Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Why I don't think I'll ever be a Tory

I sometimes look at other political parties and think about how closely their policies align with my own. As I have blogged about before on here I only joined the Lib Dems 4 years ago at the age of 34. It took me a long time to "pick a team" as it were and I think it is only healthy for me to keep this under review.

To be honest though the very strong continuing feeling I get is that the Lib Dems are the right political home for me. Even when I disagree with things the party says and does I know that I will be able to debate with my party colleagues and ultimately get a chance to vote on issues to help formulate the party's policies. And as my political centre of gravity seems to be in a similar position to many of the other activists I know within the party I don't feel that it is likely I will be making a move any time soon.

In the case of Labour, their terribly authoritarian approach to civil liberties made them an absolute no-go area for me in the previous decade. I am yet to see compelling evidence that they have changed their spots on that. Now they are in opposition their sheer opportunism and lack of a credible and coherent programme is also a big turn-off for me. They do not seem to have any proper guiding philosophy to their approach other than opposing almost everything the government does, taking no account of the compromises my own party has inevitably had to make and accusing us of anything from naivety through to utter betrayal of our principles. There are however areas of their approach and their historic positions that I retain some affection for. I did after all come from a family of staunch socialists and whilst I would not describe myself as such (and am much more a liberal than a statist) there is bound to be some residual identification with their core beliefs.

In the case of the Conservative party however I am starting to realise just how deep my differences with the core beliefs of the vast majority of its members run.

My differences with the blues are multifarious. But the area that has been most sharply brought into focus with me most recently is their approach to most constitutional reform.

I'll just run through a quick list of the changes that I either was in favour of or would be in favour of and that the Conservatives have either opposed within campaigns or never even allowed to get as far as a campaign as they are so opposed they have ensured we do not get that far*:

  1. Proportional Representation for the Commons: During the coalition negotiations it was made clear that a referendum on a proportional system would never be sanctioned by Tory MPs. So it was never made part of the agreement. The idea was killed on the starting blocks.
  2. Alternative Vote for the Commons: Allowed a referendum on AV and then pulled out all the stops to kill it during the referendum campaign. Many of the arguments they used were at best disingenuous and at worst outright lies. As Tim Gowers blogged about at the time, many of their arguments were actually provably wrong mathematically!
  3. Scottish devolution: After the failed 1978 referendum where they were firmly in the No camp the Conservatives held power at Westminster for 18 years and made very sure that the Scottish devolution issue was kept on the political back burner. Once Labour got in in 1997, the Tories were viscerally opposed to devolution again. They failed in their attempts to stop it second time around.
  4. Welsh devolution: Again Tories were agin. They (only just) failed to prevent the formation of the Welsh Assembly.

On top of that there are other campaigns that we may never see given the light of day that I would support such as a written constitution, disestablishment of the Church of England, abolition of the Monarchy and conversion to a Republic with an elected head of state** etc. etc. etc.

The Conservatives are essentially the party of the status quo. They largely like things the way they are and only (reluctantly) support major change when they are dragged kicking and screaming usually in retrospect after the change has been implemented.

So you can imagine my lack of surprise the day before yesterday when I was listening to Today on Radio 4 and they introduced an item about votes at 16. Speaking in favour was a rather forward thinking Labour MP Natascha Engel who had some good arguments I thought. Speaking against was, surprise, surprise former Conservative cabinet minister Michael (now Lord) Forsyth. As far as I could tell, Forsyth's argument seemed to consist of how terrible it would be for Scotland to allow votes at 16 in their referendum as it would "set a precedent" that could then lead to votes at 16 across the country. In other words we can't let those pesky Scots have their way on this because the rest of the country might like what they see and want it as well. How very dare they!?

It was highly reminiscent of some of the dreadful arguments made during the AV campaign. It seems to me that the Conservatives essentially start from a position of "Let's keep everything as it is" and then try to find the arguments for this later. There seems to be little attempt at the core of the party to properly debate the constitution and how we might change it for the better. There are occasional nods such as the election of local police commissioners but those are very much the exceptions. Thinkers like Tory MP Douglas Carswell who would go much further in his reforms (and even backs STV) are on the sidelines and are not allowed into the inner circle of the party.

Wanting to change things that I think are wrong with our political system is core to my political identity. I'm not sure if that makes me a radical or whatever label you would like to put on it but one thing I am very sure it does make me is fundamentally incompatible with the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

* I am aware that it is not just the Conservatives that are guilty of this. Elements within Labour have sometimes combined with the Tory party to thwart change e.g. on PR for the Commons and during the AV referendum.

** I am also aware that some of the issues I have raised here such as abolition of the Monarchy do not have widespread support within the country. Nevertheless there are a substantial minority of people in the UK who do want these changes and their voices should be heard rather than squashed by the establishment headed by the Conservative party who seem to want everyone to love the Royal family as much as they do upon pain of being painted "unpatriotic". It is possible love your country and at the same time want to see changes made that you think will improve it.


Tom Mein said...

If you wantto become a Conservative may I suggest thatyou become self-employed and appreciate how hard you have to work to earn your money

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Tom.

It's interesting that you should make assumptions about my employment status and how hard I work and then try to relate that to my lack of support for the Conservative party.

I set up my own business in the middle of the last decade with some friends with no external investment at all. We have built it up from scratch to a business that employs 9 people despite being in the teeth of the worst recession in living memory. I'll leave it up to you to guess how hard we have all worked to make that possible.

My problems with the Tory party stem from the things I wrote about in the blog post. There are other things too but my employment status has nothing to do with it. If anything I am slap bang in the middle of Osborne's "striver" demographic.

Anonymous said...

This analysis has been done before (in the 1920's), reaching similar conclusions, by Richmal Compton's "Just William". His words were something like: -

The Socialists want to change things and the Conservatives want to leave things as they are. The Liberals also want to change things but not be so much as anyone would notice.

Plus ca change...