Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of the Bow Group
The Orthodox Conservative Group had its launch last week, and by the rights I should be incandescent with rage and concern.
The organisation will be in close competition with the Bow Group, Britain’s oldest conservative think which I run, but I cannot wait until it is. I look forward to a time when there are so many groups promoting and debating small c conservative ideas that I am rendered redundant . I can go and focus on doing whatever it is people who aren’t insane enough to involve themselves in politics do. Getting a life I hear it is called.
As it stands however, the Bow Group is among only a tiny handful of organisations in Britain that is still genuinely conservative in outlook, compared to a plethora of groups promoting liberalism, progressivism, socialism, Marxism and many other philosophies and politics that are dissimilar or opposed to conservatism.
As the Bow Group’s Senior Patron John O’Sullivan laid out in his first law: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” Indeed in the space of little over 10 years Conservatives have gone from being an organisation that isn’t wholly conservative, to one where liberals in it are outraged by the presence of any conservatives.
Within a week of their going live, the Orthodox Conservatives have attracted a large following, and both the applause and ire of many well established groups, politicians, and commentators.I am 35 years old and have been involved in politics and political philosophy for a little over a decade. It feels (and looks if you’ve seen pictures of me) like a century. Generally politics attracts the very worst people, those who have little interest in ideas but covet power, and oscillate between ideologies depending on what best suits their career path. This makes the experience of engaging with politics on the basis of ideas utterly draining.Seldom few are actually politically involved to discuss debate and advocate for ideas, even fewer would stick their neck out to put those ideas out there publicly and await the slew of inevitable abuse from all quarters. In a time when, at least if you believe the media, being a conservative is tantamount to monstrosity, it is a brave act at any age. That several people so young have gathered together in this earnest cause at the start of their careers is particularly impressive. Many of them have shown up on the Bow Group radar previously, as per their involvement in other entrepreneurial projects like the Mallard, Turning Point UK and Bournbrook Magazine, as well as various university associations.
They are a highly impressive group, and whilst I have no doubt their achievements in time will be great, to get there they will have to pass through a wall of fire from those who fear they will expose that the Conservative Party and many of its acolytes no longer stand for anything ideologically solid.
Genuinely conservative MPs are now in the minority in the Conservative Parliamentary Party, they tend to be the older MPs who were around at the time of Thatcher, and therefore may not be around for much longer. Contrarily the membership of the Conservative Party remains by large majority solidly conservative, though also with a tendency to be older. They are, however, ignored by their leaders and have almost no control over the direction the Party takes on policy, or anything else.
I agree with many neo-liberal ideas. and it is essential that those views are represented, even just in debates on the right, the problem is they are currently over-represented in the national conversation, and mostly by corporate funded lobby groups.
The distinction with neo-liberalism and orthodox conservatism will be the most difficult but important for the fledgling organisation, and from where much hostility towards them will come.
Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment was thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow conservative, the operative question is what is a conservative? It can only be answered by understanding conservative orthodoxy and the genesis of its ideas, and by being exclusive in sorting those who are from those who aren’t.
To help us better understand the roots and products of conservatism, thankfully our age produced one Sir Roger Scruton, he said: “The liberal is certainly not averse to the power of the state, provided it is exerted by liberals, and exerted against conservatives. Liberals saw political order as issuing from individual liberty; conservatives saw individual liberty as issuing from political order.”
In their urgent cause to better define and contribute to a debate that has lost its anchor to serious thought and philosophy, the Orthodox Conservatives will have to be mindful that at least in Britain, the opposition occupies the benches in front of you, but the enemy sits behind you.
Jake Scott, Head of Philosophy and Ideology
There is much to be said of David Cameron’s premiership, his policies and his style of leadership, but one thing that united the party was his clear sense of intellectual mission. He was consciously conservative, and his two great ideas – the Big Society, and liberal conservatism – ought to be remembered for what they truly are.
The idea of the Big Society was summed up neatly in the 2010 manifesto by the phrase “there is such a thing as society – it just isn’t the state”. This is a key tenet of conservative thought; that not all communal action has to labour under the dead hand of the state. Instead, the long virtue of free association that has enjoyed historic precedence in England is joined with the desire to care for our neighbours, enjoying a joint birth in the loyalty of shared experience that is patriotism and community.
Similarly, Cameron’s liberal conservatism goes deeper than a modernisation project, or simple lip-service to conservative values in order to push a liberal agenda. Cameron knew quite intuitively that conservatism was hollow without an appreciation of the individualism of liberalism, whilst liberalism was hollow without the emphasis on community that conservatives value – in this way, Cameron instinctively understood that both liberalism and conservatism belonged in the Conservative party.
It is so surprising, given both of these things then, the response to the Orthodox Group amongst Conservative Party members. We were told there was no place for us, that we were not welcome, and that we should leave the party; we were also told that conservatism belonged in the dustbin of history (though not critics were quite so elegant), as well as being accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other fashionable insults of the day. All of this was thrown at us in the space of 24 hours, before we had even published anything or made any statement – and none of it was made with any sense of irony or self-awareness.
To make one thing very clear – liberalism is important to the Conservative Party. But make no mistake – liberalism has enjoyed an unprecedented period of superiority in the Party for the last 40 years, and all we are trying to do is show that conservatism still belongs in the Party too.
To that end, we are not just a flash-in-the-pan protest group. We intend to research, publish and propose policy suggestions to the Party, and the wider membership, as well as hosting events with speakers, idea forums and panel discussions, because we think the time has come for conservative ideas to be given the sounding they deserve. Especially when one considers the support this philosophy enjoys naturally amongst the British population.