A return to benevolent paternalism?

It increasingly seems that the next UK General Election will be won and lost in the centre ground. While Labour stumbles from mishap to misfortune on a seemingly daily basis, David Cameron’s Tories appear more New Labour than, well, New Labour. This isn’t only in terms of presentational skills, but also in projected ethos.

It could of course be argued that the Conservatives of today are returning to the space once occupied by their predecessors in the form of Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli. After all, it was the former who founded what could be described as the modern Conservative Party, and the latter often fought tooth-and-nail with his arch-adversary William Gladstone as to who could take the initiative on bringing in social reform, albeit by late Victorian standards. All of this took place on the centre ground of the time.
For a simple example of the Conservatives’ move back into the realm of One Nation conservatism, check out this video posted by the party recently on YouTube. It charts the history of the Tories. However, the issues highlighted are by and large firmly socially reformist in nature- Catholic Emancipation, the outlawing of women and children working in mines, ‘facing down the landed interests to cut food prices’, introducing free primary schooling, introducing an old age pension system and even committing to support the NHS. Any of these in their nature wouldn’t look out of place in a Labour back catalogue of achievements.

The video echoes the type of heritage branding approach favoured by many of the UK’s major companies at the minute to highlight a background and role as an integral part of British culture. By doing so, they reignite the perception (rightly or wrongly) of the the party being interested in the wellbeing of people of all social backgrounds. In a modern context, this is helping them to set up camp on the ground successfully occupied by the Labour in the mid-1990s, when John Smith and Tony Blair positioned the party as all things to all voters, in the approch to the next General Election.