Toby Young wrote a piece in the Telegraph this past week entitled, “An invitation to Dan Hodges to join the Conservative Party“. It was written in the wake of Dan quitting the Labour Party and writing about this fact in his own Telegraph column. In response, Dan wrote a piece called “Why I won’t join the Conservative Party” in which he gave his reasons for turning down Toby’s offer.
Some decried this as an exercise in Westminster navel gazing. But I disagree. It gets to the heart of an important point. And after reading Toby’s piece, I had to ask why his entreaties didn’t have me seriously considering joining the Tories myself.
Saying “Well, the Conservative Party is inherently evil” is silly – these things must rest on real world issues and concerns and not tribal nonsense. Toby points out that on the following issues:
“…what to do about the Islamic State, tackling the deficit, the renewal of our independent nuclear deterrent, education reform…”
…..Dan’s views are in line with the Tory leadership. And while I don’t agree with Dan on everything in the world, I share his viewpoints on all of these issues myself. So I couldn’t dismiss the invite that all of us “sensible people of the centre-left” should join the Conservative Party in the wake of Corbyn and the May 2015 result without giving real thought as to why that wasn’t so.
To start with, Britain looks ever more like becoming a one-party state – or rather, a one-party state in each constituent nation, every time with a different party. So the Tories in England, the SNP in Scotland and (for now) Labour in Wales. So to help that along by joining the dominant party in England, where 85% of the U.K. lives, thereby helping this anti-democratic trend get worse, seems wrong in and of itself.
But that’s clearly not enough. While Toby has pointed to common ground such as interventionism, Trident and education, he has neglected to mention the rather huge areas of disagreement. One for instance is basic social democracy. I believe that while we should always be mindful of the state’s powers, the mere fact of society pooling resource via taxation in order to help evenly spread certain benefits (such as a healthcare system) does not automatically equal socialism, or indeed anything remotely draconian; in fact, having things like socialised medicine actually frees people from the hassle of having to worry about what happens if they should break their leg or decide to have a baby and are thus rather liberal. Having things like parental leave when a child is born frees people to have a family life and a work life as well – again, I think this is liberal. I realise there is give and take here: being amongst the “moderates” discussed, I am in no way anti-business or anti-capitalism and understand that businesses are not inherently evil, and thus giving things to workers can often make things difficult for some businesses and therefore make things tricky for workers right back again. However, I think it is a question of balance over ideology. I think of that as being part of the whole “moderate” gig myself. I don’t see a lot of this being discussed in the modern Conservative Party. It seems like you either want to shrink the state as a matter of course or you want to preserve things exactly the way they are as part of a more traditional Tory view of the world. Neither of these interest me in the slightest.
More fundamentally, I believe that big ideas can change the world and furthermore that sometimes they must. It just so happens I don’t think socialism is the big change that will make things better and believe, based on some pretty convincing evidence from the 20th century, that it tends to make things worse. This idea of change doesn’t chime with the concept of being a conservative at all, so why would I wish then to self-apply such a term? Calling yourself a Tory is even worse in some ways; it’s like saying everyone should be living like they did in the 1950s, which is the precise opposite of what I believe.
I suppose the real point here is that Dan Hodges, not to mention people like Paddy Ashdown, Ken Clarke, Liz Kendall, Norman Lamb, Hilary Benn, David Miliband, William Wallace and last but very least, little old me, should probably all be in the same party. Not because we all believe in the exact same things by any means, but because in a two-party system there should be enough to unite us under a large enough tent to win a general election. But we’re not going to be anytime soon from the looks of things. Joining the Tories doesn’t appear to be the answer to this problem, however.