This week is a special episode of Free Exchange, recorded live at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. The director of the Centre for Policy Studies, Robert Colvile, was joined by some of the leading lights on the right to discuss what conservatism actually means, in principal and in practise, and why it’s the best route to prosperity.
Neil O’Brien MP
It’s sometimes tempting to think that Liberalism and Socialism are ideologies, whereas Conservatism is basically like a character trait. But that isn’t quite right.
There is a deeper kind of pluralism that conservatives should believe in as well, which is a diversity of different ideas of the good life.
I think it’s much richer and deeper idea than socialism or liberalism will ever be.
We believe to in strong institutions, we believe in those small platoons that makeup civic society – family, community, small civic institutions, and we believe in the great national ones as well such as Parliament and an independent judiciary.
The Conservative tent is very big, and it has social conservatives, it has classical liberals, it has smaller liberals in their own right. And I think many people are starting to blur the lines as to how they actually identify.
I think the protective and libertarian tensions in the Conservative party are going to come to the forefront after Brexit. Because the party has become such a big tent, that there are some very different ideas in it. And those debates have to happen.
Daniel Hannan MEP
Fundamentally, what makes us conservatives is our readiness to go with human nature.
Every alternative ideology, theocracy, or socialism, or revolutionary communism, has an idea of what people should be like and tries to mold them into that shape. At best, that ends with coercion, and expropriation. At worst, it ends with gulags, and firing squads.
If the ethic of liberalism is freedom, and if it says, ‘I may’, if the ethic of socialism is coercion, and it says ‘you must’ then the ethic of conservatism is community and it says ‘we ought’.
I would love to send some of those economists back 20 years in a time machine, make them spend three days living in 1999, and then come back and tell me that nothing has got better since then, under the capitalist system has failed.
When profits are exercised through people, especially the poorest people on the planet, it means that they have bicycles and vaccines and access to clean water. It’s the ultimate first world privilege to sneer at profits, and to claim that somehow they are in opposition to our humanity.
Imagine, after Revoke or a Second Referendum, that Britain is a continuing member state, snarling and subordinate with an alienated and angry electorate in perpetuity, do you think that’s going to restore the legitimacy and authority of our political institutions?
I think the importance of family is profoundly central to conservatives. And I think it has been allowed to drift just from the agenda in recent years.