Conservative Defections to the SDP Are Counter-Intuitive | Luke Doherty
In the past week, several young Conservatives have announced their defection to the Social Democratic Party. An article for this publication argued it was because of the talent of recently elected Tory MPs, whilst several others argued elsewhere it was because the Conservative Party does not reflect their socially conservative views.
It is an undisputed fact that the Conservative Party is imperfect and not without its fault. It can certainly be frustrating to feel alone in one’s views, especially when they are often caricatured as extreme and bizarre. But the decision to jump ship and defect to the SDP is the wrong move for the Tories’ social conservatives, as by walking away and abandoning the Conservative Party, the defectors simply allow our opponents to run wild and cause mayhem. Some will argue that the liberal faction has had a firm grip on the leadership of the party for decades; and they will almost admit defeat – unwilling to fight for the soul of the party. Instead, they would rather roll over and allow the liberals to have the whip hand.
It is important to remember that social conservatives are drawn from across the political spectrum, and that social conservatism is not the exclusive, tribal preserve of the Conservative Party. Some of the traditional working classes (who have historically voted Labour) have socially conservative tendencies; and there is a growing, sensible rejection of liberal-leftism that has been eloquently articulated by commentators such as Rod Liddle and Melanie Phillips
But whilst it is worthwhile to expose ourselves to a diverse range of people who are saying things we ourselves believe – especially on issues such as free speech, identity politics and woke culture – we have to remember that we are Conservatives and that we are distinct from the other reactionaries in the culture war. This is why it is crucial we are able to articulate and defend our own view within the Conservative Party, and be equipped to make the case in the battle of ideas.
It would be false to suggest that the SDP does not represent some of the values that are intrinsic to our political outlook or that there isn’t wide appeal for some disenfranchised young Tories – but history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. The political drama surrounding the creation of the new and centrist SDP in 1981 was reincarnated to a disappointing extent with the advent of Change UK in 2019. Centrist politics has not faired well in Britain, and I am unenthusiastic about lending it my support. Both the SDP and Change UK have ultimately been visible flops in the grand scheme of things. We cannot deny that Labour and the Tories are odd bedfellows at the best of times. Thus, it becomes inevitable that to effect any sort of meaningful change, it is better to be inside the tent looking out, rather than outside the tent looking in.
The defections to the SDP illuminate an uncomfortable reality for the Conservative Party. It demonstrates an indifferentism to strong families and local communities, it communicates the misaligned nature of the leadership, and it proves why social conservatives must persevere in making their voices heard. Now more than ever, the party grassroots need engaged individuals who are willing to make the argument again for conservatism and drive real change. Many young social conservatives have righty identified and diagnosed the rot within the party, but few are bravely operating and extracting it. They seldom proscribibe a solution. Rather some have they walked off while the poison runs ever deeper. How unfortunate.
Of course, there is also an economic dimension to the defections too. An obsession with neo-liberal Thatcherism and liberal individualism has tainted the Conservative Party profoundly. At various tiers within the party, some equate true conservatism dogmatically with a rigid Thatcherite economic policy, and it is coupled with a fanatical compulsion towards free markets. It is the responsibility of social conservatives to provide a coherent rebuttal and alternative to these current trends.
What is unfortunate is that there is not a wealth of literature available on such important issues from good and noble philosophers such as the late Sir Roger Scruton. I agree with him that communitarian principles have their place, and are not completely without merit; and I also agree that we must not demonize the markets. But despite this, my natural home is within the Conservative Party and among conservatives. Though it is reassuring to know there are sensible folk from the Labour tradition with sound ideas about many of the problems with the liberal-left, I am not a breakaway centrist.
It may be tempting to step back from the Conservative Party because of one reason or another. The Cameron administration provided plenty of opportunities: particularly in 2014.
However, to defect and put your weight behind another, much smaller party is not the right thing to do – however appealing it may seem at the time.
Social conservatives are quick to realise the faults in the others within the party, but are sometimes slower in communicating clearly what ought to be done. However, what is clear is that an exodus is necessary. But for it to be effective, the right people must go. In clearing the liberal dead wood, the party can the conservative in name and in nature.
The SDP is largely irrelevant in public political discourse, and they pose a minimal electoral threat under the current voting system. The tough and intellectual battle must happen with the Conservative Party. What good will a defection do to that cause? Rather than jumping ship, social conservatives need to get on board and persevere, with a bold defence of conservative principles and ideas. The party needs you. Don’t give our opponents what they want.