Crossbow - the magazine of the Bow Group
The Bow Group's new manifesto edition of Crossbow magazine has been launched with a foreword by Peter Lilley MP, 'Writing an Alternative Manifesto'. It includes articles on intelligent design by Liam Fox MP, localism by Mark Pawsey MP and higher education by David Willetts MP, as well as essays on Europe from MEP Dan Hannan and Bernard Jenkin MP, the fourth way by Ben Harris-Quinney and Richard Mabey, immigration by Priti Patel MP, environmental protection by Roger Scruton and a view on the Conservative Party in 2015 by Andrew Lilico, amongst much more.
Writing an Alternative Manifesto
Peter Lilley – Patron of the Bow Group (Bow Group Chairman 1973-75)
We found ourselves, in the Bow Group, publishing the 1973 “Alternative Manifesto” to Conference largely out of frustration and desperation to the status quo.
There was a feeling that, under the Premiership of Ted Heath, the party had ceased to have any distinctive ideas, Heath argued that we must be purely pragmatic in our approach, in party and in government, without a coherent philosophy. It therefore wasn’t that we were losing the battle of ideas, we had simply left the field and the vacuum was swiftly filled by our opponents on the left.
The result of such concession of the ideological battlefield was that, in the early 1970’s, when Wolf the then Secretary General of the Conservative Party came to speak to the Bow Group he told us that socialism was inevitable, our task was to manage its growth and our resultant national decline. It was the very defeatism which had come to be the mark of the British establishment, and that Thatcher later railed against upon coming to power.
The bubbling dissent among conservative thinkers at the time was therefore both symptom and cure of the failed doctrine ruling the Party. The likes of Keith Joseph were beginning to rise to prominence, and their work and our work in the Bow Group contributed to a change in direction.
At the time of my joining, the Bow Group had the reputation of being to the left of the Party. The media assumed that if one was an intellectual one was left wing. I did not want to turn my back on those further to the left in the group than myself, but I certainly wanted to open the group up to the right.
Our thinking was underwritten by the philosophies of Hayek, Freidman, Smith and Burke and the admiration and advocacy of the spontaneous order of the free market. Many of us had previously gathered as thinkers at Cambridge. That “Cambridge Mafia” came to be by coincidence, though some may have been drawn by the then influential conservative thinker and Cambridge Don Maurice Cowling. Cambridge people had a directness about them, if they felt something was wrong, they would say it was wrong. There was certainly something more acerbic in the Cambridge way of thought. Though Margaret was from Oxford herself she was a firebrand that did not fit into either camp. Her Government however, was more drawn from Cambridge than previous Oxford dominated cabinets and it certainly carried with it a spirit of both directness and rebelliousness against leftish dogma. It was a movement that was not going to take no for an answer, and ideas that a decade previously were considered unthinkable became core to our vision for the future of conservatism and Britain. The effects were for all to see; revolutionary.
The Conservative Party and political landscape is very different now, there are certainly not the same issues of intellectual bankruptcy as when I came into politics. But, perhaps because of the Coalition, there is equally not the same direction and vision as when I came into Government.
Beyond the Coalition, within the Party itself, “the detoxification agenda” has been problematic. There probably has been too great an emphasis on electoral calculus and not enough on doing the right thing. The politics of the “Third Way” were more necessary for the left because Labour Party policies were unpopular, they have had to make concessions, but we have less need for it.
Conservative policies appeal to the general public but not the media classes. We made the mistake of appealing to the latter. Modernisation was important, it always is, but to adopt policies simply because they are deemed modern but not good is quite wrong. Conservative commitments to the “Green Agenda”, Lords Reform and Gay Marriage present at best a confusion of conservative principles, and are certainly unnecessary distractions.
Machiavelli, who does not get a very good press in Conservative circle said that 'the only sure way for a party to regain its lost vigour is to return to the principles on which it was founded'. This has certainly proved a lesson for the Conservative Party during my time in Westminster. Right does, in the end, make might, and conservatives are better to stick to their principles and see it through than to concede ground before the results of our policies have become apparent. Thatcher’s government delivered bitter, deeply unpopular medicine, but we can now reflect on the prescription being correct - and she never lost an election.
I look forward to a renewed debate in the Conservative Party as to what we want to achieve in the second half of our term in Government and where we want to go beyond that. The Bow Group must certainly be central to that debate and play a key role in bringing about new and necessary ideas to contribute to a new movement in conservatism as we once did.
Peter Lilley – Patron of the Bow Group (Bow Group Chairman 1973-75)
Most often the Chairman’s message of this magazine has been focussed on the issues of the day at time of publication, and as has frequently been the case in the past, in this edition we find ourselves seemingly facing the most perilous and existential questions of our party and nation.
Issues of the day are however of passing intrigue, the issues and challenges that are fundamental; those of economy, society and Great Britain’s place in the world will endure and recur. Only the considered thought of the longevous organisation can sate their rapacious appetite for ideas and policy, and so rather than passing comment directly to today’s news agenda I want to focus on the Bow Group in its 60th year.
It is notable that the two most radical governments of the previous century, Labour after 1945 and Conservative after 1979, were both swept into power in the wake of the century’s two most severe economic downturns (and one ruinously expensive war) which provided both the stimulus to develop new ideas and the wider popular discontent with the status quo necessary to give a radical manifesto an electoral mandate.It seems likely that the economic slowdown will do more to reduce man’s impact on the environment than any number of Green MPs or MEPs. To read the full article by Mark Nicholson, download this edition of Crossbow Magazine...