Compassionate conservative, Mark 1: President George W. Bush comforts a fallen fireman's widow (AP/Press Association)
The Right's greatest weakness over many decades has been its failure to explain and develop its moral purpose. This has left it electorally vulnerable to left-wing parties that never miss an opportunity to present compassionate credentials to the increasing number of "values voters" in developed electorates. Conservatives can even seem embarrassed about the one nation ambition of their politics — more comfortable using the language of economics and efficiency.
Worst of all, retreating from debates about poverty has led to unfortunate outcomes for many millions of vulnerable people. The Left has led academic and policy debates about how societies should fight poverty. Solutions have become dominated by state rather than voluntary action. Material rather than relational approaches to poverty, involving greater government spending rather than stronger families, have accelerated social fragmentation, poor parenting and loneliness. The success of what has been called compassionate conservatism shouldn't be a peripheral concern for the Right. It is essential for its electoral relevance.
The current revival of the Left in Britain illustrates the danger. One year ago Gordon Brown wasn't just beaten, his party was thrashed. Labour received just 29 per cent of the national vote — less, even, than John Major managed when he was buried in the Blair landslide of 1997. Since that humiliating rejection there has been no apology from Labour's new leader, Ed Miliband. No apology for bequeathing the biggest deficit in the developed world. No apology for allowing immigration to run out of control. No apology for leading Britain's brave armed forces to defeat in southern Iraq.
But look at the opinion polls and Labour is already bouncing back. Ed Miliband, lacking in prime ministerial qualities, may be a drag on his party's fortunes but if an election were held tomorrow voters would be open to restoring Labour to office.
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