The Tories and Social Conservatism: What is The Future of the British Right? | Daniel Hawker
Following the Conservative landslide in the 2019 General Election, the journalist Peter Hitchens wrote in his Mail on Sunday column that “The Conservatives have now replaced Blairite New Labour as the main Left-wing party in the country”. It may have been a provocative statement to some, but to a former member of the party, it really illuminated to me the fact that, in Britain today, genuine conservatives have no major party option, and haven’t since the War. If we wish for representation, we are forced to look towards minor parties like the SDP and Reclaim.
The Coalition marked the real beginning of a socially liberal Conservative Party. Despite an attempted rebranding in the 2000s under Hague, IDS and Howard, what it actually achieved was merely continuing the Blairism of New Labour. Despite being restricted in the policies they could implement by Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems, the Conservatives remained committed to pursuing “era-defining, convention-challenging, radical reform” – the very opposite of conservation. Since 2010, we’ve had a Tory government who’s forgotten all about morality, family values and patriotism. A clear example of this would be the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013. Whilst I myself am a strong supporter of the Act, its passage undoubtedly damaged the ideological credentials of Mr Cameron’s party and Cabinet. Instead of seriously discussing it with the party, he went ahead and succumbed to the very loud pro-LGBT lobby.
Another major example is the liberalisation of our divorce laws (what Hitchens describes as “a continuing war on what’s left of the married family”). Under the Johnson Government, we’ve seen the introduction of no-fault divorce in the form of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020 – a spouse can now begin divorce proceedings simply by stating the marriage to have broken down. The party’s degradation of the conservative pillar of marriage is reflected in some unfortunate statistics: 2019 saw 107,599 opposite-sex divorces, an 18.4% increase from the previous year. Marriage remains, at least in my view, a major foundation for any modern society, and it is shameful the way the so-called party of the family has treated it.
Having long claimed the label as the party of law and order, today’s Conservative Party have also abandoned this legacy, having enacted the highest-in-a-generation cuts to police funding, which have been met with a rise in knife crime – 2019 saw approximately 45,000 recorded incidents
Despite the numerous faults of the last 10 years of Tory rule, the damage to the party actually goes back decades. The conservatives of the post-war consensus period simply gave into the steep domestic spending by Labour, putting up no defence of the Right. But the Prime Minister that promised to change all that actually sped up the destruction of conservatism.
Although she personally remains a figure of veneration for much of the British Right, Margaret Thatcher’s policies have undeniably had a devastating and long-lasting impact on the nation’s social fabric. Her premiership saw an increase in divorces due to the 1984 Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act (reducing the time needed to wait for a petition from 3 years to 1) and the eradication of northern communities via deindustrialisation.
However, Thatcher’s most damaging contribution to the Conservative Party was her espousal of atomism. First set out by Russian libertarian writer Ayn Rand, it viewed society as merely a collection of self-interested individuals, and that the State should encourage this model of society, as it leads to hard-work and profit. In an interview for Women’s Own in 1987, Mrs Thatcher demonstrated her support for this thinking, stating “there’s no such thing as society, there are individual men and women and there are families”. Looking back to traditionalist conservatism, figures like Edmund Burke emphasised the role of community and cooperation in people’s lives – we are all involved in society, and all have our role to play:
“Society is indeed a contract … not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.
The result of Thatcher’s atomism and the broader social liberalism of the Tories is the domination of the modern Conservative Party by One Nation social liberals and neoliberal free-marketeers. Thus, the genuine social conservatives (people like Edward Leigh and Jacob Rees-Mogg) are confined to the High Tory Cornerstone Group, and publications like The Salisbury Review. The mantra of ‘Faith, Flag and Family’ is clearly no longer welcome within the party ranks – traditionalist figures like the late Sir Roger Scruton have been removed over the misrepresentation of their views.
If this is the state of the modern party, what is the way forward? How do we ensure social conservatives have political representation? If you’re a Peter Hitchens fan, you’d argue that we must destroy the Conservative Party as the political arm of the liberal elite – it is merely a roadblock. However, I’d argue that, if the party is willing to change, then it could once again become a friend to British conservatives.
It must embrace a communitarian view of society. Although supported by Tony Blair, it’s a positive combination of classically-liberal rights and responsibility to your community – if pursued, it would reinvigorate communities across the country, but the north most crucially.
More broadly however, the Tories desperately need a renewal of socially conservative values within the party platform. That means defending British traditions and institutions, the importance of the married family, and morals in society. That also means doing more to encourage marriage, defending our culture and history, and passing legislation for the betterment of society (e.g., criminalising all aspects of the pornography industry).
The Conservative Party has come to be conservative in the purely pragmatic sense, with its sole focus being on securing electoral victory instead of pursuing principled conservative policies and solutions to modern issues. There must be a combination of these two: to provide the British people with a conservative party, there must be electoral pragmatism.The post-war consensus didn’t provide this country with conservatives – neither did economy-centric Thatcherism, or Cameron’s socially liberal ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. The “Conservative” Party must adopt communitarian social conservatism, and whilst this is being pushed by groups like the Orthodox Conservatives, it’s certainly a minority view. The party needs to once again become the true party of the British Right – because otherwise, the identitarian Left will face no genuine opposition.