Friday, 29 August 2008

Cameron as Whiggish Burkean

On Comment Is Free, David Marquand argues that it is a misunderstanding to portray David Cameron as a Thatcherite who is donning the clothes of compassionate social policy as mere expedience. His article chimes resonantly with After Blair, Kieron O’Hara’s examination of Cameron Conservatism, which I reviewed recently.

His central contention is similar to O’Hara’s. He views conservatism as a Burkean tradition which seeks to preserve and to effect reforms by evolution rather than wholesale change. The proponents of this type of conservatism see no contradiction in a Conservative government seeking to emphasise social concerns or to refrain from instigating an aggressive free market agenda. You'll notice the juxtaposition of the lower and upper case 'c's.

“[Cameron] offers inclusion, social harmony and evolutionary adaptation to the cultural and socioeconomic changes of his age: a 21st century equivalent of the amalgam of preservation and improvement once lauded by Burke.”

Like O’Hara, Marquand views Cameron’s rhetoric on the maintenance of freedom and the arrest of statism, in concert with his emphasis on protecting “the precious filaments of civil society from the pressures of resurgent capitalism, hyper-individualism, resentful populism, family breakdown and state encroachment”, as a peculiarly apposite doctrine for modern politics.

Whether the reality of Cameron’s social commitment is as benign as sympathetic commentators suggest remains to be seen, but to use the obligatory modern terminology, the centrist ‘narrative’ which must attract liberal voters, but emphasise the continuity of his conservatism, is certainly well on its way to being woven.


Anonymous said...

Chekov - yes, a very interesting article by Marquand. Admittedly I am slightly put-off by the use of the term 'whig' (okay, Burke was a whig, but his thinking become the essence of toryism). O'Hara's book is an excellent summary of what the Burkean tradition means for contemporary conservatives.

What Marquand says about the challenge for Labour is perhaps even more significant. Cameron has used the conservative tradition to identify with contemporary concerns and challenges - and Labour is still stuck with an out-dated statist ideology.

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