The New Conservatism – The Task
What I’ve characterised as The New Conservatism did not spring fully-formed from any one thought process: it has evolved over a period of at least forty years, being developed, modified and reworked along the way.
This development came in response to the realisation among those who saw themselves as true conservatives that the task ahead of them - to achieve significant scaling back of the post-war political consensus - was a momentous one.
The 1945 Attlee Government brought socialised medicine. It nationalised not just the railways, but much road transport as well. Social housing, a relatively novel phenomenon which had only come on to the scene after the Great War, became a priority as part of improving conditions for the less well off.
To the horror of many conservatives, when the Tories won the 1951 General Election, much of that settlement not only remained in place, but was built on: social housing reached its zenith when Harold Macmillan was the minister responsible, the railways were awarded their Modernisation Plan, and the civil nuclear power programme was established.
Gas supply had been nationalised in 1948; the Central Electricity Generating Board joined it in 1957. Water supply was also a nationalised industry. Government took responsibility for roadbuilding, and developing a national motorway network.
Government, albeit at a more local level, managed the education system, imposed and managed planning regulations, policed the green belt, owned and managed significant land and property holdings.
Other state-owned industries had been established before the post-war settlement, like the Post Office, which for many years also managed the country’s telephone system. All of this, together with social security provision, was the reality that the New Conservatism sought to counter, and from the mid-70s, with increasing effectiveness.
The ideal vehicle for the New Conservatism was a Tory Government, and thus many of its early proponents engaged with Margaret Thatcher’s administration, encouraging marketisation and selling off state assets. The message was that this would bring improvement. The motivation, though, was purely ideological.
Where that ideology originates is what this series of articles will address next. In particular, I’ll show that The New Conservatism either misunderstands the sources of its underlying philosophy, or is highly selective in its interpretation of them.
Referencing the long dead has one benefit for such people: those referenced are not around to correct anyone who reinterprets their works for their own ends. This, too, helps the New Conservatives, but it does not validate them.