Principles and Policies

- Saturday, 23rd January 1999

 

1. POLICY RENEWAL

A: Why Renew Policy?

The Conservative Party has been the most successful party in the Western World because it has combined strong principles with realism and ambition.

It has been in power for most of the last century because after every defeat it has shown astonishing powers of renewal. It has had the courage to face reality about the reasons for defeat rather than dwell in the delusion that the electorate made a temporary mistake; it has always returned to its principles; and it has never lost its hungry ambition for office or been tempted to become an ineffectual party of protest.



The greater the defeat, the more thorough-going the renewal that is required. That is why William Hague has embarked on what will be seen as the most comprehensive, necessary and profound process of reform this Party has ever undertaken. Our Party?s Constitution has been radically reformed to make us the most democratic Party in Britain. Our Party organisation has been streamlined to make us a more effective fighting force. Our Party membership is being reinvigorated by boosting recruitment and bringing forward a wider range of talent as candidates for Party office, local government and Parliament.



A fundamental part of this rejuvenation is Policy Renewal. Just as RAB Butler, Edward Boyle, and Keith Joseph brought policy up to date after the defeats of 1945, 1966 and 1974, we need to embark on an even more ambitious process of policy renewal following the defeat of 1997.



But let me make this clear - we need to renew our policies not because they failed, but, paradoxically, because they largely succeeded. Indeed, we must never forget the transformation we wrought over the last 18 years in Britain?s economy and how our policies swept the world, helped precipitate the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and were finally endorsed even by our opponents.

As a result, we bequeathed them a ?golden economic legacy? of which we can be proud.



But precisely because we succeeded in solving many of the problems of the 1980s and early 90s, we must now turn to the new challenges which will confront this country in the new century. New problems will require new policies.



B. Rules for Policy Renewal

Our aim is to produce an election-winning programme - a programme that will be seen to equip us to govern successfully in line with the aspirations of the British people and to surmount the challenges facing Britain in the new millennium. This is a massive task. So it is essential that we set about it in the right way.



I set out in my Party Conference speech the ten rules that will govern the way we undertake policy renewal. I won?t repeat them all here (though they will be appended to the written version of this lecture). Some relate to the principles underlying our new policies which I will deal with in a moment.



So let me just mention now those rules which merely guide our procedures. First, a couple of self-denying ordinances. We will not move off the Conservative centre ground just to differentiate our policies from Labour?s new rhetoric. We will adopt policies because we believe in them, not because Labour doesn?t believe in them.



And when we oppose measures which Labour introduces, we will not make knee jerk commitments to repeal (or for that matter retain) them. Only nearer the election will we be able to decide which of their damaging measures need to be reversed, which need to be reformed and which cannot be unscrambled.



But let me emphasise my most important procedural rule. Our policy renewal will be based on Listening to Britain.



It is now generally agreed that even though many people accepted our policies as broadly right, they felt we did not seem to listen to them about how those policies were implemented or about areas of concern to them which we were failing to address at all. It is therefore vital that we not only do listen to people, but that we are seen to do so. Listening will help us get back in touch with people?s needs, concerns and aspirations. Moreover, when I was in government I found that the people who see new issues coming over the horizon first are the people working at the sharp end of any activity. They are often aware of these challenges years before they filter up the management chain, then through to the experts, from them to the civil servants, from them to the policy makers and finally to the politicians.



That is why I place so much emphasis in Listening to Britain - on listening to nurses and doctors, teachers and pupils, business people and trades unionists - rather than just relying on the metropolitan policy wonks. They will help us keep ahead of the game.



Listening to Britain is not a one-off programme. We will go on listening in a systematic way once we are back in power. We are determined never again to stop listening or even appear to stop listening to the people whom we have a duty to represent.



But Listening to Britain will evolve. The first 12 months are above all about defining the issues and putting us back in touch with people?s aspirations. Then we will use the listening process to discuss, debate and develop specific ideas on which we are working.



C. Next Steps



But we do need to draw on expert advice, too.



So I can announce the formation of Policy Agenda Groups bringing together outside experts, MPs, members of the voluntary party and academics.

Each Shadow Secretary of State will be establishing a team whose task over the next few months will be to analyse preliminary reports from Listening to Britain, to identify issues, and to commission research in order to prepare policy papers.

Their work will be brought together in the Agenda for Britain which we will publish and debate later in the year. This will form the basis for our more specific policy work thereafter.



Too many politicians, including all too many Conservatives, have made



the mistake of concentrating on issues that, to people in the real world - are little



more than Westminster gossip. Questions of who?s in and who?s out and who?s



leaking to whom make great copy for the latest press release, but they leave



millions of hard-working people cold.





