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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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Clara X
April 8th, 2011
3:04 PM

Clara X
April 8th, 2011
2:04 PM
The question of what our Conservative values are is difficult partly because Conservatives tend to think of themselves as pragmatic, following the evidence of “what works” rather than ideological instinct. Because “what works” differs between individuals, Conservatives strongly support individual choice. However, a bigger issue than the definition of Conservative values is the frequent conflating of values and morals. Values are one thing, morals quite another. A value expresses a goal worth pursuing. A value can reflect changing circumstances, can incorporate differences of opinion. A value is flexible rather than prescriptive. A value can fit to encompass the choices individuals make. A moral indicates something which “ought” to be done, something which is “right” or even “good”. At their heart, morals rely on being pinned to absolutes, whether humanist, scientific or religious. Morality assumes a norm to be conformed to, a perfect answer to strive towards. Morality is dogmatic, it separates and alienates Yes, the Conservative Party needs to emphasis values. But talking about morals will undermine Compassionate Conservatism. It will take us back towards morals based on dogma instead of values based on individual free choice.

Peel
April 4th, 2011
8:04 AM
The present government has decided to adopt all the ideology of Blair, Blunkett, Brown, with cuts. Ideologically this is a LibDem administration, as Clegg is revealing on Tuesday with an agenda of social engineering only predicted by Orwell. Posh public schoolboys like Clegg, Cameron, Osborne, who have never had a proper job, never scrimped and saved to send their children to decent schools, are perhaps more dangerous than Brown - at least he put his cards on the table and voters were clear about what they were in for. Now the scrimper and saver class are hated by the Tories, 'the bourgeoisie': if you are rich and poor and a minority with a favoured status, you are a winner. Thatcher's revolution is destroyed. We all know it. Never ever trust the Tories again. To my surprise, Peter Hitchens is the pundit who really did get it right about the role of Cameron's Tories as a deceiving siren voice of false reassuranace to the common sense tradition. The state is now allergic to the bourgeoisie, we seem to be in soft marxian world, by stealth, and soon won't be allowed to boot out what we don't want, after May 5.

Anonymous
April 1st, 2011
3:04 PM
Here, in a nutshell, is the answer to why any Tory ‘win’ (under the current leadership) against Labour will be shortlived. A Conservative party that accepts Labour’s moral premise will always lose. In any conflict of ideas, the side with the most consistent philosophy will win. To successfully challenge the moral morass of dependency, state handouts, and the idea that the state has the right to the fruits of your labour (no pun intended), a rational opposition needs to build on the political legacy of the great Lady T, who also emphasised values: the values of individual initiative, achievement and responsibility; that we are not ‘our brothers’ keepers’, that we reject the collectivist big government solutions, both in their Labour and watered down ‘compassionate conservative’ variants; that the state should not nanny people from cradle to grave. There’s a reason why Margaret Thatcher never lost a general election, and why Cameroon failed to win a majority. Someone should tell Mr Montgomerie that a political party, if it is to have a future, must not only reflect the electorate - it needs to lead it.

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