Crossbow - the magazine of the Bow Group
For those politicians and commentators more preoccupied with position, power and psephology the strong temptation will be to further mimic Blairite tactics of centrism, and move to the left to envelope Labour’s moderate wing. Doing so is probably the safest bet towards short-term electoral victory, moreover there is little doubt that unshackled from the pressure of polls, the Prime Minister is more comfortable on the liberal left of the political spectrum.
Lord Tebbit spoke to the Bow Group last year and warned that constantly chasing the centre ground without a clear ideology is where political accidents happen, he was no doubt channelling his old boss, Margaret Thatcher, who left the advice to the Conservative Party “You don’t move to the centre, you move the centre to you”. Jeremy Corbyn will focus on his base, despite the polls not affording him that luxury, but the Conservatives do have that luxury.
If Conservatives want to place clear blue water between this Parliamentary term and the coalition years and truly reverse the errors of 13 years of Labour government, they have to hold the Prime Minister to account and ensure that they drag the Conservative Party to the right, rather than allowing Corbyn to drag our politics further to the left.
If conservatives shy from this challenge the Conservative Party will depart from its history to the extent that it will become necessary to change its name (an idea now supported by the Deputy Chairman) to avoid absurdity in juxtaposition. More jarring is that centrist politics have removed ideology and vision from the discourse, leaving little more than managed decline.
The burst bubble of the economic system has been carefully restitched and re-inflated, but not repaired. Despite the achievements of the last 5 years, with the national debt doubled the next recession will likely be worse than the last, Britain continues to gently slip down the world order and our culture and traditions have never been more under threat. Only radical conservatism can go beyond just marking time, and put Great Britain and its culture back together.
In the minds of the public, modern politics has become a billboard advert against humanity, and the first step towards rebuilding trust and a conservative Britain should be to truly pursue localism and direct democracy.
Bow Group Chairman
Party Conference Season, September 2014
Party Conference season should be a critical, indespensible time in the British Political calender for the nation's most prominent political movements to come together, listen to each other and the nation, remember core principles and make a pitch for better government.
The Bow Group won't be taking part in Conservative Party Conference this year, because after a long campaign for greater freedom and democracy in the Conservative Party and at its Conference, we feel that a genuine forum for conservatism and for the freedom and democracy of Conservative Party members remains absent from the event, in favour of a corporate venue for press and lobbyists.
We won't be the only absentees who have drawn similar conclusion as to the value and salience of the modern Conservative Party conference. Many MPs, MEPs Lords and members will also be noticably absent, and that must give the Party and broader conservative movement pause for concern and review.
We hope to return next year, under a conservative government, to a engage with a reformed Party and a reformed Conference. That is why we have produced our vision and blueprint for a conservative party, and a conservative Britain: A conservative Manifesto.
Even under the weak leadership of Ed Miliband, the current polls reflect that before conservatives can win elections, we must win arguments, and to do so we must have the courage of our own convictions.
As a the home for intellectual conservatism, the Bow Group has campaigned consistently for an end to the consensus politics of the third way that defined the Blair years.
Now it is clear that the era of centrism is passing, demonstrated by the rise of UKIP and the SNP, and the return of the recently absent conviction poitician.
This has lead to significant and often uncomfortable shift on the right in Britain, where conservatism now spans two major parties, with large elements of the debate taking place outside of either.
We embrace this change as necessary, and will adapt to it without any concession of the principles of conservatism that the Bow Group was founded to defend and promote - with the right vision and manifesto for the Party and nation, the Conservatives can do the same.
The recent rounds of debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg have concluded at least one thing; the Conservative Party has been left out of the real ideological debate going on in Britain: liberalism vs conservatism.
Attempting to move to the left to attract liberal voters and then playing catch-up with UKIP on Europe and immigration has left the Conservative Party caught between two stools, pulled in two directions but without the space to define an ideology distinct from either.
If UKIP’s increasing popularity heralds nothing else, it is the dissatisfaction the public holds with the populism of the third way, of parties desperate to ape the centre ground, blind to the common ground.
