A short time ago I added a guy called Bill to my blogroll. Bill’s a libertarian Conservative (I think I’ve capitalised that right, although he left the party upon the leadership of the already forgotten IDS) who often finds himself in despair at the state of what was once the most effective election winning machine the democratic world had ever seen (but that’s enough of the complements). And today saw a typically despairing piece asking if the Tories want to win.
The thing is, I don’t think the Tories have to decide whether they want to win – of course they do – but why they want to win and I think the conflict Bill personally feels, mirrors that of the party as a whole.
The conflict is between the ‘New Conservatives’ (the party’s libertarian brain) and the ‘Old Conservatives’ (the party’s authoritarian heart). The first part of the Tory manifesto was launched to a ‘forgetful majority’ of elderly folk, who make up the heart of the party. (To be fair, there are some younger ones, who believe what they read in the Daily Mail.) The agenda is anti-EU, anti-immigration, pro-‘family values’, ID-cards etcetera. Theirs is ‘traditional’ right-wing conservatism, based on ‘common sense’. Suspicious of intellectuals and evidence they prefer to trust their instincts (what others call their prejudices) and they don’t like to be challenged. Pragmatists, they’re unlikely to know what libertarianism is, but since Thatcher (prior to which the Tories were as statist as anyone) have been happy to hand over the economic side of things to people they regard as mere technocrats.
It’s these technocrats that form the minority libertarian wing of the party. Shoehorned in under Thatcher they claim to have revolutionised Britain (although given the current fashion for golden-ageism within the Tory Party, it may be that the Old Conservatives don’t rate that much). They like to pretend Old Conservatism is a thing of the past, but whenever they try to take the initiative they get re-buffed. But they’re hanging in because everybody knows Old Conservatives really are old and they believe the demographics are on their side.
The funny thing is that there’s no debate between these two opposing wings of the party and no serious attempt to form a coherent ideology to bring them together.