Can conservatism survive the 21st century?

Sunday 30 October, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Courtyard Gallery

An Etonian Conservative is prime minister, and a high profile Tory is mayor of London. The conservative Tea Party is making all the running in the US, while Canada’s Conservative government has recently been re-elected with more seats than before. Christian Democrat conservative Angela Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany. But while self-styled conservatives enjoy power in much of the Western world, are they really conservative in any meaningful sense? David Cameron has sought to distance himself from the legacy of the past, preferring either metropolitan liberal values or something called ‘Red Toryism’, as he seeks to build the Big Society. Some Labour thinkers even hope to court the ‘naturally conservative’ working class voters supposedly abandoned by Cameron, under the banner of ‘Blue Labour’. So what is going on?

Conservatism can be defined as belief in traditional social values, the nation and a natural order of things. Typically, though, this has been qualified by an awareness of, as Edmund Burke put it, the occasional need ‘to change in order to conserve’. This pragmatic approach was a reaction to the French Revolution in 1789, strengthened further by the Russian Revolution in 1917. It has often led to tensions within conservative thought, however, such as an enduring ambivalence about the desirability of free markets. Nonetheless, the defence of the existing order and traditional institutions was the driving mission of conservatism in the West, and made the Britain’s Tories ‘the natural party of government’ for much of the 20th century. Today, however, many conservatives feel uneasy with both the market and traditional morals. A belief in the organic society, deference and authority has been replaced by the managerial society, inclusion and relativism. The old insistence on traditional family values has given way to support for civil partnerships and gay couples adopting. A Thatcherite championing of the free market, prosperity and growth has been replaced by green restraint, austerity and measuring ‘happiness’ rather than GDP.

For many liberals and radicals, the marginalisation of conservative values in mainstream politics is to be welcomed, as Britain finally becomes a progressive and inclusive society. But are they kidding themselves? If conservatism was so despised, why was it so successful for so long? Has something more fundamental to politics and society been lost with the demise of conservatism? And are today’s new establishment values really any more more progressive than old conservatism?

Speakers
Dr Steve Davies
education director, Institute of Economic Affairs; author, The Dictionary of Conservative and Libertarian Thought

Greg Lindsay
founder and executive director, Centre for Independent Studies

Tim Montgomerie
co-editor, ConservativeHome; co-founder, ConservativeIntelligence.com; member, advisory board, Centre for Social Justice

Dr Kieron O’Hara
senior research fellow, University of Southampton; author, Conservatism and After Blair

Dr James Panton
head of politics, Magdalen College School, Oxford; associate lecturer in politics and philosophy, Open University; co-founder, Manifesto Club

Chair:
Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Produced by
Neil Davenport sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist
Recommended readings
The Future of Conservatism: values revisited

The last outright Conservative victory came under John Major in 1992. Whilst the coalition government is predominately Conservative, the party has had to compromise with the Liberal Democrats in order to govern. To prepare for the future, there needs to be a longer-term Conservative vision for Britain.

David Davis, Brian Binley &John Baron, Biteback, 22 September 2011

The birth of the non-political party

The plan to disband the Conservative Party in Scotland is only the latest sign of the disintegration of UK politics.

Tim Black, spiked, 6 September 2011

I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right

What with the the phone-hacking scandal, the eurozone crisis and the US economic woes, the greedy few have left people disillusioned with our debased democracies.

Charles Moore, Telegraph, 23 July 2011

The death of the Tory Party is announced at Glasto

Forget the conspiracy theories – the story should be the obituary for Conservatism Cameron’s ally wrote before he died in the Glastonbury toilets.

Mick Hume, spiked, 30 June 2011

The Conservative right wing squares up to fight for the party's soul

Tory rightwingers are growing uneasy and increasingly vocal about what they see as concessions by David Cameron to his Lib Dem coalition partners

Toby Helm, Observer, 10 January 2011

Cameronism: a wholly new conservatism

Cameron's manifesto avoids electric policy in favour of theory. He is gambling that the party core is ready for it

Tim Montgomerie, Guardian Comment is free, 14 April 2010

The strange death of Tory England

The Conservative conference may be good to laugh at, but it's actually not that funny.

Josie Appleton, spiked, 11 October 2003

Trust in an age of cynicism

"Anyone interested in taking the pulse of informed public debate wouldn't want to miss the Battle of Ideas. It's one of the most enjoyable forums to hear balanced but passionate arguments presented by some of the most articulate, knowledgeable and charismatic speakers in public life. A hard core workout if you're interested in society."
Victoria Walsh, arts curator

follow the Academy of Ideas