If you trace the history of British conservatism back to its origins, you will find a wide spectrum of different ideas which politicians have branded ‘conservatism’. The term itself did not come into use until the time of the French Revolution, to describe the monarchist, anti-revolutionary politics of those in France, and the suspicion of politicians such as Edmund Burke in Britain. British conservatism as we know it today has grown from Burke, but has historically represented everything from the absolutist and aristocratic to more liberal, populist policies.
My conservatism has stemmed from a general experience of political disillusionment with the Left. Having dabbled in and researched various political ideologies throughout my still extant youth, the importance of liberty and unity in a society became very clear to me. It was only in societies governed by those who preserved individual freedom that individuals were able to flourish, and better both their own lives and the lives of those they interacted with. Indeed, it was when the Conservative Party followed these principles in the most radical of ways that it achieved greatest success.
It is very clear today that the Conservative Party is not perfect, in fact, it has a long was to go in terms of achieving widespread support. There is too much emphasis on counterbalancing what will be ‘popular’ with cow-towing to powerful businesses as opposed platforming what will be best for British citizens. The party should take a look at its origins, and gazing across the sea of history to Robert Peel, the party’s founder in the early 19th century, I see a political model much more worthy of emulation.
Peel advocated a platform of caution in social reform, and a respect for traditional institutions. It should certainly be a key trait of the conservative to hold institutions handed down to us by our ancestors to be incredibly important. Those who came before us often created these institutions with society’s best interests at heart, and whilst it takes years to set up and allow such institutions to become established, it takes mere moments for emotional radicals to obliterate them. The conservative, therefore, rejects change for the sake of change. At the same time, Peel recognised that you cannot oppose change absolutely. Societies must change as technology, habits and time brings about changes. Therefore, he advocated change on a cautious platform – where change occurs based on the natural progression of a society, but every situation must be reviewed and carefully considered to prevent unnecessary destruction. It occurred to me some time ago that this is, fundamentally an enlightened view.
Peel was also a free trade advocate. He famously called for and achieved, at a great cost, the repeal of the Corn Laws – tariffs which protected the price of British corn, but caused starvation of the populace at large, affecting those in Ireland the worst. Peel founded the Conservative Party to distance himself from the old aristocratic Toryism of the 18th century. He believed in the individual’s right to work, to engage in business, to make his own decisions within a social structure which was tried and tested, and his politics has led several modern Conservatives including myself to resurrect the old label ‘Peelite’ to describe ourselves, in his honour.
This leads me conveniently onto my next major point as-to why I am a conservative. The Left places far too much emphasis on equality. This may seem controversial, but it is actually quite rational. In a world where humans are born unequal (we all have different aptitudes for different subjects, different skills, callings etc) it is futile to attempt to achieve a society where everyone is equal. This does not mean, however, we cannot strive to achieve a society in which everyone has the opportunity to live safely, to rise through the ranks and achieve their goals. From a moral standpoint it would be wrong, and even oppressive not to.
Equality and liberty are not dependent on one another. Natural inequality and hierarchy have been given a bad name, but as a conservative, I place liberty and national unity as two of the most important concepts we should strive for. The Left, like the right, only wants their citizens to be happy, but they assume that equality is the route to happiness. It occurs to me, that happiness cannot be achieved if certain parts of society have to be dragged down from their positions and have their freedoms curtailed as a result to achieve this. If our citizens are truly free, and have a sense of national pride, they will have the ability and sense of brotherhood to work together and create a society worth living in, in the words of Edmund Burke: “for us to love our country, we must make it truly lovely”.
So, before I wrap up, I feel as though I must make a brief mention of the elephant in the room – Why the Conservatives if they are ‘not perfect’? I have explored alternative parties, UKIP being the main contender, a party which has attracted quite a lot of support from former Conservative and Labour voters alike. UKIP however, it occurs to me, is not a conservative party. They are of the radical right, with a strange split: the youth wing being somewhat libertarian (with the exception being on the immigration question) and the adult wing committed reactionaries. It is simply not tenable for a party to seek to regress.
Conservatives, despite their name, must be forward-looking. A conservative has respect for the past, and the work of his or her predecessors, but (s)he also has to consider what is best for his or her people in the future, and must discard what came before if it is harmful for the people, or for the future. The Conservative Party has a long and illustrious history, with some of Britain’s greatest leaders having taken up its colours, even great cultural figures such as William Wordsworth and Coleridge supported the Tories. It is the Conservatives who have the ability to deliver real change, real freedom and unity for Britain.
So in conclusion, I am a conservative because the left assumes that liberty can be sacrificed for the sake of equality, since it assumes that equality leads to happiness. But the Conservative knows that only liberty leads to true happiness. The true danger to our society is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and in parts.
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