This is an edited version of a piece I wrote for Bright Blue about my journey from the political left to the political right.
I am what you would call an unnatural conservative. My grandparents moved to the U.K in the sixties and spent their entire lives involved in Labour politics. Indeed, most of my family to this day are staunch Labour supporters. I grew up in a part of the country that was extremely safe Labour territory. My dad would often joke that the red rosette would win, even if it were to be placed on a baboon. I even spent a large chunk of my youth as an active member of the Labour party.
It is through observing the illiberal nature of Labour, from the inside, coupled with reading of Orwell, Hayek, Solzhenitsyn and many other great thinkers that I have ended up on the right. Getting here in the best way possible, through intellectual development. This should give us heart then, that the Conservatives can win again amongst the youth, amongst the working class, amongst minority communities.
I highlight Orwell because his writings demonstrate how the subversive use of language can be used as a weapon. We see this in today’s discourse. Just look at this whole debate around sexual assault. Mildly flirtatious comments and sloppy come on’s have been conflated with abuse of power and rape. One must ask, who benefits from this? and you find that it is neither women nor men. It is in fact a certain faction of a certain political party. You see this type of tactic used with numerous issues to gain political power.
I highlight Hayek because his writings make not just the economic case for free markets, but also the moral one. Simply put, explaining “the freer the markets, the freer the people”. Making this argument is going to be key to future victory. Socialism is an unnatural form of economic organisation and therefore requires an authoritarian government infringing on our freedoms to implement.
Finally, I highlight Solzhenitsyn because his magus opus The Gulag Archipelago shows us the true horrors of socialism. Almost all of us know of the crimes of Nazi Germany, but too many of us are not also aware of the history of Socialism in the last century. It is very difficult to see how one can understand all of this and not come to a belief in individual liberty and freedom.
Freedom, which is the very foundation of what modern Conservatism is about, is still what the electorate want. Despite the rhetoric from the left, the vast majority of us just want to get on with our lives and have the state leave us alone. We want to keep the money we earn, choosing how to spend it ourselves. We certainly do not want to be told we are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamaphobic bigots. We are not, and even if these things were as big a problem as the left claim them to be, it does not follow that a bigger state is the answer.
The millennial generation are not socialists, we are both socially and economically liberal. This holds for all social classes. Identity politics which sees our racial, sexual, gender or class identities as the things which define us, above what we say and do, has never held much sway in our generation. We are the generation that grew up together.
In my mind, Labour did not gain ground in the last election through winning the intellectual argument. Ground was ceded by us, the Conservatives through abandonment of the liberal centre. Given Labour’s lurch to the left and the total disintegration of the liberal democrats this was an election which should have been ours. We were disorganised, disjointed and had no clear narrative as to why you vote Conservative, beyond that we were not Labour.
I am afraid that this must come down to leadership. Leadership matters. Most of the public most the time do not spare much of a thought for politics. A good leader in the modern day, must in the moments where our people do engage, inspire confidence. This means appearing charismatic, in control, confident but not arrogant, coherent and tough. Personal likeability is a bonus but my feeling is that is secondary to other qualities. Better to be respected and disliked then not respected but liked. Margaret Thatcher was never personally popular but you would be hard put to find many who did not respect her.
When the time comes where we Conservatives pick our leader again, as it surely must do soon, we must take the time to get this absolutely right. The wrong leader will lead to a hard-left Marxist government. The damage this would do both economically and culturally may take a very long time to repair. The responsibility we have then as conservative members and activists is huge, let us not take it lightly.