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To what extent has the modern Conservative Party moved away from its traditional
principles? By Isaac Hobbs
When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 he aimed to modernise the
Party by moving it to the left in order to challenge Labour for the centre ground. Cameron has made
reforms to his Party's ideology, centred on the umbrella term `Big Society.' However, the extent that
this `new' Conservatism is a break from tradition and Thatcherism is open to question. Cameron
describes himself as a `modern compassionate conservative' whilst at the same time being a `big
Thatcher fan' and `not a deeply ideological person.' These three self admissions make Cameron
himself hard to position as he is influenced by three different brands of Conservatism. But to what
extent has the beliefs of its leader influenced his party's policies?
The traditional instinct of the Conservative Party is to reduce taxation as too much tax is a
disincentive to work. This explanation for less tax still rings true today, especially as we are living in
an age when the government has to subsidise benefits for those who see no advantage in going to
work. Examples of less tax include taking earners of £10,000 or less completely out of income tax
and the reduction of the top rate of income tax to 45%. This legislation is similar to the alterations
made by Mrs Thatcher which took the highest rate of income tax down from 83% to 40%. However,
the Conservative Party have had make concessions by not reducing tax as it would jeopardise public
services such as the NHS. This is a clear example of a more modern form of `caring conservatism'
which is very different from the policies that the Party had in the 1980s. In taxation alone we can see
that the policies of the modern Conservative Party have moved both to the left and to the right.
The traditional conservative position on law and order is that the state should take an
authoritarian attitude towards crime with strong punishment for offenders. This line of thought is still
carried though by the Conservative Party today- they took a very hard-line approach to the Summer
Riots of 2011, arresting 3,000 people of which over 1,100 appeared in court with Cameron saying,
`If you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment.' Similarly,
Cameron has pledged to scrap the early release of prisoners and toughen prison regimes. This is in
contrast with other policies in this area which appear to take a softer approach to crime, focusing on
causes and education. Although severely misquoted by the NOTW in the `Hug a hoodie' headline, this
expression has become widely used to express a more sympathetic approach to the source of crime.
This has manifested itself in policies such as greater community service which `reduce' rather than
`react' to crime.
As with taxation and law and order, the policy direction of `the role of the state' is hard to
define. The established idea is that state interference should be limited and should not seek to
instigate change. Some Conservative policies have this philosophy, as shown by how since coming to
power, the coalition has sought to go `further and faster' in the building of academies which are free
from state control. The very essence of Cameron's flagship policy, Big Society, is that `the leading
force for progress is social responsibility, not state control.' Cameron says that he believes in the
deregulation of the private sector from which parallels can be drawn with Thatcher. However, the
current government also feels that it is their responsibility to assist in the generation of growth.
Unlike Mrs Thatcher who relinquished all control of many industries, the current Conservative Party
says that it `wants to create a fairer and more balanced economy.' An example of government
intervention is in how it has created Local Enterprise Partnerships in association with local authorities.
The aim of LEPs is to encourage private sector growth as the government believes that the economy
is too dependent on narrow industrial sectors. Whilst this may be a departure from Thatcherite
policies, some similarities can be found between modern policies and core Conservative beliefs. For
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