There appears to be something of a splurge of thinking in the Conservative Party. I'm keen on this especially given we're also in government making it much harder to leading figures to burst into thoughtful song - the dour, dull business of government 'twas ever a drag on ideas. The thinking seems to revolve around three themes: being altogether jollier, escaping the legacy of Thatcherism, and making a 21st century case for capitalism.
Now this all sound like a slightly updated version of Reaganism (for the record, the USA's best post-war president and a man whose ideas still resonate in their defence of freedom, community and a sunnier life) but underneath is covers over the gaping chasm in the UK's Conservative Party. This isn't a matter of policy nuance but something much more fundamental, a sort of cavaliers and roundheads divide between those wanting a stern parental grip on society and those who think a load more freedom is a great idea.
It's true to say that Conservatives have a sort of on/off love affair with liberalism - David Cameron famously described himself as a 'liberal conservative', a tag that raised the ire of the more autocratically-inclined in the party despite Cameron repeatedly demonstrating his illiberalism. Elsewhere - in what is probably the mainstream of the party - support for illiberal ideas like ID cards, stricter licensing laws, minimum pricing for alcohol, chasing immigrants about with slightly racist posters, and wanting controls on the Internet in the vain hope they will stop teenaged boys looking at pornography.
So when Ruth Davidson, probably the most shining champion of Cameron's liberal conservatism says:
“We look a bit joyless, to be fair. A bit authoritarian, sometimes”.I have two conflicting reactions. The first is positive, fist-pumping agreement - we really need to stop nannying and fussing over the public as if they're unable to make any decisions at all without the gentle guiding (big stick wielding) hand to the paternal state. So well said, Ruth, well said.
The second reaction is that Ruth is a raging hypocrite - after all:
“Support for alcohol minimum pricing represents a major policy shift for the Scottish Conservatives. It follows my commitment as leader to undertake a widespread review of policy.Here's a policy that is harmful and stupid in equal measure, is the epitome of joyless authoritarianism and Ruth Davidson walked her Scottish Tories into voting for it.
“I am delighted that we have managed to secure two major concessions which will reassure the retail industry following productive negotiations with the Health Secretary.”
If the future for the Party lies in being more fun, less fussy and more libertarian (a view that seems to have its champion more in Liz Truss than Ruth Davidson) then we need to put an end to things like minimum pricing, sugar taxes, aggressive benefit sanctions, ever expanding demands for ID, and stupid immigration policies that prevent businesses getting the skilled labour they need to compete in the global race David Cameron was always banging on about. Above all we should start treating the British public as adult friends and neighbours who we want to help get along, support when they're in trouble and care for when upset or ill. What we're getting instead is rampant fussbucketry that seems to view people as slightly retarded eleven-year-olds who can only survive under the benign, authoritarian gaze of a nanny state.
Ruth Davidson is right, the Conservative Party needs to be less authoritarian. To to this we should start by not proposing authoritarian policies. It might just help!