Ryan Shorthouse makes the unanswerable, long-overdue case for merger between the two Coalition parties on their undeniable shared basis as organs “the liberal-right”. He seems to want that new party to be led by David Laws, the thief. How fitting.
The Conservative Party has been hoovering up Liberals for a very long time: Country Whigs, Patriot Whigs, Liberal Unionists, Liberal Imperialists, National Liberals as one of whom Michael Heseltine first sought election to Parliament, Alfred Roberts’s daughter, those around the Institute of Economic Affairs (although its founders and its founding backer, like Roberts, never actually joined), and now the Liberal Democrats.
Among those last, the most blatantly obvious outrider or trailblazer is Elizabeth Truss, a veteran anti-monarchist campaigner, and also possessed of most unorthodox opinions regarding the institution of marriage, but whom the Conservative hierarchy forced upon a safe Conservative seat in time for the 2010 General Election.
It is entirely incorrect to say that members of the present Coalition are the first Liberal Cabinet Ministers since the War. By the time that he was Home Secretary between 1954 and 1957, Gwilym Lloyd George had ceased to be a member of either of the Liberal parties that had each separately asked him to lead it in 1945, but nor had he joined the Conservative Party. One third of the Cabinet Ministers dismissed in one night by Harold Macmillan were National Liberals, raising yet more among the many serious questions about how conservative or Tory the sacked six’s economic views, which went on to become monetarism, really were or were not, are or are not.
The feud between the former Miss Roberts and the present Lord Heseltine was fundamentally and ultimately an intra-Liberal affair, and it remains so. Even if vicariously and posthumously, Margaret Thatcher’s father was the last great Liberal commercial magnate from the provinces to exercise national political power.
The Conservative Party is itself therefore two parties in one, which would be entirely separate in many other countries, competing hardly at all for the same votes and co-operating hardly at all on any issue of policy. The metropolitan, urban, capitalist, secular, libertarian, make-the-world-anew party has finally defeated and banished the provincial, rural, protectionist, church-based, conservative, mind-our-own-business party. The Whigs have finally defeated and banished the Tories. But preferably in a context of electoral reform, which can only suit the Tories down to the ground.
They are not the only ones. As it took shape, Labour adapted itself both to Radical Liberalism and to populist Toryism, depending on the pre-existing culture at least of its target electorate. Labour was never the party of anything like the whole of the working classes, nor did those classes ever provide anything like all of its support. There was never any incongruity about the presence of middle or upper-class people in the Labour Party, and not least among Labour MPs. Nor about their having come from, and far from cast off, either Liberal or Tory backgrounds, routinely including activism, and indeed parliamentary service.
Both Radical Liberalism and populist Toryism were very open to central and local government action. They were therefore open to many aspects of the never-dominant Socialist strand in Labour as surely as they acted as checks and balances on it. Deeply rooted in the chapels, the Radicals had a pronounced streak of moral and social conservatism, especially where intoxication and gambling were concerned. Toryism, properly so called, upholds the organic Constitution, believes in carefully controlled importation and immigration, and advocates a realist foreign policy which includes a strong defence capability used only most sparingly and to strictly defensive ends. And so on.
The movement that drank deeply from both of these wells did in fact deliver social democracy in this country, a good both in itself and in its prevention of a Communist revolution. It is time to reconstitute that movement.
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