: The Case for Malcolm Rifkind | Main | Editorial: Comrade Ottaway defends centralisation of party affairs »


James Hellyer

"The system you favour starts from a presumption that living unmarried is 'natural' and that the choice to marry is an incidental factors."

I disagree. It presumes that the choice to marry follows from a stable relationship, which may or may not have involved co-habiting. That rather than the institution itself is the cause of its endurance as a practice.

"The idea that the state can be neutral with respect to 'lifestyle options' is pure liberal illusion."

Technically it's not being neutral. Marriage doesn't require the state as a partner - the couple have each other. A single parent has themselves. Without state support, single parenthood would appear a more daunting prospect and would be effectively disincentivised.


Those who say socially conservative voters have nowhere else to go if the Tories choose to get in bed with Labour and the Lib Dems on social issues have obviously never heard of UKIP, Veritas et al. To put it mildly, these aren't parties hurtling towards power, but the idea that they don't already cost us votes and seats is a dangerous delusion.

James Hellyer

"the idea that they don't already cost us votes and seats is a dangerous delusion."

In the case of UKIP, our policy on the EU is really the only dividing factor. I think the majority of UKIP voters would vote Conservative if it wasn't for that (their economic policties, after all, would hardly appeal to anyone on the left).

I'm not convinced the same can be said of Veritas, et al. Their platform tends to be far more sensationalist and quasi-BNP.


James: but how exactly are you planning to withdraw state support from single parents? Not exactly a vote-winner, is it?

James Hellyer

Obviously they need money from somewhere. As you suggest, starving single mothers wouldn't be a vote winning policy.

Applying the principle of "the polluter pays", the obvious option is to compel the father (or absent mother) to contribute to their children's upkeep.

You could possibly also shift part of the burden onto the grandparents (who are after all responsible for imbuing the parents with their values).

Doing this would be problematic. We've all seen how badly the CSA worked...

Still maybe if it was outsourced it would work better *crosses fingers*


The idea that marriage is the product of a stable relationship ignores the history of the institution. Until very recently the two parties to a marriage generally barely knew each other, and this is still the case in much of the globe.

Moreover, marriage, when backed up by societal and legal sanction, has historically provided significant stability. Of course, there are people who have suffered because of strict laws & customs on marriage, but I'd venture far fewer than those who suffer through lax laws and customs. Withdrawing customary and legal support for the institution has been a disaster, which is why the state cannot afford to be neutral (although support from society is more important than support from the state).

James Hellyer

"The idea that marriage is the product of a stable relationship ignores the history of the institution."

The history of the institution is spectacularly irrelevant to what it is now.

Marriage is no longer something families arrange or where the participants don't know each other first.

Mark O'Brien

"But how exactly are you planning to withdraw state support from single parents?"

We stop taxing them for what they earn, or if they don't earn, then we stop taxing single parents for what they need most - whatever that is. If we abolished the Common Agricultural Policy, supermarket food prices would fall dramatically, and that would help everybody, single parents especially. If we adopted more business-friendly taxation measures, jobs of all kinds would be available for the poorest people.

Withdrawing State support also means withdrawing State constraints. And that will help everyone tremendously!

Graeme Archer

As often maybe the Netherlands could show us the way? Single parenthood is still frowned on there (I believe) so there is space for compassion for those genuinely needy whilst a socially- (NOT state-) induced disincentive to "falling" pregnant.

I think the real problem with the liberal position is that of the "contract". There's no contract between me and the state since I didn't elect to be born into it. It's more fulfilling I think to consider the institutions in society which shape us. So again, i'm not really seeing a conflict between James' dislike of too much state and the social conservatives dislike of a state-incentivised decline in marriage.

I'm closer to James than the editor on this though. I think. How useful Graeme.


James: good reply, because it shows that there ain't no easy answers, which leaves me not a lot more to say.

Mark: James had the better answer - a low-earning single parent is heavily subsidised in-work as it is. Even without CAP prices, food wouldn't be THAT cheap.

