The modern Conservative and Unionist Party was conceived as a coalition between Tories and pro-Union Gladstone Liberals. Today the party remains a ‘broad tent’ encompassing a range of opinion. This morning Phillip Blond, writing in Comment is Free, proposes means by which a Conservative government might ‘capitalise’ the poor. His views do not remotely resemble the free market liberalism which other members of the party advocate. I have no doubt that a Conservative government will draw from Blond’s ideas in order to shape the type of ‘One Nation’, socially aware conservatism which the party leader has promised. Equally, there is little prospect that Cameron will set himself the task of reinventing capitalism as a bottom up phenomenon in quite the fashion which Blonde envisages. It is the job of the party leadership to steer the energies of the party as a whole towards a constructive, realisable programme which will translate into successful government.
Which is not to say, of course, that the raw material of members, councillors and candidates does not matter a great deal. The Conservative parliamentary party is expected to look very different after the next election and there has been justifiable interest, from supporters and opponents alike, as to how this group of men and women will be composed. Conservative Home has conducted a survey amongst the most likely new Tory MPs and has examined its findings over the course of the week. Fair Deal and O’Neill both spotted a headline on the website which is both misleading and eye-catching. Unionist Lite has already deconstructed the flawed thinking which led ConHome to describe its survey respondents as ‘barely unionist’.
I’m confident that the Conservative parliamentary party will be strongly pro-Union by inclination after the next election. Most importantly, it will comprise a group of men and women which has committed itself to unionist aims in its manifesto. By rhetoric and action David Cameron has shown himself to be the most engaged and active unionist to lead a national party in many years. Apart from his efforts to build unionist alliances and boost unionist morale across the United Kingdom, strengthening the Union is at the centre of Conservative policy considerations, under Cameron’s tutelage. Unlike Gordon Brown, whose unionism often manifests itself in rather abstract form, the Tory leader gives every sign of thinking about the Union at a much more instinctive level. Whether his policies on Scotland and Northern Ireland play out as he anticipates remains to be seen, but only the most cynical commentator would suggest that, at their heart, lies anything other than a sincere attempt to stabilise the United Kingdom.
In another Conservative Home article Tim Montgomerie asks Cameron to place the United Kingdom's integrity at the core of a general election manifesto. He is thinking in particular about an erosion of identity which means that university graduates often lack even the most basic grasp of their nation’s past. He wants British history to become once more a fundamental part of the school curriculum in an effort to wrest the concept of patriotism away from extreme nationalism. Encouraging constructive pride in one’s country and disentangling patriotism from nationalist dogma is a laudable aim. Balanced UK history, stressing achievement as well as fault, ought to be a compulsory part of schooling.
Apart from the thrust of the article, however, it is abundantly clear that Montgomerie detects, as dominating characteristics of Cameron’s leadership, pride in the United Kingdom as a country and commitment to its future as a nation state. He describes the Tory / UUP pact as one of the ‘high points’ of the party leader’s tenure. The aim of that alliance is to produce a Conservative party at Westminster drawn from each of the four corners of the United Kingdom. Conservatives and Unionists will be committed to strengthening the bonds between the UK’s component parts and, if the party forms its policies with this goal in mind, the party has a better chance of realising that aim than any of its opponents, in Northern Ireland as well as the rest of Britain.