The Daily Telegraph
There is still hope for Conservatism in Britain
The existing model has run out of road because it lacks resilience, balance and community cohesion
By gripping problems from inflation to the Northern Ireland Protocol, Rishi Sunak is showing he can rise to the challenges of the day. But looking beyond the next couple of years, the Conservative Party must renew itself and what it has to offer. History shows that parties in government can find it difficult to do this. Times change, and so do our challenges. Some policies work, but some fail. Some just go on existing, not making much difference to anybody.
Trapped in the hamster wheel of ministerial life, politicians can find it difficult to move on. The decisions before them are immediate; big thinking is often longer term. And moving on can mean upsetting allies and colleagues. When a new PM arrives, any changes their ministers make can be seen as a rebuke to the legacy of their predecessors.
But time waits for no political party, and everything around us is speeding up. The rise of Asia continues.
Globalisation is changing fast. Competition is growing for scarce resources like energy. The US and EU have embraced active industrial strategies and protectionism. Hostile states are again a greater danger to us than terrorism.
Technology is transforming labour markets and production. Reshoring manufacturing jobs is within reach. Our population is ageing, profoundly changing our politics, tax base and spending needs. Forming and raising a family is becoming too expensive. Artificial intelligence and scientific discovery are making the stuff of human fantasy possible. The next iterations of life online will bring opportunity and new threats, from identity theft to mass disinformation.
To establish how to meet these challenges with confidence – to help the Tories to renew and look to the future – we are launching a new project, the Future of Conservatism, which will provide the party with the intellectual foundations – the analysis and the policy ideas – it needs.
We have assembled a brilliant team to help us. Based at the think tank Onward, now led by Sebastian Payne and Adam Hawksbee, we are aided by a steering group led by Michael Gove and boasting rising stars like Miriam Cates, Claire Coutinho and Neil O’brien, as well as influential voices from beyond the Commons including Michael Lind, Ruby Mcgregor-smith and Tomiwa Owolade. We are open to the best ideas and important real-world experience, in Britain and beyond.
Our starting point is that in this world of rapid change, and noting the economic, social and cultural strengths and weaknesses of our country today, our mission must be the restoration of national community – a politics based on the pursuit of the common good. To achieve that, we need a stronger shared identity and revitalisation made possible by a completely different economic model.
Our existing model – which has survived our whole lifetimes – has simply run out of road. Supported by all parties, it has prized wafer-thin efficiency over solid resilience, market ideology over state capacity, financial services over a balanced economy, imported goods over domestic production, foreign ownership over strategic capabilities and globalisation over the national interest. Put simply, we do not make, do or sell enough of what the world needs and wants, leaving Britain lagging behind competitors and with crippling inequalities at home. Its failures are growing more obvious.
This is not just a question of national strength but of domestic fairness. Without economic growth, our ability to invest in our people, the places we call home and our very future is weaker. But it is through investing in our people, our communities and the infrastructure and skills we will need in future that we will achieve that growth. We need more public and private investment in our economy – and a sustained effort to make sure that everyone can share in the prosperity that follows. And this is another insight in our mission to restore national community. We cannot pursue economic reform without social and cultural change, and we cannot hope for a stronger shared identity without a new economic model.
Why? Because our economy rests on public goods based on non-commercial values: the care and love of families, and the reciprocity and trust made possible by our established norms, culture and way of life. But equally, our society depends on enterprise: to create the wealth we need to solve common problems and invest in our common life without resorting to the politics of envy and other forms of division.
And so we need to answer honestly how we bring back together a society that often feels like it is coming apart. That surely requires an intellectually sound rejection of the militant identity politics that infect our universities, public services and even company boardrooms. But it also demands a positive programme: encouraging family formation, restoring institutions, re-establishing norms and customs, returning to the responsibilities and not just rights of citizenship – recognising that the common good means putting others before ourselves.
That means leaving the politics of ideological individualism behind us. The restoration of national community means thinking bigger.