A British take on conservatism

In the March 14th, 2020 edition of The Economist, the column Bagehot was entitled “The meaning of conservatism” and it reflected the views of British politico Nick Timothy. Here is an excerpt on modern conservative thinking.

First, Nick Timothy has been at the heart of the British government for over a decade, first as Theresa May’s adviser at the Home Office and then as her co-chief of staff at 10 Downing Street. Timothy is recognized a conservative both with a small and large “c.” He has a new book on the lessons he learned from his experiences called “Remaking One Nation: Conservatism in an Age of Crisis.

The Economist article excerpt:

     Mr Timothy argues that, since the French revolution, the role of conservatism has been to act as a corrective to the extremes of liberalism. Today those extremes come in two forms: neo-liberalism, which sees markets as the solution to all problems, and woke liberalism, which sees the world through the prism of minority rights and all-pervasive oppression. Many see these two liberalisms as polar opposites. But for Mr Timothy they are both degenerate versions of classical liberalism. The first undermines markets by failing to see that they require popular legitimacy and the second sacrifices what is best in liberalism (pluralism, scepticism, individualism) on the altar of group rights.

     Mr Timothy presents a dismal picture of the consequences. Bosses have seen their compensation more than quadruple while the value of their companies has hardly risen at all. The largest demographic group—the white working class—has seen incomes stagnate for over a decade. Britain has the highest level of regional inequality in Europe. It also has one of the worst systems of vocational education, with 80 undergraduate degrees awarded for every post-secondary technical qualification. Woke liberals are increasingly willing to no-platform or shout down opponents because they see their objectives as quasi-sacred and their critics not just as wrong-headed folk needing to be reasoned with but as evil-minded enemies who must be destroyed….

     Mr Timothy presents an ideologically eclectic list of solutions to Britain’s problems. They are reminiscent of John Ruskin’s description of himself as both “a violent Tory of the old school” and “the reddest also of the red”. But two ideas give his arguments organising force: the nation-state and civic capitalism. A long-standing Brexiteer, Mr Timothy argues that the nation-state has been uniquely successful in holding global elites accountable to voters while also giving citizens a sense of common purpose. He points out that the welfare state was constructed after the second world war, when the sense of common purpose was at its height. A proud citizen of Birmingham, he champions the sort of civic capitalism practised by Joseph Chamberlain, a local businessman who looked after his workers and went on to be a reforming mayor….

    …This is a conservatism which celebrates the power of the state to achieve collective ends by dealing with regional and inter-generational inequalities; which challenges the self-dealing of business elites by rewiring the rules of corporate governance; and which puts a premium on rebuilding local communities and reigniting civic capitalism.

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