Last night the Bow Group celebrated its 60th Anniversary at its annual summer terrace reception. It is an event in which the issues of the day usually occupy centre stage, at the same time last year Jeremy Hunt addressed the group during the white heat of the hacking scandal as Rupert Murdoch was lead into the Leveson enquiry.
From the perspective of 6 decades of history however, most Issues of the day are 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.
For many of us, and often particularly younger conservatives finding their way, that organisation is and has been the Bow Group, and for 200 of the Group’s past alumni from Sir John Major to Norman Lamont, last night it deserved to occupy centre stage in itself.
It is an organisation which has served for nearly two thirds of a century as a fierce battlefield of political ideas, but has endured like no other to tell the tale, an organisation which will always have a contribution in engaging with the issues of today and tomorrow regardless of their severity or challenge.
When Winston Churchill said: “Empires of the future will be Empires of the mind”, he did so with usual foresight to the networked world in which we now live. In Great Britain we have lost a physical Empire, but we have not yet lost our ability to lead the world in thought, in creativity, and in ideas.
The qualities necessary to lead the world in thinking will be tested of Britain many more times in this decade, and to meet the challenges we face and to take forward all that we have, that thinking will need to be truly radical.
The sort of radicalism we need is not going to come from a sadly ill informed media, and it’s not going to come from a government concerned chiefly with its own short term popularity. That doesn’t mean it has to come from us and those others actively engaged in the conservative policy debate, but if it doesn’t, we relinquish the ability to form a true and deep conservative ideology and vision, and therefore we run the risk of relinquishing the great potential future of our country. This has been the legacy of the last 15 years of British governance, and much of the 50 years before it, sometime interrupted decline.
The mark of the Bow Group’s future success will be its ability to perform ideas and thought that are both nationally and internationally relevant. To form at least a province of Churchill’s Empire of the mind.
In the Bow Group we have never aimed to be popular, and we have been very successful at times in being unpopular. Rab Butler famously said of the Bow Group that “to the party we are a bee hive that provides honey and the occasional sting”. In holding our party and government to account to issues of conservatism we are not afraid to become all sting if we need to be.
What we intend to prove in the Bow Group is that in thought we can go beyond just contributing, and truly lead the party from the grassroots. To have the Bow Group’s newly appointed President, Sir John Major, to offer a keynote to last night’s gathered members designed to speak to the group and direct and lead us in this cause is evidence that this intention falls well within reach.
We move forward with several assumptions; that the Bow Group must always be a broad church of conservatism with no corporate view; that it must always be a primary destination for conservative intellectuals; and that it must always compete and strive to hold the Conservative Party to account in asking and answering the difficult policy questions of the day.
The final and most important assumption we make is that the Bow Group must always be here, at the heart of the conservative family, of great strength and relevance, as it ever was.
60 years into its history, in the battle of ideas, we trust the Bow Group is only beginning.
Chairman, The Bow Group