Henry Hill: Why I am a Conservative

At the 2005 general election, I cheered for the Liberal Democrats because my dad did. In 2008, I joined Conservative Future and threw the University of Manchester’s only pro-McCain US election party.

So at some point between those two dates, I became a Conservative. But when?

At around 15-16 I first became politically conscious – and I was one of those ghastly teenagers who always wanted you to know just how politically conscious I was.

You know that guy who constantly seeks out political debate at parties? Yeah, I was that guy.

I was also on the authoritarian left. Or rather, I felt I ought to be there – I remember taking those political compass quizzes and deliberately picking my answers to get me into the ‘Statist’ quadrant. I self-identified, literally, as a ‘statist’. Forgive me.

Like many teenagers, I believed that the only reason my particular shade of discredited extremism hadn’t worked was because adults had somehow buggered it up.

Fortunately, growing up in leafy Hertfordshire I never had the opportunity to really let my mistakes take root by joining an outfit like the Socialist Workers Party, and I had my road to Damascus before I went to university.

It came from my grandfather (an ex-communist himself), who once pointed out that every supporter of dictatorial government always envisioned themselves in charge.

I was challenged to imagine the sort of government I’d want if, as would almost certainly prove the case in real life, I was an ordinary citizen, and it took me about ten seconds to realise I’d want a government that just let me be me in peace.

Wrong I might have been at seventeen, but at least it was a shallow, vacuous sort of wrongness that was uprooted easily.

Whilst that wasn’t the only incident or thought process that led to my change of heart, I do identify it now as the critical moment that my political imagination shifted gear from authoritarianism to liberty.

By the time I left school, I was self-identifying as a Tory and I joined the party via the local Conservative Future stall during Fresher’s Week.

But my Tory story doesn’t end here: the question posed is ‘Why I’m a Conservative’, not ‘How I came to join the Conservative Party’.

The thing I most cherish about conservatism is that it approaches life from a position of engrained scepticism.

One of the aspects of my old politics I now find most distasteful is the utopian arrogance of those who want to demolish things and rebuild them in their own image, be they cities, constitutions, nations – or people. Especially people.

Although we do have our lapses, in the main a Tory sets a high bar for justifying change, and is far more likely to pick holes in a grandiose scheme than be swept up with it. We’re also far better at recognising the intangible but very real value of things like heritage and tradition.

I think this lies at the root of the compatibility between conservatism and libertarianism, which can seem mystifying to some.

Whether by acknowledging oneself as the custodian of a precious inheritance rather than mere master of the present, or by granting the tastes and opinions of others equal weight to your own, both philosophies require a fundamental humility unknown to those who sincerely believe in solving problems by having clever people manage everyone else.

Thus I find the libertarian’s respect for individual autonomy and enterprise fits very comfortably into my personal philosophy.

The third pillar of my personal Conservatism is unionism. Our party’s full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and ever since I joined I’ve taken that second part just as seriously as the first.

Being a dual national with the Republic of Ireland, I’ve perhaps more reason to be conscious of the Union than your average Home Counties conservative. I even tried to appear on the ballot as a ‘Conservative and Unionist’ when I stood as a paper candidate for Manchester Council!

During my one-man dark age in Sixth Form this manifested itself as a very two-dimensional, defensive sense of ‘Britishness’, but as time has passed it’s eased into a much more relaxed, confident and benign appreciation for the depth and flexibility of the British identity and the extraordinary achievement that is the Union.

Most important was realising that one of the highest virtues of unionism is that it rejected the false choice posed by nationalists. I didn’t need to choose between being British and Irish: I am both.

If I had to sum up my personal Conservative philosophy for a coat of arms, it might be “Liberty, Unity, Continuity”.

Time and the wisdom it brings have tempered my once sullen nationalism into an easy-going patriotism, and brought with them the perspective to see that the world is unlikely to be improved if recast to anyone’s personal vision, however rational and glorious it first appears.

As a liberal Conservative, I’ve both the self-awareness to know it isn’t my place to rule over others and the self-confidence to resist those who don’t pay me the same courtesy.

Looking back, I can’t help but associate becoming a Conservative with the process of growing up.


Henry Hill the assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Follow him on Twitter @HCH_Hill

This article is part of our ongoing ‘Why I am a Conservative’ series, in which supporters of CfL talk about their beliefs and values. If you would like to take part please email blog@con4lib.com.