Tuesday 6 September 2011

So what does the Conservative Party actually exist to conserve?

When I pitched up at university in 1972, as a fresh-faced though already tweed-jacketed adolescent, the first two organisations I joined were the Conservative Association and the Conservation Society. Both names appeared to share the same root, and I perceived no conflict between them.

How unbelievably naïve I was in those days. Within three months a supposedly Conservative government had enacted the most radical constitutional change in a thousand years by taking Britain into what was always planned to become the European Union.

Under Margaret Thatcher, the party became even more extravagantly radical. As a reactionary, I naturally welcomed the smashing up of the old, monolithic nationalised industries because this seemed like a genuine attempt to put back the clock.

I enjoyed that brief window of dealing with locally based utility companies in which I could also own shares, not realising that the process of “creative destruction” was set to continue so that I would soon end up buying my power from some unaccountable, foreign-owned conglomerate with apparently zero interest in the wellbeing of its long-suffering customers.

Given that record, I suppose it should now come as no real surprise to find George Osborne and Eric Pickles limbering up for a bare-knuckle fight with such unlikely adversaries as the National Trust and the Daily Telegraph in their effort to force through a radical reform of the planning system, based on “a presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

An appropriately meaningless phrase that apparently covers everything from the concreting over of cherished green spaces to build new homes to the erection of regiments of useless wind turbines and their supporting infrastructure across our uplands, and crazed vanity projects such as the new high speed rail link. The Dale Farm travellers’ approach to development goes nationwide.

Underpinning their determination, they claim, is the conviction that “sticking with the old, failed planning system puts at risk young people’s future prosperity and quality of life”.

Assuming, it would seem, that prosperity and quality of life are natural partners. Even though the belief that we can all go on getting ever richer seems as fatally flawed as the long-established presumption that house prices could only keep going up.

There is also precious little evidence that increasing wealth adds to the overall sum of human happiness, though I have no doubt that it gladdens the hearts of developers and their financial backers, who will be the prime beneficiaries of the proposed changes.

So what does the Conservative Party of 2011 actually set out to conserve? Certainly not the armed forces, which were traditionally considered safe in Tory hands. Nor the English countryside about which Stanley Baldwin used to wax so lyrical.

A proper Conservative: with a wing collar and a pipe
A contemporary Conservative with his mid-morning snack of 2lbs of sausages ... oops, no, sorry, they're his hands

Where are the initiatives we might hope for to wrest powers back from Brussels as the euro project collapses, or to stop the abuse of “human rights” legislation by wrongdoers?

I have remained a member of the Conservative Party for 40 years now, but increasingly struggle to see how its interests are aligned with those of us who would like our chief legacy to our children to be a country that is still faintly recognisable as the Britain in which we grew up.

In Scotland, one would-be leader of the party is proposing a name change to expunge the tainted Conservative brand. Is it too much to hope that the party in England might adopt the same course and take a name that actually describes its priorities? The Sustainable Development Party might have a ring to it. The Creative Destruction Party would be more honest.

That would leave the name “Conservative” free for those of us whose priority is just that: to preserve and restore what was best about our country before what Baldwin might have called the hard-faced men and women who have done well out of politics took over every potential governing party.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...

Same old story, slightly different characters here..... though the current (Republican/Conservative Governor of New Jersey might do as a Sumo wrestling
opponent for your sausage fingered gent.
I'd be glad to offer up our "Tea Party" moniker for your re-naming. (Hoping it will soon be available.) But, then again, you would have to overlook it's origin, uh, in the American Revolution or as Britain refers to it "The trouble with the colonies, 1776.