Douglas Carswell

28 DEC 2008

Politics is about ideas

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Matthew d'Ancona compares the challenges that the centre-right faces today with those they faced a generation ago. 

He claims that "The Conservative Opposition of the late Seventies had it easier in one crucial respect: they had a route map ..... Thirty years later, the aspirant Tory successors to Thatcher, Howe and Joseph have no such manual to hand, no off-the-shelf philosophy to espouse."

D'Ancona is absolutely right in one respect; Conservative success, both in seeking office and in using office for good ends, depends on having a coherent philosophy and a plan (Indeed, I made one or two suggestions along these lines in a book I wrote in 2008 called The Plan).  When a party has neither a coherent philosophy nor a plan, it ends up looking like John Major's administration, or Gordon Brown's Labour government.  

However, I disagree that those 1970s Conservatives that clustered about the think tanks - the IEA or the CPS, or the ASI - were somehow handed a ready-made route map.  They drew it themselves.  With lots of intellectual heavy lift.  Much strategic - as opposed to merely tactical - thinking. 

Having read their Hayek and Friedman and Wealth of Nations, carefully they developed a coherent critique of the state that Britain was in.  No inner cliques, constructive rivalry saw some of the brightest minds sparking off each other.  Thus were they able to forge a genre of policies that became Thatcherism.

Adam Smith and Hayek are still in print and selling well.  The IEA, the CPS and the ASI are all still there, you know.  The state of Britain in 2009 could look every bit as dire as in the late 1970s.   

So where is the next Keith Joseph?  

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