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The Conceit Of The New Conservatism

Tim Fenton photo
Tim FentonCrewe, Cheshire
The Conceit Of The New Conservatism
Tim Fenton introduces his new column, The New Conservatism, analysing its message, media and machinery

“If we’re annoying people and standing up for taxpayers’ money, then we must be doing something right”.

So said Emma Boon of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, when challenged on the modus operandi of her organisation on a BBC Question Time broadcast. She may have believed that “standing up for taxpayers’ money” was indeed her employer’s calling; the rather different reality is of a group claiming to be a “grassroots” organisation, claiming popular support, but having none.

Such groups achieve influence through an ability to garner media exposure, and pretending to care for taxpayers, while the real goal is to undermine Government - any Government, whether local or national. By doing this, they seek to weaken the state.

They are the standard bearers of the New Conservatism.

Whatever comes under the aegis of Government is ripe for attack: education, healthcare, roads, railways, any other state intervention in the transport sector, energy, planning, policing, the judiciary, environment, and of course health and safety.

All of this, much of it part of the post-war consensus in British politics, is anathema to the proponents of the New Conservatism. For them, the market must be left to provide, for the market, they believe, will always deliver the best solution.

And while the New Conservatives are few in number compared to the forces that can, even nowadays, be called upon by organised labour, it is the smaller group that has already won the media war, aided partly by a relentless focus on media training, partly on understanding and exploiting the pressure on journalists to produce ever more copy with less and less resources, and partly because much of the press sympathises with them.

The New Conservatism aligns itself mainly, but not exclusively, to the Conservative Party. Activists are trained and provided, adherents work as interns, become party advisors and bag carriers. Some become influential Special Advisors (SpAds). Others stand for elective office, although this tactic has not proved universally successful.

From merely supplying the press with stories, some New Conservatives make the move to working part or full time for media organisations. They, and like-minded people in the alphabet soup of Astroturf lobby groups, are thus able to garner broadcast experience.

All of this yields transmission of the message, without the troublesome need to assemble a genuine mass movement. The presence of the New Conservatism across the media allows its adherents to set, and shape, the agenda to match their own.

This series of articles explores the influences on the New Conservatism, those who have shaped the movement, the players who continue to shape it, and the difficulties faced by those who seek to challenge it.


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