As a student at university, it’s easy to be aware that academia is dominated by the left. After all, it is the voices on the left we hear the most. Added to this, a Conservative Party that does not look very conservative at the moment and almost like they are out of ideas – just take a look at the agendas for the Conservative Party Agendas for 2023 and 2022. But over the summer, two academic conferences of note took place, which should bring a glimmer of hope to conservative students.
The first, held at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge from the 6th to 7th July 2023, on British Intellectual Conservatism: Past and Present. This was organised by ResPublica and the University of Public Service. The second, held in the House of Lords from the 14th to 15th September 2023, on Margaret Thatcher: Her Life, Work, and Legacy. This had been organised by two research centres at the University of Hull. The first research centre was the Centre for Legislative Studies, which is led by Lord Norton of Louth, the second by Dr. Matt Beech who leads the Centre for British Politics.
The conferences, naturally, had different focuses but as a participant at both – and having had time to reflect on them, there are four things I found in common. These conferences were full of enriching academic thought, they were both thought provoking, provided a space to be reflective, and to think ahead to the future. In the current climate when it looks as though the Conservative Party will be unsuccessful at the 2024 General Election, both conferences highlighted the need for a better vision.
The two conferences in their own way provided a means to push back against the narrative we see that the right are out of ideas. Rather, the conference on British Intellectual Conservatism: Past and Present consisted of several panels, from Conservatism Today to addressing Free Speech and Conservatism. There were also two panels dedicated to two of the great leaders of the Conservative and Unionist Party, a panel on the Age of Churchill, another on the Age of Thatcher. All in all, the conference did exactly as the name of the conference said it would. A key focus of the conference was on the works of Roger Scruton and bringing his ideas, which may have been forgotten to the forefront. There is much to be learnt from this conference.
For the conference on Margaret Thatcher, many ideas were shared. The main takeaway raising the issue that politicians today do not have a long-term vision. Many who praise Liz Truss and her allies say “she did what Thatcher did” but what people fail to recognise and remember: Thatcher spent many years developing her ideas with a team before those ideas became policy.
There are lessons to be learnt from the conferences. It is people, no matter their role in politics, whether they work in academia, policy or aspire to be an elected representative, who need to take a step back. There are many great people we can learn from, but the problem with the world today is everyone is looking for the next great thing. The rivers of free-flowing conversation of ideas from conservative academics and politicians needs to be opened up before anything else can happen.