A Lib-Con ‘Change Coalition’ augurs well for Compassionate Conservatism
Whatever it is, Cranmer is quite sanguine about it.
The rain is the rain: it’s neither good nor bad; it’s just the rain.
We are where we are.
In forging a government in the national interest – which is the grown-up thing to do (notwithstanding that Cranmer always thought that politicians always governed in the national interest) – there is no reason at all why one may not have Liberal Democrat voices to help shape the agenda. The reality is that there are many Conservative-minded Liberal Democrats and quite a few more Liberal-Democrat-minded Conservatives: there is a line of coincidence with distinct points of Whiggish convergence around which the two great political traditions of Toryism and Liberalism naturally coalesce.
Should they manage to do so, they could keep Labour’s Socialism at bay for a generation, if not eradicate it forever.
If we examine David Cameron’s great vision, his political raison d’etre, his principal policy emphasis since he became Party leader – that of ‘Progressive’, ‘One Nation’ or ‘Compassionate’ Conservatism – there is no reason at all why he may not secure a parliamentary majority with each Bill that comes before the House of Commons. Of course there are divergences in the policy details, but liberal philosophy meets a distinct strand of conservative philosophy at the point of individual liberty.
And we are at a time of such a Conservative and Liberal expression and understanding of the role of the individual that legislation would be protected from extremist expressions: the freedom of the individual is tempered by his or her responsibility to society, even if, at the moment, society has got the better of the individual. The poor need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance, the optimistic assurance that if they try – as they must – they will make it.
The Conservative Party is intent on empowering communities because the sense of political community is intrinsic to people’s sense of the need for social community. The narrative focus is on welfare, family breakdown and ‘social justice’ in the context of traditional conservative themes like low taxation and the small state. Proponents of Compassionate Conservatism aver that social problems are better solved through cooperation with private companies, charities and religious institutions rather than directly through government departments.
David Cameron’s stated intention to make Iain Duncan Smith the Minister for Social Justice indicates that the Conservative Party is now concerned with the moral and spiritual health of the nation just as much as Margaret Thatcher was concerned with its economic health: economic reality and moral concerns are no longer in conflict. Thus David Cameron talks not only of economic recession but of ‘social recession’ and ‘moral failure’. He writes:
When parents are rewarded for splitting up, when professionals are told that it’s better to follow rules than do what they think is best, when single parents find they take home less for working more, when young people learn that it pays not to get a job, when the kind-hearted are discouraged from doing good in their community, is it any wonder our society is broken? (The Guardian, 2010).There is nothing here with which the Liberal Democrats would disagree.
David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is both liberal and democratic: his plans for free schools are both liberal and democratic; his plans for a ‘pupil premium’ for the most challenging pupils are both liberal and democratic; his desire to redistribute NHS funding to the areas with the lowest life expectancy is both liberal and democratic. His opposition to further taxes on jobs is both liberal and democratic; his desire for lower personal taxation is both liberal and democratic; his opposition to ID cards is both liberal and democratic. And what liberal and democrat could possibly resile from the Conservatives’ proposed reforms to Parliament – that of granting the electorate the right to recall their MP, and petition for a parliamentary debate?
David Cameron’s conservatism is further expressed in his desire to increase ‘localism’ and to build upon the liberal strand of conservatism: ‘What the State can usefully do’, said JS Mill, ‘is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials’. When a Tory espouses Mill, a Liberal can rejoice. The Conservative Party’s ‘Social Justice Policy Group’ was established to encourage initiatives by various local organisations, including charities and churches, and to examine which governmental functions presently exercised at Westminster may be placed in the hands of local government made more accountable to the local electorate.
What Liberal Democrat could oppose that?
All of these policies are intrinsic to and consistent with a programme of Compassionate Conservatism for they are all concerned with theo-political matters of social justice and the imperative of loving one’s neighbour.
And loving does not demand liking.
But loving does demand engagement, understanding and tolerance of those whose personality we do not like or of whose worldview and beliefs we disapprove.
Not all Christians are the Cameron sort of Christian, that is of ‘a fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments’. But it is this expression of Anglicanism which will now bring him to Downing Street: it does not seek to polarise by setting one moral or political philosophy over another; it seeks consensus in accordance with its traditional via media, or, in the words of the preface to the 1662 Prayer Book, ‘to keep the mean between the two extremes’.
David Cameron’s approach is moderate: it is consonant with his paternalistic Anglicanism that the Liberal Democrats can be embraced as part of his ‘broad church’. It was observed last year that ‘Cameron is not an enigma, he’s an Anglican’, which ‘gives him considerable (some would say contemptible) flexibility as far as dogma is concerned’. But his constant appeal to Disraeli stems from his awareness that under Margaret Thatcher the Conservative Party was perceived to have a harsh attitude towards the poor. His ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ has a distinct focus on those who have little, with policies on health and education in particular to ensure ‘social justice’.
We are on the brink of an economic crisis. Carpe diem.
The post mortem on the election campaign is for another day.