Conservatism, Ideology, Economic Inequality and Poverty
Part One: - Click Here
Conservatives, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty: General Arguments
One Nation Conservatism:
One Nation Conservatism: Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty
Part Three - Click Here
Thatcherite Conservatism: Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty
Part Four: - Click Here
Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty in the Post Thatcherite Era. Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism 1990-2017
Part Five: - Click Here
David Cameron and Ideology: General
Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty and The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition
David Cameron and the Conservative Government 2015-16
Part Six: - Click Here
Prime Minister Theresa May
Part Seven: - Click Here
Appendix Phillip Blond
Appendix: Iain Duncan Smith and Welfare
One Nation Conservatism:
One Nation Conservatism, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty.
Click here for an article on One Nation Conservatism by Professor Tim Bale. ** He describes One Nation as" one of the most used and abused terms in the Tory lexicon."
Click here for the Economist on One Nation Conservatism**
Click here for Tim Bale article on Theresa May July 2016
Was David Cameron a One Nation Conservative? Answer: It depends upon what you mean by One Nation Conservative..
It might be suggested that in broad terms the C19th history of the Conservative Party encapsulated an ongoing tension between support for classic free market liberalism and paternalistic reformist Conservatism. More recently in the post-2nd World War period it has often been claimed that Thatcherism was to be associated primarily with economic liberalism [and social conservatism] whereas One Nation Conservatism was the latest incarnation of paternalistic reformist Conservatism. However in the last 10-15 years or so it has also been re- emphasised that Disraelian One Nation Conservatism sought a balance between government intervention to secure social and economic reform and private enterprise to provide improved living standards for all , including the poorest. Also , increasingly , there have been disputes within the Conservative Party as to where this balance should be located leading to competing interpretations as to the exact scope and nature of One Nation Conservatism . Thus whether expert political analysts choose to describe John Major or David Cameron or Theresa May or Kenneth Clarke or Iain Duncan Smith as One Nation Conservatives depends to a considerable extent upon the definitions of One Nation Conservatism which they choose to adopt. I hope that this point will become clearer as we consider some aspects of recent Conservative policy
It may be that some early evidence of One Nation Conservative themes can be found in Peel's Tamworth Manifesto of 1835, in the romantic, quasi-feudal and anti-industrial Conservatism of the poets Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge [who in their youth had supported the French Revolution] , and in the writings of Burke and Bolingbroke. However the origins of One Nation Conservatism are most often associated with Benjamin Disraeli who had actually pointed to the existence of two nations [the rich and the poor] in his novels written in the 1830s and 1840s and in speeches in the early 1870s and introduced a series of social reforms during his Conservative administrations of 1874-1880 which embodied the principles of One Nation [although apparently Disraeli never in fact used that term.]
The differences between Disraelian Conservatism and its traditional precursors should not be overstated. Traditional conservatives defended the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power as essentially desirable and inevitable but claimed also that those in authority should always be conscious that with their obvious privileges came obligations to safeguard the interests of the poor and disadvantaged. Consequently so long as these obligations were accepted societies could nevertheless be seen as organic communities in which the interests of all citizens were being protected despite the existence of manifest political , economic and social inequalities. Disraeli agreed essentially with these traditional conservative ideas but believed also that the social harmony of British society was under threat and that government action was necessary if these growing threats to social harmony were to be defused.
In particular Disraeli argued that the acceptance by the growing class of industrialists [and by the Liberal Party] of the doctrines of unregulated laissez faire had caused them to lose sight of their obligation to protect the interests of their workers leading to excessive exploitation and inequality .This same growth of inequality was likely to increase the popularity of dangerous socialist ideas suggesting that late c19th England was characterised not by cross class social harmony but by gross class exploitation which might well contain the seeds of social revolution. Disraeli's essential aim therefore was to reassert the politics of national social harmony via a series of social reforms which world improve the lot of the working classes and undermine the arguments of both liberals and socialists while simultaneously safeguarding the interests of traditional political and economic elites .In this respect much has been made of his statement that "The Palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy which may in turn may be linked with the important statement of Conservative principle by Edmund Burke that "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its own conservation."
