11 September 2017

Liberal conservatives must win hearts as well as minds

By Andrew Bowie MP

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Ronald Reagan’s farewell address, which he delivered on January 11, 1989. I was only a year old when he sat behind the desk in the oval office and spoke, for the last time as president, to his country and the world.

Despite the years that have passed and the many changes, for good and ill we have seen since that day, his words, his hope, vision and optimism, still inspire me today:

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life… in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that… she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.

In Europe and America, we, the politicians, the leaders, the activists of the centre-right, have become complacent, lazy or possibly even embarrassed to explain to people what we stand for. We have allowed others to define us and our beliefs, to misrepresent what we believe in. We have become reactive not proactive.

For far too long we have ceded “vision” to the Left. We have vacated the battlefield, giving them a monopoly on the hopey-changey stuff.

It might partly be down to the nature of conservatives. Our instinctive response to soaring rhetoric is often scepticism. But is it time for that to change? In the West, we face an existential crisis; a crisis of confidence in our establishments, a crisis in the very belief in capitalism itself.  Why is it that, according to a Harvard Study, 51 per cent of millennials don’t believe capitalism is a force for good?

That is in spite of the overwhelming evidence that freedom through trade around the world has lifted more people out of poverty than communism ever could. And the fact that capitalism has allowed us to develop thoughts and ideas and to become richer than ever before, not only monetarily but culturally.

The problem is that we’ve simply stopped communicating.

I was lucky enough to spend a few days this summer in Honduras attending a conference of young political leaders in Latin America. It was truly inspirational. In a part of the world where the threat of communism, dictatorship and destructive socialist policies are all too real, these young leaders, all under 30 shamed me and I think would shame many of our leaders in the West with their passion, their enthusiasm, their confidence in what they know to be right.

They know that we, liberal conservatives, have the right ideals, and that we have won that battle. (The transformation of the Honduran economy and country in general under the leadership of the National Party these last four years is testament to that.) But they also know that the real battle is winning people around, which requires passion and excitement, hope and belief.

Now, many might question whether it is possible to get excited about liberal conservatism. I would say it’s hard not to when its core values are liberty and democracy.

Those of us on the centre-right know that only by setting people free will they ever realise their full potential. We know that with personal responsibility comes pride in oneself, in one’s work, in one’s home and one’s country. We know that free trade breaks down barriers between countries and cultures, spreads wealth and creates opportunities for all.

Freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. These are exciting ideas. If we can’t get passionate about them, then we are truly lost.

Let us never forget those on the front line of this battle in Central America. To them this is more than rhetoric. It is anything but boring. To those fighting day in and day out to preserve this precious thing called democracy and the radical ideas of freedom and liberty, it is a battle they know they cannot lose.

So, let’s get to work. Let’s strengthen our own shining city. Let’s buttress her walls against the combined threats of socialism, separatism and apathy and let’s ensure that its warm glow goes in strength and reach so that we can truly shine like a beacon of hope to the oppressed and disenfranchised peoples of our world.

Andrew Bowie is the newly elected Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine