Crisis of conservatism

Home Affairs
Sunday, May 19, 2013

By Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of the Bow Group


There is a crisis in the Conservative Party, and it is a crisis of conservatism. Specifically, the lack of a conservative vision and narrative in leadership and in Government.


This crisis underpins all of the three issues that currently dominate the news agenda. All three are destroying the Conservative Party.


My thoughts on them are as follows:


Firstly, "Loongate" – highlighting the disconnect between conservatives and Cameron.


Many conservatives will have read the recent comments attributed to a close ally of Cameron with regret, but not surprise.


It doesn't matter who made these comments, the problem is that it comes as no surprise and is representative of a wider malaise in the Party - the disconnect between the leadership and the grassroots, between conservatism and the leadership of the Conservative Party. The tail cannot continue to wag the dog. We need to drop or heavily amend policies like gay marriage that aren't conservative and are a distraction from the development of a clear conversation with the country about what we stand for.



Secondly, Same Sex Marriage – too little time to properly negotiate


As the Same Sex Marriage Bill rises again to be debated at third reading in the Commons before progressing to the Lords, it uncovers once more the seething divisions within the Conservative Party.


I was among a number of Conservatives who delivered a letter to the Prime Minister at Number 10 Downing Street on Sunday 19th May.


Signed by 35 chairs of Conservative Associations, raises six key concerns with the Bill, namely:

-          Breaking promises made to the British people.

-          Intellectually flawed and lacking integrity.

-          A political distraction.

-          Treating the membership with contempt.

-          A serious attack on freedom of conscience.

-          The Bill could cost us the election.


For most observers of British democracy and the policy debate, the Same Sex Marriage Bill is extraordinary, wherever you stand on the issue. It is a Bill delivered without adequate consultation, without mandate and without amendment at the committee stage, despite being the subject of angry debate. Furthermore, it is contrary in the extreme to the wishes and desires of the vast majority of the Party to which the Prime Minister, who is pushing it forward, belongs.


“From a Conservative Party perspective, with members and voters flooding to UKIP over the issue, it needs to be dropped or amended urgently in negotiation with members. If it isn't the damage will be potentially terminal going into 2015. That is why I have delivered another letter from grassroots members this afternoon, urging the Prime Minister to reconsider.



Thirdly, Europe


Senior Patron of the Bow Group Geoffrey Howe has added to the febrile debate in the Conservative Party over its position on Europe, which is pushing David Cameron from pillar to post.


Lord Howe said: "The Prime Minister has opened a Pandora's box politically, and the party is suffering a long nervous breakdown. What we need now is clear thinking and strong leadership."


 A Government needs a vision and a narrative to succeed. There is nothing wrong with David Cameron's position on Europe as things stand, and both europhiles and eurosceptics in the party seem to agree with that now, but both sides of the debate are angered by the process and lack of clarity in getting there. This is the biggest problem in the Conservative Party now: there is no vision or narrative.