Graeme: ditto, I think (!) - the question is how we rebuild the stigma. And you're entirely right that social contract thinking, erm, sucks ass bigtime. Conservatism starts with taking life as given, rather than as an abstract bargain - so, the forces shaping life are what count.

Mark O'Brien

Blimpish: this is me being at my Thatcherite/'Tebbitite' worst - why does it have to be the State's job to give the single parent the answer to their problems? I know that question challenges the prevailing consensus and instantly paints the questioner out as evil and nasty, but why is it the State's job to solve an individual's problems, and not the individual?


Because the individual won't always solve the problem themselves, and we're not going to let them starve as a consequence, in brutal terms.

More positively, people make mistakes - while we should be clear in placing the onus on them for self-improvement, we can't just leave them to it.

Mark O'Brien

But can't a society which devotes more interest to self-help and philanthropy be more useful for the individual who makes a mistake than the State?

James Hellyer

I'd agree that its' more beneficial for individuals to help others because they want to, rather than because the state compels them to. I'd also agree that the state tends to be a worse provider of services than either the private sector or charity.

The problem is that in some areas the state has effectively squeezed out philanthropy. Nobody will give money if they think the state will do something. Typically in a "something must be done" democracy, the state will do something.

The problem therefore is to somehow re-establish and inforce civil society institutions that could take up the "slack" left by the state if it withdrew from some areas.

Until that support network can be seen to be there, I think any party promising to roll back state services may face serious troubles getting elected.

Derek Buxton

I do not think that anyone, including the author, mentioned freedom. Social justice lacks any sense of freedom, it is a term used about the EU and that does'nt look good.

Perhaps they should get out more.


James - yes, precisely.

The truth is that we are never going to be without state welfare - in fact, this country's had national state assistant for the poor since 1601, so let's not pretend it's a horrid socialist imposition.

The more recent expansion of welfare institutions probably has greatly eroded the charitable and mutual alternatives to state support; although probably, so too has our old friend consumer capitalism. But even when they were there, let's not pretend that there was no suffering or hardship or poverty.

And even if there were, as James says, that tradition has now lost - and we're not going to just abolish welfare in the hope that it grows again; you can't leave people to just starve in the mean time.

Mark O'Brien

We can't abolish the Welfare State (not yet anyway), so let's take the next step in making the Welfare State better: a system of social insurance for healthcare; school vouchers and no more State control over headteachers; attach strict conditions to social 'benefits'; channel money from the Exchequer straight to charitable groups much more and not to government initiatives.

In 1834, the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws completely overhauled the system which had been going on since the 1600s, ushering in a new era of prosperity, philanthropy and self-help. The national assistance that you talk of, Blimpish, was never the national control that it became in the forties and ever after. There is a better way, and it starts by reforming the fundamental foundations of the Welfare State: not abolition, but certainly no maintenance of the pretence that the Welfare State is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

David Dundas

Its a long trail to get to the end of the previous comments, but I think you are all straying away from the subject "Modernise or die", starting with Howard Leigh: Whilst the Bush values may have their place, some commentators have noted that we are not like the USA; enough said. So back to what we need to do to survive as a party.

I believe that we must develope policies that will appeal to a broad range of the British electorate; so far this has not happened.

A key issue that in my view characterises a conservative principle that cannot be highjacked by Labour, but is not often mentioned, is to allow the individual to stand on their own feet and to succeed or fail in their endeavors according to their personal abilities.

The present government has taken away personal responsibility in many fields, dumbing us down to the lowest common denominator and spawned a raft of legislation, and from it paperwork, particularly in the field of health and safety, and in employment. This tide of paperwork and legal wrangles is gradually sinking British business, as companies take defensive positions, unleashing their own flood of paperwork to suppliers and customers alike.

As the owner/manager of a small well established business, I can assure you that this is a major preoccupation for any business that I am in contact with. As their employees are also very aware of this problem and on the whole do not like it, stemming the tide would strike a cord amongst a wide range of our voters. And its no use blaming Brussels, for this problem is largely home grown.

This is just one idea, but we need more that will build policies that will appeal to all, not just to a few right wing interest groups.


