Conservatism has never been an ideology

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  • Michael Oakshott has argued that politics should not have any fixed goals or sense of specific direction.
  • “A conservation, not an argument”, the state should be governed on a pragmatic basis taking into account the traditions and ‘intimations’ of the people.
  • However it has been argued that traditional Conservatives believe in a set of values: Tradition, Organic Society, Property and Natural Hierarchy.
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One Nation Conservatism

  • Disraeli the father of One Nation Conservatism believed that the country was splitting into two: the rich and the poor.
  • In the fear of the ideology Socialism, socially deprived are more likely to turn to revolution and against the authority of the government.
  • He introduced policies on the basis of ‘noblesse oblige’ it is the obligation of the rich to help the poor, to deter revolution and as a ‘response to changing circumstances’. The result was the 1867 Reform Act was introduced to enfranchise the working class masses, and raising living and working conditions.
  • However it can be argued that One Nation conservatives initiated these reforms along the lines of the Organic Society.
  • In order to create social cohesion, society has to work like a living entity with a collection of individual parts working together. This has been echoed in the 2010 Conservative Manifesto Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ encouraging active neighbourhood groups and volunteering amongst the young. 
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  • The greatest example of pragmatism to date is Harold MacMillan’s acceptance of the NHS, radical reforms introduced by Atlee who nationalised one third of the British economy in align with socialist and Keynesian ideology.
  • This at the time cause great prosperity and popularity for the economic theory. The economy was booming, consequently as part of electoral politics MacMillan kept the NHS owing to its popularity.
  • Traditional conservatives have always been suspicious of abstract theories and radicalism. They believe in gradual change and that institutions have been tested by time, only introducing principles from past experience.
  • However this almost pragmatic approach can be a reference to Disraeli’s ‘Noblesse oblige’ having  relevance to Tory paternalism a key conservative idea, it literally means as act in a fatherly manor, power or authority is exercised with the intention of preventing harm, social welfare to protect the public.
  • Fundamental principles, organic society and natural hierarchy are used to justify these changes. 
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Margaret Thatcher

  • Margret Thatcher took office in Britain in 1975-1990, largely influenced by US President Ronald Regan’s style of neo-classical liberalism, and much reliance on key philosophers such as Adam Smith and the long standing association with Keith Joseph.
  • Thatcher’s policies were particularly used as a response to changing circumstances, conflicting with Keynes’ idea of spending out of a recession, Thatcher believed in monetarism, using supply side policies such as privatisation in order to create economic growth.
  • If an industry was failing there was not need to prop it up with state subsidies, because of economic inefficiency and enterprise culture as well as the need to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state.
  • Lowering top rate taxation to 40% allows for individuals and lower corporation tax on businesses to prosper and there would be a trickling down effect as there are more job opportunities. 
  • Cameron similarly used the same pragmatic justification for the privatisation of Royal Mail and the austerity measures of tight fiscal policy in attempt to gain economic recovery. 
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Modern day

  • On the other hand Thatcher used traditional conservative principles within her supply side policies such as social authoritarianism and strict law and order, an example of neo-conservatism.
  • Authority allows for a social glue binding people together, people know where they stand and know what is expected of them.
  • Permissiveness could undermine social structures, this is evident when Thatcher privatised the coal industry, caused the Miners’ Strikes, Thatcher increased recruitment of the police force and changed legislation in order to reduce Trade Union power using 3 pieces of legislation 1980, 84, 88.
  • In Cameron’s government there has been significant proof of neo-conservatism from Teresa May speech to the Police Federation force indicating that she would put in place legislation if they did not reform.
  • Another example is of Gove’s education reforms abolishing the no tough rule and imposing an emphasis on tradition education.
  • Neo-conservative ideological evidence is Nationalism by both Thatcher and Cameron; Thatcher persevered after huge criticism winning the Falkland’s war.
  • Thatcher and Cameron challenged the EU to bring powers back to the UK from Brussels, Thatcher demanded their money back, and Cameron vetoed an EU budget that was not in British businesses interests. 
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  • However there is still significant evidence that Cameron has changed legislation in order for Homosexuals to get married, modern society has caused openness in society compared to the strict traditional morals of Conservative society.
  • To conclude there has been significant evidence that Conservatism is a response to changing circumstances to a moderate extent however ideology can always justify these changes.
  • A key principle of Conservatism is pragmatism therefore it is a response to changing circumstances.
  • Ideology is defined as system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.
  • Ideologies have therefore different means for example, on the basis of principle, a vision of what society should be like, challenging existing models of society.
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