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FUTURE OF CONSERVATISM

The Case for Conservatism

Rebuilding our economy, restoring our community
Gavin Rice, Nick Timothy CBE
October 13, 2023
The Case for Conservatism

We believe conservatism has the intellectual resources and the strategic pragmatism to embrace change and provide new answers. Our well-tested beliefs, applied to new contexts and challenges, will prevail. Prosperity and fairness can co-exist. Individual, community and nation depend upon one another.

Conservatism needs to rediscover its roots and evolve for the mid twenty-first century. This landmark report from Onward’s Future of Conservatism Project makes the intellectual case for a fresh, pragmatic approach going beyond narrow ideology in the service of the British people – families, communities and nation.

The ‘Case for Conservatism’, written by former Downing Street Chief of Staff Nick Timothy and Project Director Gavin Rice is backed by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove. It outlines the case for drawing on the conservative tradition of thought to improve and advance the prosperity and flourishing of our national community in a changing world. It makes the case for a British renewal.

The Prime Minister has called for long-term decision making in the national interest, and the need to move on from decades of consensus politics that have run out of road. He is right. This report proposes how and why the centre-right should move beyond the old consensus to answer the enormous challenges the UK faces of slow growth, an ageing population and the rise of China.

We call for conservatism to build upon its existing achievements and embrace new approaches. These approaches, we argue, are not only consistent with conservative political tradition, but flow from it. As research by Onward shows, they would also command the support of a future voting coalition capable of delivering a strong parliamentary majority. 

We argue that a future conservative political platform for tackling Britain’s long-term challenges would contain the following elements:

Twelve new foundational principles

This paper makes the case for a renewed and revitalised conservatism: a form of conservatism that takes long-established insights and principles and applies them to very modern challenges and problems. It argues for a conservatism that is popular and democratic, seeking to serve the whole nation.

1) A state that is active, not absent. Conservatives embrace a state that is not overbearing but facilitative. We are not ideologically committed to limiting government in all circumstances. Good government can generate a stronger society and a faster growing economy, reducing the need for redistribution. Better incentives are needed to increase business investment.

2) An economic strategy placing Britain’s interests first. Conservatives should seek to advance the economic interests of the nation as governments should serve the interests of their citizens. This means taking a robust stance towards hostile global actors and a critical approach to unfettered globalisation. Securing strategic industries, supply chain integrity, reducing the UK trade deficit and guaranteeing access to key resources and manufactures are vital goals.

3) A fairer social contract. Inequality is rising in the UK, but without the growth rate that might make this more acceptable. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of too few, with younger people priced out of home ownership. Real wages have not risen for over a decade and unstable work is more widespread. It is possible to achieve faster growth, less inequality and a better deal for workers.

4) Rebalancing the country. Identifying the scale of Britain’s regional divides and the urgency of correcting them has been a major achievement of recent Conservative governments. Active regional policy is needed to redress this imbalance, which overheats the South East while much of the country is left behind. By growing more of our regions, we will reduce the need for Britain’s huge transfer union.

5) Sustainable immigration. Any modern developed economy will need a certain level of economic migration. But current levels have gone too far, placing undue pressure on housing and public services, causing rapid community change and undermining the economic position of British workers. We should not have an economic model based on supplying low-wage labour to businesses.

6) Seizing the opportunities of innovation and technology. The UK must invest much more in science and create the commercial spaces for universities and businesses to conduct research. We must also adopt a proactive strategy for scaling up and commercialising British patents so we retain the economic benefits of our innovation.

7) Planning reform and housebuilding. Significant supply-side change is needed to generate the conditions for private sector-driven growth. We need far more houses so voters can become property owners, and the local infrastructure to underpin it.

8) Sustainable energy supply. The UK needs to ensure a reliable supply of affordable energy with the aim of transitioning to a cheap and abundant future energy mix. We must be less exposed to international supply shocks and never allow the cost of energy to cause a loss of industrial capacity.

9) Supporting families. British families have fewer children than they would like and the UK is unusual in its lack of recognition for families in the tax and benefits system. We need a much more pro-family policy framework that rewards commitment and values parenting, while enabling the choices parents want to make.

10) Actively defending institutions and culture. Socially and economically elite minorities in both the private and public sectors are moving our national cultural norms away from the views, values and interests of the average voter. Conservatives must stand up for the majority who do not consent to this unwanted rapid cultural change, and seek to rebalance our institutions away from radical ideologies.

11) Law and order. There is a growing perception of rising lawlessness in Britain, with higher rates of anti-social behaviour and embedded gang and street crime. Conservatives must protect the law-abiding majority by taking a much tougher approach to preventing and tackling crime of all kinds, especially drug-related and organised crime.

12) Responsible stewardship of our environment. As Conservatives we must exercise responsible custodianship of the environment, taking proportionate and practical measures to mitigate climate change, while also regulating effectively to protect biodiversity, air quality, water quality and natural habitats.

Twelve new foundational principles

This paper makes the case for a renewed and revitalised conservatism: a form of conservatism that takes long-established insights and principles and applies them to very modern challenges and problems. It argues for a conservatism that is popular and democratic, seeking to serve the whole nation.

