There are moments when the nation comes together. Cheering Team GB athletes as they cross the finish line at the Olympics. Rolling our eyes as the UK (usually) fails to get off the starting blocks at Eurovision. The joy of street parties during the Platinum Jubilee. Shared sorrow at the Queen’s funeral.
There is a power in these moments. The flags and football shirts, impromptu barbeques and overcrowded pub gardens, give us a sense of national community that feels unfamiliar because it is all too infrequent.
Conservatives need a renewed focus on the nation. Not as a symbol or a motif, but an organising principle for our politics. Celebration of country shouldn’t be reserved for cultural events or moments of mourning – it should galvanise and animate a shared programme to tackle our country’s biggest problems.
In Michael Gove’s speech to launch Onward’s Future of Conservatism programme, he called for a “patriotic renewal”. This national moment is central to the political project that the centre-right needs to develop.
The British economy needs a new emphasis on the nation. Reaching energy independence requires a collective effort to accelerate decarbonisation, whilst the rise of China has revealed the fragility of supply chains that underpin technologies and sectors with strategic importance. Our economic model is overly reliant on an ever-narrower set of places and sectors and redistribution from a shrinking public pot. The infrastructure that underpins a form of broad-based growth – houses, trains, grid connections, full fibre networks – is held back by ineffective national policy and contentious local politics.
Our culture also needs a period of national renewal. All around us, we see proxy battles and meaningless conversations on the rewriting of children’s books and the labelling of artefacts in museums. These are symptoms of a fragile sense of national identity. When our collective institutions, rituals and norms are attacked by fringe movements, mainstream Britain struggles to articulate the ties that bind it together.
If employed with careful thought and intention as part of a political programme, a national focus has unique qualities. It can help to articulate a shared purpose, underpinning industrial policies and infrastructure investments that might benefit different places in different ways but contribute to a shared forward momentum. It can build a sense of collective identity, with boundaries tight enough to give people safety and security but flexible enough to change and adapt. And a positive national community develops strong foundations of generalised reciprocity and trust: the lifeblood of a successful society.
Disraeli said that “the Tory party, unless it is a national party, is nothing”. But in recent years the definition and direction of the One Nation movement has been lacklustre – clear on what is against, but rarely what it is for.
We need those who believe in a more inclusive form of economics and politics and a renewed culture and society to give their ideas more clarity and force – and to unashamedly put the ‘nation’ back in One Nation.
-Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director
This is an abridged version of a piece that originally appeared on Conservative Home
News and media
Onward’s launch of the Future of Conservatism project, featuring a speech by the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, gained significant media coverage. The speech was previewed in The Sunday Times, and received coverage in The Guardian, the Spectator, the Independent, Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, iNews, The Sun, the BBC, The Times, and Sky News on the day.
David Johnston MP wrote about the needs for Conservative answers in Times Red Box.
Project Chair Nick Timothy and Project Director Gavin Rice wrote about the hope of Conservatism in The Telegraph.
Adam Hawksbee and Gavin Rice wrote for Conservative Home on why Conservatives need to reclaim the idea of the nation.
Levelling Up Locally continues to receive coverage with mentions in The Express and The Times for their reports on Government plans to crack down on antisocial behaviour.
Our report After the Fall was referenced in a piece for Conservative Home by former MP David Burrowes.
Adam Hawksbee was quoted in the Local Government Chronicle on building trust in local government.
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