Modernise *and* die? The natural corollary of that is that the solution must be to remain "stuck in the past". The quotation points are not a rhetorical device; that is a statement with which a net 15% of the electorate agreed as their view of the Conservative Party, as little as a month prior to the General Election, according to private polling. It brought us precious little benefit then.

If the headline actually seeks to propose a solution to the past ills of the Party, it is spectacularly unhelpful. As a profound believer in economic and social liberalism, tempered by a sense of compassion (going hand-in-glove with being a hard-working Conservative campaigner), I would find such a hard-line religious position for the Conservative Party rather hard to stomach, and I am sure that I am not alone among supporters and voters in this view.

Peter C Glover

What is seriously depressing is twofold: the current vision-less leadership race (and many of the above comments) which have no real grasp of what, at root, the conservative-mind is (try reading the conservative fathers - properly this time - and Russell Kirk). And those who actually beleive that economic conservative alone is the answer. Politics without morality is, and always has been, the province of liberalism and the neo-conservative mind just as Edward Leigh has stated.

Having read his booklet it was clear that his vision (of morality put back into politics) is true conservatism and always has been. Try keeping the God of the Bible out of politics and what happens is spiritual decline - and the evidence is indeed everywhere to behold is it not.

It is easy enough to put these things together - unless you are one of the current crop of frontrunners for the job of Conservative leaders that is.

Like it or not, Edward leigh and Cornerstone's vision sets out the nature of root an branch true Conservatism - whether Conservative Party members today think so or not.

A reality check does help every now and again. And God has a disturbing way of not being left out of politics, one way or another...


As a brit who lives in the US, one of the most immediate differences you notice here is how Americans are comfortable talking about their faith and their pride in their country. To mention God or admit to being a Christian in the UK produces embarassed snickers, and most British people are similarly uncomfortable about expressing pride in Britain or British history.

It wasn't always like this. The British imperialists who brought civilization and Christianity to the darker corners of the world - and as one who spent my childhood in Central Africa, I can assure you that the British Empire was an extremely positive force on most parts of the globe it touched - believed in the British virtues of justice and freedom, and identified strongly with a confident and muscular Christianity.

So what happened? Well the 1960's social revolution, which brought about an abnegation of the bedrock Christian values of the West, introduced a new set of values, based on personal gratification and atheism. Now, both the US and the UK were subject to these forces, which were by and large imposed by know-it-all elites. In the US, however, people are far more independent and empowered at the local level than British people. Thus, churches continued to flourish and preach against social degeneration, state and city legislators confronted most of the barmier laws (up till 1973, abortion was legislated at the state level, for example) and as the waves of social experimentation washed over them, the people and society stood firm. Roe v Wade, being the glaring exception, too much power rested in the hands of the American people themselves for the social revolution to be forced onto them, except at the fringes.

In the UK, the people are far less empowered. Central Government holds all the cards. Thus, as the wheels of the social revolution began to spin faster, flinging out abortion on demand, promotion of homosexual behaviour, forced multiculturalism, teenage contraception, tacit acceptance of drug use, the people found themselves unable to express their reservations of resistance to these forces. The central church, always at the forefront of appeasment, attempted to ride the tiger and lost the respect of the people. Local government is toothless. Civic associations and organizations do not exist to the same extent in the UK, perhaps because class differences are still too raw to allow people with similar interests to come together in the same way that they do in the UK.

So the people in the UK find themselves contemplating a society that they are told they should not be proud of (except as a "community of communities", i.e. this 'aint the Land of the British), in which social degeneration is an open sore and in which there is a complete absence of spiritual dimension. Where is the hope in such a society.

The Conservative Party should understand that it's role is to govern, not to BE GOVERNED by opinion polls and focus groups and the like. Its role is in leadership, in defining a vision of a better and happier society, and LEADING the way there. Both the main parties in the USA offer visions and openly profess themselves to be leaders towards that vision.

So my advice to the Conservative movement is - don't start with what you think people want, start with what is RIGHT and set a course towards that.

Oberon Houston

"As a Brit who lives in the US"
You've certainly gone native my friend. I also notice the abrupt end of the Blog, I wouldn't take that as a moral victory.

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