1) A state that is active, not absent. Conservatives embrace a state that is not overbearing but facilitative. We are not ideologically committed to limiting government in all circumstances. Good government can generate a stronger society and a faster growing economy, reducing the need for redistribution. Better incentives are needed to increase business investment.

2) An economic strategy placing Britain’s interests first. Conservatives should seek to advance the economic interests of the nation as governments should serve the interests of their citizens. This means taking a robust stance towards hostile global actors and a critical approach to unfettered globalisation. Securing strategic industries, supply chain integrity, reducing the UK trade deficit and guaranteeing access to key resources and manufactures are vital goals.

3) A fairer social contract. Inequality is rising in the UK, but without the growth rate that might make this more acceptable. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of too few, with younger people priced out of home ownership. Real wages have not risen for over a decade and unstable work is more widespread. It is possible to achieve faster growth, less inequality and a better deal for workers.

4) Rebalancing the country. Identifying the scale of Britain’s regional divides and the urgency of correcting them has been a major achievement of recent Conservative governments. Active regional policy is needed to redress this imbalance, which overheats the South East while much of the country is left behind. By growing more of our regions, we will reduce the need for Britain’s huge transfer union.

5) Sustainable immigration. Any modern developed economy will need a certain level of economic migration. But current levels have gone too far, placing undue pressure on housing and public services, causing rapid community change and undermining the economic position of British workers. We should not have an economic model based on supplying low-wage labour to businesses.

6) Seizing the opportunities of innovation and technology. The UK must invest much more in science and create the commercial spaces for universities and businesses to conduct research. We must also adopt a proactive strategy for scaling up and commercialising British patents so we retain the economic benefits of our innovation.

7) Planning reform and housebuilding. Significant supply-side change is needed to generate the conditions for private sector-driven growth. We need far more houses so voters can become property owners, and the local infrastructure to underpin it.

8) Sustainable energy supply. The UK needs to ensure a reliable supply of affordable energy with the aim of transitioning to a cheap and abundant future energy mix. We must be less exposed to international supply shocks and never allow the cost of energy to cause a loss of industrial capacity.

9) Supporting families. British families have fewer children than they would like and the UK is unusual in its lack of recognition for families in the tax and benefits system. We need a much more pro-family policy framework that rewards commitment and values parenting, while enabling the choices parents want to make.

10) Actively defending institutions and culture. Socially and economically elite minorities in both the private and public sectors are moving our national cultural norms away from the views, values and interests of the average voter. Conservatives must stand up for the majority who do not consent to this unwanted rapid cultural change, and seek to rebalance our institutions away from radical ideologies.

11) Law and order. There is a growing perception of rising lawlessness in Britain, with higher rates of anti-social behaviour and embedded gang and street crime. Conservatives must protect the law-abiding majority by taking a much tougher approach to preventing and tackling crime of all kinds, especially drug-related and organised crime.

12) Responsible stewardship of our environment. As Conservatives we must exercise responsible custodianship of the environment, taking proportionate and practical measures to mitigate climate change, while also regulating effectively to protect biodiversity, air quality, water quality and natural habitats.

By prioritising these objectives and being committed to ends rather than means, Conservatives can meet the challenges of economic decline and social alienation that threaten the UK in the medium term. We do not believe in an unreformed, ever-expanding state. Rather, by addressing the root causes of high public spending we can make more of our society self-reliant.

Britain is a nation of high subsidies. We subsidise our economy with unlimited immigration and regional transfers, we subsidise our weak society through our welfare state. To reduce the long-term demand for redistributive government, we must first embrace active government to fix what is wrong. 

The American social scientist Robert Putnam recounts the legacy of President Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive era. The mid-twentieth century saw the United States move towards becoming a higher-growth, more equal, higher- trust, more patriotic, more cohesive and more “we”-focused society – an “upswing” in almost all social and economic measures.

Britain should learn from this analysis. By seeking to restore our national community, together with the little platoons of family and place it encompasses, the Conservatives can become a truly national party once again.

Britain is overdue its own upswing. A British renewal is possible.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said:

Our nation state does not need to wither before impersonal global forces, or be out-competed by hostile trading partners and aggressive powers. It is possible to achieve both faster growth and a fairer social contract. 

“Individual freedom can only find its fulfilment in the bonds of community. A state that is active, not absent, need not lead to the stagnation of welfarism. Rather, it can enable the kinds of private sector growth that will lead to better jobs and prosperity across all regions, communities and classes.”

Project Chair Nick Timothy said:

“The future of conservatism lies in backing a strategic state that secures our existing strengths and builds new industries that deliver growth, prosperity and security for families and communities. 

“In breaking with the past 30 years of politics, we must also break with the economic and social policies that have weakened our society and common culture. We need a new economic model and stronger sense of community – from the local to the national.” 

Project Director Gavin Rice said:

“Conservatism is overdue a refresh. It has been eighteen years since David Cameron started modernising the Conservative Party in opposition to lead again in the new millennium. But the UK faces different challenges today and a more uncertain future. 

“The answer isn’t to look back to what worked in the 1980s but what the coming years and decades demand. This landmark paper does that, rediscovering conservatism’s roots and charting a popular path towards a British renewal.”

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