Social Harmony among all social classes could best be sustained via the protections of important traditional institutions such as the Monarchy , the landed aristocracy and the Church of England each of which had contributed to the harmonies of feudal society [as Disraeli saw it and could continue to do so in the newly industrialising society. "Noblesse oblige" had been an important principle in feudal society and should remain Also although Disraeli had not always been a great supporter of British Imperialism he came by the 1870s to argue that the growth of the British Empire could solidify Britain's sense of itself as a great nation and also bring significant improvements to working class living standards.
In order to promote the emphasis on organic national unity Disraeli emphasised that the Conservative Party aspire above all to be a national party governing not in the interest of any one particular class but in the interests of the nation as a whole. Consequently it would be necessary to introduce a range of social reforms in the areas of public health, housing and working conditions which would safeguard the interests of the working classes which meant that the Conservative Party would become at least to some extent the party of government intervention rather than the party of unregulated laissez faire which is how Disraeli characterised the Liberal party.
Disraeli's policies were guided partly by a principled wish to improve the circumstances of working class voters but also by a clear recognition that, as a result of the extension of the franchise, the Conservatives would need to attract increasing support from working class voters if they were to win subsequent General Elections. Thus critics have emphasised that the Disraelian emphasis on social reform and British greatness was designed primarily to foster increased working class Conservatism which would support the more or less continued economic and political dominance of existing elites. It was further argued that the actual scope of Disraelian social reforms was limited for the following reasons.
- Disraeli did not envisage significant increases in taxation to finance new social reforms which necessarily meant that the scope of such reforms would be limited.
- He believed that Local Authorities rather than Central Government were best placed to introduce such reforms and his legislative initiatives were permissive rather than mandatory. That is: he gave Local Authorities permission to introduce reforms but did not force them to do so and in many cases local authorities did not choose to introduce significant reforms.
- With regard to Disraeli's personal role in the development of social reform policies it has been claimed that although he may have been crucial in setting the overall direction of his administration he tended to speak in generalities and to leave the development of policy details to others; that as a he grew older he no longer had the energy to play an active role in the development of domestic social policies even if he actually wanted to do so because he had a far greater interest in foreign policy.
- In any case although future Conservative politicians sympathetic to social reform have made much of Disraeli's contribution it has been suggested that they have tended to overstate their case in the belief that that presentation of the Conservative Party as a party of long term social reform would strengthen their electoral prospects in the 20th and 21st Centuries..
Very importantly although Disraeli hoped to improve the lot of the working class by means of some government social and economic reform he also believed that traditional structures of economic and political power should remain intact and that the private sector of the economy had a vital role to play in improving workers' living standards The political theorist David Seawright illustrates Disraeli's position via the following two quotations. To improve and elevate the "condition of the multitude"..."no important step can be taken unless you can effect some reduction in their hours of labour and humanise their toil" However then Disraeli immediately adds "the great problem is to be able to achieve such results without the violation of those principles of economic truth upon which the prosperity of states depends "
In summary , therefore Disraelian One Nation Conservatism involved three basic elements: the defence of traditional institutions such as the Monarchy, the aristocracy , the Church of England and the British Empire ; the focus of the unity of the nation rather than social class division and the need for a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective operation of capitalist private enterprise. It is necessary to use government intervention to improve the living standards of the people but this must be done in a way which safeguards the continuation of a private enterprise system which is the ultimate necessary guarantor of rising living standards. An important implication is that Disraeli's harmonious One Nation Society would remain unequal and hierarchical but that hierarchy and inequality are conducive to good government and economic efficiency.