It means that despite progress on the economy, genuine popular opinion and the sense of being the force behind a national movement has been lost by the Conservative Party, and at the current rate UKIP will overtake the Conservative Party as a membership organisation within 7 years.
At least to the country at large, it will be impossible to define our own ideology as a party whilst in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and if we can’t do that before the next election, it will be impossible to win a clear and Conservative majority.
That is why in this edition of Crossbow we call for the dissolution of the Coalition Government, to allow the Conservative Party a year to set out its stall to the country as a party of solid conservative ideology. In essence, a return to being a party of competence and long-term vision as well as short-term pragmatism.
For younger Conservatives this is yet more important, as it will also demonstrate what the Conservative Party will be as a membership organisation and the nature of its values and relevance as a movement that a new generation will give their lives and labour to.
Conservatives can be proud of conservative values, to build a stronger, greater and more responsible nation; we have nothing to fear and everything to gain in showing those values to the nation once again.
Ben Harris-Quinney, Bow Group Chairman
At best, membership of the Conservative Party has halved since David Cameron took over leadership of the Party in 2005.
Many have defended and dismissed these figures as being a modern cross-party trend and many have blamed Cameron’s distant, seemingly anti-conservative leadership. Neither analysis gets to the heart of what is happening.
In the Bow Group’s last conference edition of Crossbow conservative authors came together to bemoan the politics of the third-way, and offer the beginnings of an alternative – a return to primary colours conservatism, with ideas, democracy and genuine expertise at its heart. We could not, however, have predicted such a stark beginning to the shifting of the political plates that the last year has witnessed. When Party membership was at its peak, big ideas mattered and the difference between political parties was never so clear; public vs private ownership, state control vs personal liberty, traditional vs “progressive” values. We are often warned by the current Conservative Party leadership of the dire socialist republic that awaits us if Ed Milliband succeeds Cameron as Prime Minister in 2015, but the last 3 years have proven that there really is no discernible difference, at least to the general public, between any of the major political parties.
It is this failure that underpins the results we are now seeing: membership of all parliamentary parties at rock bottom, confidence in all major Party leaders at a historic low: a citizenry broadly apathetic to politics as a whole.
The British public and the few remaining Party members will only tolerate the status quo for so long.
The question for the next 25 years of the British political party is not funding, be it state, union or private donor, it is existence itself. Unless the political party changes radically and moves purposefully into a new era, the public and rapidly decreasing membership, once relied upon to be the leafleters, donors and voters, will shrug.
Moving beyond the populist politics of the third way will be a painful process for British politics, its cultural norms are deeply set in Westminster and its death throws will be as ugly as the demolition of any establishment. Those that have based their political careers around this model that are expectantly advancing along the traditional conveyor belt to power are likely to be disappointed, those that placed power before principle are likely to be defeated, and parties that place establishment as a defence against ideas are likely to be destroyed.
The Conservative Party can survive, but its grave is now marked: If the Party cannot envision a future where its ideas are as distinct from others as they were in the post-war era, then it won’t have a future at all. As is often the case, this great challenge to the future of the Conservative Party comes with the greatest of opportunities alongside. UKIP’s rise has proven that if a party sets out clear, distinct and forthright ideas, the public will respond, and will swiftly buck the trend against political malaise.
When Peter Lilley was Chairman of the Bow Group in 1973, battling against the mediocrity of Heath’s leadership, things had to get worse before they got better, but the darkest of nights produced the brightest of days: Thatcher rebuilt and re-energised the Conservative Party, she set ideas at its heart, and inspired a generation to come.
As a country we also face greater challenges today, our role in the world is yet further diminished, our economic model based on borrowing has collapsed, our society is more divided than ever. These challenges will not pass swiftly, and the solutions to them will be varied and often violently opposed.
Conservative ideas work and conservative leadership inspires, there are millions of lost conservatives in Britain currently turned off by political parties that want to be part of a genuine conservative movement. We have the tools in thought and ideas to rebuild Britain, and the Conservative Party can again be our vehicle to do so, but we will have to make great changes within the Party, before we can make them without.
I hope that you will enjoy this edition of Crossbow that aims to explore the internal issues in the Conservative Party, how it lost its base, and how it can win it back.
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.
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.