Blair's Britain, by the Conservative Party
It is time for the Conservative Party to draw a line under the modernisation (mis)adventure of Blair’s Britain, and return to the surety of conservatism
Last week’s announcement that a small proportion of the Department for International Development Budget may in future be used by the Ministry of Defence was greeted with a flurry of derision from international aid charities, and swift apologetic clarity from a Government Spokesmen who explained that any budgetary transfer would be minor, and primarily for the purposes of the stable delivery of aid.
Many forget that DFID is not a department which even existed the last time a Conservative Prime Minister was in office. Nor did many of the array of charities and NGOs which now operate and rely on its largesse. All are, and will be increasingly seen as, a relic of a time when Blair thought he could single-handedly change the world (for the better), and the Government thought we, as a nation, could afford to pay for his crusade.
International aid, if delivered to foster stability, democracy, regime change or trade partnership with the UK, is an essential part of smart power – the strategy of focussing every element of national influence to a single goal; a strategy increasingly expertly applied by David Cameron.
It does not require a department separate from the Foreign Office however (in the US, “USAID” is firmly overseen by the State Department), nor a budget enshrined in law which equates to one-third of the defence budget and rising.
The debate around the DFID budget, and DFID’s very existence, appears to often occur between DFID, interested MPs, and aid organisations, and the era of Blair’s Britain echoes between them. To most of the nation it is a bizarre internal conversation that in no way reflects their burning concerns.
I doubt the country at large would consider international aid in the top 10 priorities of Government; members of the Conservative Party would be unlikely to consider it in the top 20, if at all. Reflecting this view, Justine Greening, upon being appointed to the role of International Development Secretary, is said to have warned David Cameron that she “didn't come into politics to distribute money to people in the Third World!”
It’s too late for Cameron to personally change course on Gay Marriage (though the act may be pushed into the next Parliament), Europe is largely out of his hands, and any move on Energy Policy would require at least 5 years to implement; how he handles DFID could be indicative to the extent he is willing to reset his course from blind and brutal modernisation, to big-tent conservatism.
The 2005 Conservative moderniser’s revolution did not come from the members of the Party, from the body or mind of British conservatism, but from a narrow group at Central Office, who borrowed their vision liberally from Blair and Mandelson. Those ‘third way’ adherent voices must still echo in CCHQ and Downing Street, but they never found a home in the grassroots of the Conservative Party. The modernisers were granted tacit, brittle support, not in their ideology, but their perceived ability to strike a sharper image, and to win elections. Blair in image was required, not in policy.
The dissatisfaction that boils up in the Conservative Party now is from its membership, from its voters, from conservatives. They are the same people who rejected in the strongest terms the 13 years of Labour government that changed Britain beyond recognition; they voted for change, not the continuation of the progressive agenda by other means, and they are still angrily waiting for that change.
Rather than even being patronised to keep the faith by the party leadership – despite forming the majority of the (rapidly decreasing) Party membership – they are met with a quiet disdain, branded as bonkers, as bigots; it is said they are stuck in the past, marked for the dustbin of history, even by those who once claimed and voted to be of the same conservative ideology less than a decade ago.
They were told by Francis Maude that if they didn't care for the London Olympic Opening Ceremony they didn't care for modern Britain, and that this was a shameful, almost criminal offence, despite that vision of modern Britain being almost entirely the product of the 13 years of Labour Government, auteured by a man who refuses to accept a Knighthood from his Monarch.
They were told that there isn't time to bring before Parliament the manifesto pledge to consider the repeal of the ban on fox hunting, but there is plenty, eons of time, to adopt proposals for the now totemic, toxic issue of gay marriage, whatever it means for the party's unity, its ability to win the next election, or the necessity to focus on the economy.
They were told by Margot James that the cull of conservatives had not gone deep enough, that Parliament was still afflicted by their out-of-date vision, slow to evolve to the fragile brave new world for which this finite and distant elite have assumed the torch.
They were effectively told that Blair’s Britain was here to stay.
It has been argued by progressives and modernisers in British politics that the re-election of Barack Obama proves that elections cannot be won on the back of old-school conservatism anymore. The fundamental mistruth in this statement is that had the 2012 US election taken place in the demographic America of 1990, the result would have been a landslide victory for Romney.
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