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.

  • Drumlins Rock

    generally the tories are very much a paternalistic centreist party throughout their history, maggies term being regarded as the exception, and that really only came about due to Labours swing so far to the left at a time we were in a “cold war” with communism. So in many way it is their natural ground, unfortunately they were often too tied up with a vast array of vested interests from landed gentry to the army to the CoE, in contrast labour just had to keep the unions happy.
    Things have changed for both when big business pull all the strings and the politicians on all sides bowed and scraped to them, understandably its seemed as many of the business had bigger budgets than many government departments. But things have changed, maybe more than we realise, big business is not as infalible as was though and I think Cameron is lucky to be the right man at the right time to take advantage and I hope he can get a chance before “events” take over his reign.
    PS boy was tony smart to get out when he did!

  • Glencoppagagh

    If Cameron does mark a return to ‘One Nation’ Toryism, which party is going to stand for classic liberal ideas? It won’t be the Liberal Democrats.
    God preserve us from a return to the stodgy consensus of the 1950s and 60s.

  • Brit

    “stodgy consensus of the 1950s and 60s”

    Well aside from the early 50s which were still tainted by post war austerity the 50s and 60s were pretty – I believe -pretty good. More or less full employment, house prices that were affordable without both parents having to work, a decent 9-5 working day rather than the current long hours culture, a higher level of social cohesion and social mobility, low crime, universal benefits and less inequality.

    I am not a fan of Cameron or the Tories generally. Their big idea is that the state is bad and inefficient, that state ‘interference’ is bad, that tax cuts are the way forward and that “choice” is the ultimate good.

    The big state and large scale state invervention (subject to respect for human rights and liberties) is an absolute requirement in any capitalist or even industrial modern society for technocratic reasons, and the “small state” vision is a meaningless dream. For anyone committed to social justice it is very difficult to see how gross inequality can be addressed without state involvement.

    (new) Labour has a much more neutral perspective on the state, is less committed to tax cuts and happy with government expenditure and Keynesian macro-economics.

    I know whose policies I would rather see in the recesion (fingers crossed tail end of one). I think that if (big if) there is signficant economic improvement pre-election we may get a small Labour majority or a hung parliament. More realistically I think the Tories will win with a much smaller majority than expected. This is partly due to lack of enthusiasm for the Tories, with labour voters who have stayed away for Euro and locals reluctantly going out to vote and partly due to the inherent unfairness in our electoral system (who knew the British state gerrymandered against the interests of the Converatives). After one floundering Tory term Labour will be back in for another 10 years. Wishful thinking, maybe.

    In truth there is little between the parties and the centre ground is where its at. This is because Marxist socialism and its variants have not shown themselves to be any sort of solution and because social democracy (welfare state and Trade Unions) won so that the really worst excess of capitalism were taken away. Even Thatcherism did not shift the consensus too far away from these basics.

  • Gary

    Perhaps you could enlighten me what Cameron stands for beyond cuts cuts cuts. Paternalism my arse, if you dare, perhaps you might also get around to explaining this, [See below] and especially explain how it positions Cameron and the party he now leads in the centre ground?

    ——————

    Telling expulsion of a moderate tory MEP

    We were appalled that Edward McMillan-Scott MEP was expelled from the Conservative party (Editorial, 19 September) for standing successfully against the Polish extremist Michal Kaminski for the vice-presidency of the European parliament.

    David Cameron’s MEPs recently left the moderate group of the European People’s party, which now consists of all the EU centre-right parties except the Conservatives. They have instead associated themselves with a group opposed by many for its extremist views.

    Has Cameron forgotten that Harold Macmillan, the Tory prime minister who first tried to take Britain into Europe, resigned the whip when the leadership insisted on appeasing Hitler? He was not expelled. He also campaigned against the official Tory candidate Quintin Hogg in favour of an independent, Dr AL Lindsay, on an anti-appeasement ticket at a byelection. Sir Edward Heath, who as Tory PM took Britain into Europe, also supported Lindsay. Neither Macmillan nor Heath were expelled for their opposition to extremism.

    McMillan-Scott did not oppose a Conservative candidate. Kaminski is well-known for his extreme policies. Yet McMillan-Scott was expelled. Daniel Hannan was not expelled for his anti-NHS speech in the US, nor for saying that Enoch Powell was his political hero. So Cameron would appear to be much more prepared to work with alleged anti-semites such as Kaminski and Europhobes such as Hannan.

    It is high time that moderates woke up to the truth. Cameron has departed from the moderate pro-European history of the Conservative party.

    Maureen Tomison

  • Judge people by their deeds not words.
    There is nothing to show that Cameron was a liberal when he entered Parliament.

  • Gary McKeown

    Mick,

    I’m not making a judgement call on the actual policies and direction of any potential Conservative government, but rather how they are positioning themselves ahead of the election.

    In my post you’ll notice I say: “It increasingly seems that the next UK General Election will be won and lost in the centre ground”, “This isn’t only in terms of presentational skills, but also in projected ethos”, “they reignite the perception (rightly or wrongly) of the the party being interested in the wellbeing of people of all social backgrounds”, and “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” (emphasis added).

    Whether the end result is “cuts, cuts, cuts” remains to be seen, but the main thrust of my post was to highlight how the Tories are positioning themselves ahead of the General Election to win votes. Their policies and activities if they get to power is another post for another day.

  • Fair enough Gary.