Insofar as One Nation Conservatism in general requires a balance between government economic and social intervention and the continuation of private enterprise it is clear that there could be disputes within the Conservative Party as to the actual degree of government intervention which was desirable and there were considerable differences in the variants of One Nation Conservatism which reappeared subsequently in the Tory Democracy of Randolph Churchill , in the reforming ideas of F. E. Smith [subsequently Lord Birkenhead] and in the policies Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments and the rather more radical ideas of the young Harold Macmillan and his supporters in the 1920s and 1930s
However the emphasis on government -sponsored social and economic reform within the One Nation Conservative tradition reached its zenith in the policies of the so-called Right Progressive Conservative Governments of 1951-64. for it was then that the Conservatives accepted that although private enterprise was to remain preeminent significant economic and social reform would also be necessary in order to advance the living standards and future prospects of working class people.
For much of the post 2nd World War period the Conservative Party was led and dominated by so-called Right Progressives [or One Nation Conservatives] such as R. Butler, I. Macleod, H. Macmillan and Q. Hogg who harked back to the Disraeli tradition of One Nation Conservatism . They were prepared to accept that unrestricted laissez- faire would generate excessive inequality of outcome and undermine equality of opportunity and so were pragmatically prepared to accept also the expansion of state activity ushered in via by the 1945-51 Labour government programmes involving selective nationalisation, expansion of the welfare state, Keynesian economic policies and tripartite decision making all of which were designed in various ways to improve the living standards of working class people. [ This was the era of the so-called Post-War Butskellite Consensus although you may also click here for some discussion of whether or not the Post War Consensus was actually a myth.]
Once in Government the One Nation Conservatives broadly retained these Labour programmes initiatives while emphasising that the most profitable sectors of the economy would remain in private control and supporting the continuation of economic inequality because of their belief that private property was a pre-requisite for liberty and that capitalist economic inequality could best promote economic growth and rising living standards. However they also recognised that full employment , the involvement of the trade unions and business interests in tripartite economic decision making and the expansion of the welfare state were necessary to improve health, housing, education and to reduce poverty if the UK was to be a cohesive One Nation community.
Also by the 1960s Harold Macmillan's administration had begun to experiment with increased government intervention in the form of economic planning and incomes policies [via the setting up of the National Economic Development Council and the National Incomes Commission [Neddy and Nicky as they were called] and believed also that the UK's entry into the EEC could improve the competitiveness of the UK economy However, it could be noted that the Conservatives of this greater role for the state was partly an electoral necessity and that it in no way challenged the existence of the capitalist system based on private property ownership .Conservative Governments at this time accepted most of Labour's nationalisation programme but as expected, given their generalised support for capitalist private enterprise had no inclination to expand the scope of nationalisation. Furthermore while they were prepared to expand welfare spending there were already disputes within government as to the levels of welfare spending which were actually acceptable. These disputes were set to intensify
Ted Heath became leader of the Conservative Party in 1965 and immediately embarked upon a comprehensive review of Conservative policy. However by the tim eof the 166 General Election the reviews was as yet incomplete and for a variety of reasons it came as no surprise when the Conservatives were defeated quite heavily by Labour in the 1966 General Election and few Conservatives seemed to blame Heath for the scale of the defeat. In 1970 the Conservatives met at the Selsdon Park Hotel to draw together the results of their policy review in readiness for the next General Election and the presentation of the outcome of this meeting in the mass media suggested that the Conservatives were now engaged in a significant shift to the Right in terms of their policies on the economy, the welfare state and law and order. However it has also been suggested that this alleged shift to the Right has been much overstated partly as a result of Harold Wilson's characterisation of the emergence of an economically liberal , socially Conservative "Selsdon Man." [It is also suggested that Wilson's characterisation gave Conservative policy an apparent coherence that it did have in reality and thereby helped the Conservatives to win the 1970 General Election
It was widely expected that Labour would win in 1970 but in the event the Conservatives were returned to power with a 31 seat overall majority. Heath's key policy initiatives included early UK entry into the EEC [as it then was] , the reform of industrial relations and a refusal to provide government assistance to unprofitable failing companies [or lame ducks as they were called.] He also stated initially that prices and incomes policies would not be used to control the rate of inflation.
