There have always been differences that have existed within the Conservatives. But this recent general election, which saw swathes of working-class communities join the blue collar Conservative fold, has been the perfect opportunity for the Party to go back to its traditional, community orientated roots, (and in many ways it has). These roots are at home with 19th century politicians and remain at home with the traditional conservatives of today. The 2019 general election saw a switch to the Conservative Party never seen before, seats which had never previously had Conservative MPs had majorities of over 7000 such as Bishop Auckland, Blyth Valley, once held by the staunch old school Labour titan Ronnie Campbell fell to Ian Levy; seats in the Midlands such as West Bromwich East formerly held by Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson was turned blue by Nicola Richards, a similar fate to Tony Blair's old seat in Sedgefield which was lost out to Paul Howell with a 5000 majority – Labour's rising star Laura Pidcock lost her seat in North West Durham to Richard Holden by over a 1000 majority and this is just the start. Places like Grimsby and Leigh and Bury which had never even thought of having Conservative MPs are now represented by quite often large majorities, especially places like Mansfield held by Ben Bradley, a blue collar conservative himself.
The internal differences in the Conservative Party between liberal conservative and social conservative factions has been going on for decades and decades, from Robert Peel to Benjamin Disraeli to William Gladstone to Margaret Thatcher and now Boris Johnson.This article is aimed to be a constructive argument to why we, as the Conservative Party should return to its traditionally conservative roots, with an emphasis on social conservatism.
Liberalism and Conservatism: two disciplines that should be seemingly at odds with one another, due to their very divergent belief systems with regards to the state, the individual, humanity and society. However, both of these disciplines have a home within the Conservative Party, a broad church of a Party and therefore a home of intellectual debate between the two seemingly opposite factions. I hope to convince you that we need to become more towards to social conservative side of the Party; after all, it is an ideology which resonates so well the working class voters in Northern England and Wales. It occurred to me that the disagreements within isn't a new school of thought, I would like to explore the history of our Party and how a return to our roots could be more than beneficial in the long term.
In the era of Robert Peel, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, one can look to the varying positions between these three men and perhaps find some semblance of similarity between the debate that roared on then, over the Corn Laws and socioeconomic reform, and the debate that is taking place within the Conservative Party at present. Peel and Gladstone, arguably liberal and progressive for the Victorian era, were no strangers to questions regarding the tenacity of their ideological inclinations. Although there are notable contextual differences, I can't help but identify some similarities between then and now.
Peel and Disraeli are widely known for being responsible for the ideological foundations of the modern Conservative Party, yet Disraeli spent most of his political career staunchly against the politics of Peel, and was primarily responsible for the toppling of Peel's government in 1846, over the repeal of the Corn Laws. This was something the more traditional factions of the Conservative Party – of which Disraeli had strategically aligned himself with – vehemently opposed.
This idea of traditionalism and liberalism within the Conservative Party has reared its head amongst Young Conservatives, the next generation of political leaders. Many of them seek a place for themselves in Westminster. Admittedly, this is a less important dispute than the one between the more liberal, Europhilic MPs and the more right-wing Eurosceptic MPs throughout the whole Brexit process— which eventually coming to a head upon Boris Johnson's ascension to leader of the Conservative Party— but it is an interesting one nonetheless as a young Conservative myself.
After the launch of the Orthodox Conservatives, of which I am President, there was a great amount of hysteria amongst YCs over a socially conservative think tank, aimed at promoting the values of community, tradition and the family within the Conservative Party. This shouldn't be the case, there are hundreds and hundreds of socially conservative YCs in the Party and many of whom support more traditionalist values, many of whom also hail from a typically Labour area – an area that we now have a much stronger presence in than we did even five years ago. Much of that debate was centred around whether or not the values we espoused even belonged within the Conservative Party and vice versa, and that traditional conservatives who want to see a return to that traditionalism do not even know the Party's history, according to neoliberals.
Now, I want to make this article less specifically about Orthodox Conservatives as a group, and more about the distinct differences that have been drawn by liberals and social conservatives within the Conservative Party since the 19th century. When one talks about the foundations of the Conservative Party and how they must be preserved and upheld, that doesn't exclude the classical liberal discipline that helped build the modern Conservative Party, nor does that exclude the traditional conservatism that has formed the basis of it since its inception. In fact, quite a lot of socially conservative policies compliment the traditional classical liberal theory of economics. But the question of the conservation aspect of conservatism remains. It was present during Disraeli's era, directed particularly at Robert Peel. Even then, Peel felt compelled to flesh out what Conservative principles meant to him, and you'd find that today's social conservatives would identify with a lot of what Peel espoused.