However Heath's attempt to reform industrial relations failed as the trade unions refused to comply with the Industrial Relations Act and as unemployment rose above 1million in 1972 he felt it necessary to reflate the economy via Keynesian methods, to introduce a highly interventionist Industry Act and to nationalise Rolls Royce and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to maintain their viability. Also as the rate of inflation increased Heath decided that a prices and incomes policy would after all be necessary.Thus it came to be argued that Heath had initially distanced himself from the politics of the post war consensus and introduced policies which were subsequently described by some as "proto-Thatcherite" but as a response to rising had returned to the politics of the post- war consensus in what was later described as a dramatic "U turn".
The UK entered the EEC in 1973 but by this time Heath's government was beginning to face increasing difficulties as the rate of inflation began to accelerate partly due to massive increases in the price of oil and other imports in 1973. Then The NUM refused to comply with Heath's Prices and Income policy which led to a major strike which prompted Heath to call a General Election in February 1974 which he narrowly lost. Although The Conservatives had won narrowly more votes than Labour , Labour had won more seats albeit not enough seats for an overall majority and after a failed attempt by Ted Heath to negotiate a coalition deal with the Liberal , Labour were returned to power as a minority government. Wilson called another General Election in October 1974 in the hope of gaining a substantial majority but succeeded only in gaining a small overall majority of 3 seats . Nevertheless having lost 2 successive General Elections Heath was replaced as Conservative Party leader in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher.
It is argued that in government Heath endorsed proto-Thatcherite policies in 1970-72 but reverted to One Nation consensus politics in 1972-4. Some have argued that this was a very substantial U turn whereas others argued that Heath's initial support for proto-Thatcherism was limited and that the extent of his U turn was therefore overstated. This is a matter of controversy but what is certain is that once Ted Heath returned to the backbenches he was a vociferous critic of Thatcherism and a great supporter of the politics of One Nation Conservatism.
Click here for a review by David Marquand of the biography of Ted Heath by Philip Ziegler
Click here for BBC documentary: Heath versus Wilson ; The 10 Year Duel
We may conclude that Conservative Party leaders from 1945 to perhaps 1975 adhered broadly to the balance of policies which David Seawright [and others] have said are at the heart of One Nation Conservatism: that is they accepted that One Nation Conservatism involves achieving a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective operation of capitalist private enterprise. In terms of outcomes under Conservative Governments 1951-64 near full employment was maintained , there was a steady if unspectacular increase in average living standards , income and wealth equality increased and higher expenditure on health, education, housing and social security did serve to improve the incomes and life chances of average working class living standards. Nevertheless significant inequalities in income ,wealth and power remained ; there was still extensive relative poverty and some absolute poverty and continuing social class inequalities in educational attainment and life expectancy. In my view these were recognisably One Nation Conservative governments but although their management of the welfare state did to some extent alleviate extreme inequality and poverty the scope of these reforms should not be overstated.
Even in the era of the post-war consensus many Conservatives continued to hold classical liberal pro-market or traditional Tory views and especially from the 1970s onwards the views of the Right Progressives were challenged by the neo-liberal strand of New Right thought associated especially with the theoretical ideas of academics such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and with their development in the UK in pro-Conservative think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs , the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies. Among the first modern UK Conservative politicians to espouse elements of New Right thinking were Enoch Powell and Keith Joseph although it was only when Mrs Thatcher,[ having become leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 ]consolidated her hold on power in the early 1980s that New Right ideas became more influential in government.
In the post- Thatcherite era there have been disagreements as to the extent to which Prime Ministers Major and Cameron continued with essentially Thatcherite policies or reverted , at least to some extent , to One Nation Conservatism and similar controversies also surround the ideological position of Prime Minister Theresa May. These disagreements arise partly as a result of competing interpretations of the nature of One Nation Conservatism itself . I shall return to these issues after consideration of the Thatcherite era. However you may click here for the document section dealing with Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism 1990-2017
For Part Three - Thatcherite Conservatism: Click Here