Conserving the Lords, the Commons, the Monarchy and an equality of civil rights and privileges are things that most Conservatives can probably agree upon. The more contentious aspects of Peel's conservatism would be at odds with some of his neoliberal cheerleaders that hold a torch for the late former Prime Minister, particularly when it comes to religion. This is unsurprising seeing as most young people in the UK do not class themselves as religious, and I can probably guess that a sizeable amount, if not a vast majority of YCs don't either. Nevertheless, Peel believed that 'there shall be an established religion and imperishable faith, and that that established religion shall maintain the doctrines of the Protestant Church'. This of course supports the traditional Christian religious faith of the United Kingdom, that conservatives should continue to work hard to uphold.
Disraeli was forthright in his doubtfulness of liberals like Peel. Whether or not this was genuine or motivated purely for personal reasons is another question, but he galvanised the support of the more traditional factions of the Party anyway, and recharacterized himself as an ultra-Conservative. This just goes to show that there has always been a sort of rivalry between the more progressive factions of the Conservative party and the more socially conservative side.
In Coningsby, a political novel written by Disraeli in 1844 after his election to MP for Shrewsbury in 1841, he questioned the underlying motives that governed Peelite Conservative policy. Disraeli wanted to know what exactly they were conserving. He even suggested that Whig principles were running the Conservatives under the guise of Conservatism, an argument that would be sure to appeal to Peel's opponents. This suggestion wasn't exactly outlandish, either. After Peel was forced to resign, the Peelites, Radicals and Whig factions within Parliament were all loosely united by their dislike of the Conservatives, so much so that they eventually formed the Liberal Party in 1859, which then went on to create the most famous political rivalries in British history between William Gladstone, a former Conservative member (whom Margaret Thatcher suggested may have re-joined the Party "if he had been alive today" at Party Conference in 1983), and Benjamin Disraeli.
The legacy that Margaret Thatcher began in the 1980s has had complete hegemony over British economic policy and attitudes in consecutive Conservative and Labour administrations since, in both a positive and negative way. Many of Thatcher's reforms were necessary, however this neoliberal orthodoxy that has dominated policymaking, has meant that new lines are beginning to be drawn between the neoliberal and traditional factions of the Conservative Party. This is also present in current governmental policy, with a lot of neoliberals shocked by some of the spending pledges to be announced by Boris Johnson's Conservatives in the most recent budget, in March. Furthermore, it was Mrs Thatcher who introduced several socially conservative policies, she herself was a social conservative in the way that she supported the death penalty for the most serious criminals and had a strong reliance on law and order during her terms in Office.
Many question the tenacity of neoliberalism in its current form, whether it is conservative at all. And from a personal perspective, I would say no, which is why many of those that describe themselves as neoliberals are so virulently opposed to social conservatism, despite the fact that Thatcher held a lot of socially conservative views herself. Conservatives of the Burkean tradition argue that neoliberalism is far too individualist, with no real regard for community, and instead focuses solely on promoting global capitalism.
They ignore the consequences that come with it for small communities, which is why so many working-class communities voted to leave the European Union, all whilst parroting what appears to be somewhat conservative principles, then voting through legislation that is the opposite. It is interesting that I have mentioned Burke, I know, because he was a Whig. But his ideas surrounding the organic society, of order, tradition and religion, widely praised and respected by both liberals and conservatives, were followed by the late Benjamin Disraeli, whose one-nation conservatism aimed to restore these tenets within Victorian society and translated into government policy.
Since the sad passing of Sir Roger Scruton, his works have become even more popular, his 2014 publication 'How to be a Conservative' is one of the most read political works. Douglas Murray described Sir Roger in the Daily Telegraph, shortly after his passing, as the man who "kept the light of conservatism and its philosophy burning during the darkest times". Scruton had taught in the underground universities behind the Iron Curtain during the final days of the Soviet Union, his students were among some of the political leaders who helped return freedom to the nations of Eastern Europe, it was through his teachings of conservatism in the eastern bloc which helped bring down the USSR. Scruton was very much under appreciated in Britain, often no platformed at universities and his works usually boycotted and it was his courage and strength to stand up for what he believed in that made him the great man that we all very much admire to this day.
It was the small c conservatism and traditional values promoted by Sir Roger Scruton that resonates so deeply with the northern, Welsh and some Midlands seats; the socially conservative areas such as the Blyth Valley and the old mining towns of North West Durham truly appreciate a Party which finally represents them and doesn't take them for granted. That is why the Conservative Party and especially some Young Conservatives, who tend to be more liberal, need to realise that if we wish to keep these seats we must deliver for them and not sell them out like the Labour Party have been doing for years. Since the left's turn towards the metropolitan elite of Hampstead and the champagne socialism of Shoreditch and Islington, it's the Conservative Party which will now stand up for the working people of those former Labour heartlands, however, we must ensure that the Party stays true to its roots of social conservatism of intellectuals, such as Sir Roger Scruton, and the promotion of traditional values which has proved so successful at the most recent election. It was Labour who sold out 5 million Leave voters, primarily in the North of England, and once Brexit is over, we must make a conscious effort to retain their votes as Labour centre themselves ever closer to their new heartlands in the capital.