Conservatives have always returned to power by showing that we care



about the same issues that non-political people care about. We have succeeded



when people can see that the issues we are raising in the Commons are the same



issues they are talking about around their kitchen tables.





So the Agenda for Britain will be exactly that - an agenda for Britain, not an



agenda for Westminster.

2. CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES



Listening certainly doesn?t mean abandoning our principles. Far from it.

The more we listen, the more we are confident that our principles are in tune with the aspirations of the British people.



Moreover, principles are essential. It is a myth to imagine that pure pragmatism in politics is possible. Those who claim that you don?t need principles or ideas - all you need to do is to consider all the circumstances and decide what is best for Britain - miss the point. You need values to decide what is best. And you need a broad conception of how the world works to choose between alternative options.



Any Party which doesn?t have its own principles and ideas will find itself adopting those of others. It will find itself the slave of out of date thinkers.

As Keynes wrote ?practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slave of some defunct economist.?

A party without principles will find itself at the mercy of current fashions.

If, like New Labour, they judge each policy on its impact on tomorrow?s headlines they will have no way of resisting short-term pressures for the long-term good. That is why New Labour?s lack of any coherent principles will prove so damaging to this country and lead to the ultimate downfall of this government.



A recent management study found that the great business enterprises which survive and outgrow their competitors have a strong set of values and principles. I am certain that principles are even more essential to success in political parties.



A. The Foundation of Conservative Principles.

So what are Conservative principles? Conservatism is not a revealed religion. We have no Karl Marx, no Communist Manifesto, no Clause IV.

We have a pantheon of great Tory thinkers: Bolingbroke and Burke; S. T. Coleridge to T. S. Eliot; Oakshott and Powell; Salisbury to Keith Joseph.

But none has laid down a rigid set of rules for us to follow.



We can only discover what Conservatism is by examining what Conservatives have sought to achieve in practice over the years. It is not easy at first to discern a common thread. For the political programme of Conservatives has changed over time, occasionally even reversing particular policies. And Conservatives in different countries have pursued apparently divergent programmes.



Clearly Conservatives conserve. But what do they seek to conserve, how and why?



Conservatives do not oppose all change. We are not simply knee-jerk defenders of the status quo. Still less are we reactionaries fighting a fruitless battle to restore a nostalgic past or employing the power of the state to stop spontaneous social, cultural or intellectual change.



In practice Conservatives do change things. They have even claimed that ?change is our ally?. Burke?s dictum that ?in order to preserve it is necessary to reform? indicates the sort of change Conservatives normally prefer - piecemeal changes to adapt valued institutions to changing circumstances or to make them work better. But Conservatives have even driven through much more radical changes than that suggests, as in the Thatcherite reforms of the 1980s.



So what defines the sort of things Conservatives want to conserve and the sort of changes Conservatives are willing to embrace? There is a fundamental approach which is common to all Conservatives. That was spelt out clearly by William Hague recently ?Conservatism is everywhere and always a movement to safeguard, promote and adapt to changing circumstances the basic identity, institutions and values of the country in the face of fashionable ideas, abstract doctrines and projects which threaten these things?.

That is why he rightly emphasises that Conservatives stand for the British Way - rather than some abstract doctrine like the Libertarian way or the Capitalist way (though there may be plenty of overlap in practice). His succinct definition encapsulates the inherent conflict between two mind sets - those of the Conservative right and the Radical left.



The Conservative mind wants to conserve and build upon the identity, institutions and values of the country because they have evolved over time as a result of the interaction of myriads of individual decisions and of experience over generations. Conservatives presume that things which have evolved in this way must generally be superior to anything designed by a small group of our contemporaries. We assume that practical experience is more reliable than abstract reasoning. And we believe durability over time is more important than passing fashion.



The Conservative mind is marked by a certain intellectual humility and an innate democracy. We are instinctively conscious that an individual or a small group of individuals, however intelligent, can never match the combined intelligence of a whole people, still less their practical experience over time.

By contrast the radical left wing mind tends to despise anything which has emerged by such a haphazard process as trial and error, evolution or the interaction of millions of individuals.



So the left wants to replace it by something consciously designed on the basis of clear principles. They want to redesign our identity, replace our institutions and replace our values. Designs, by their nature, are the work of a small self appointed group. So the left tends to be elitist, autocratic and arrogant enough to believe their views should displace those that have emerged from the practical experience of ordinary people and successive generations.



There can be no definitive list of Conservative Principles. The emphasis will change depending on the threat currently coming from the left to the identity, values and institutions of this country. But in practice a number of key beliefs have tended to underlie Conservative policies.



Conservative Policy Forum groups throughout the country recently considered this subject. The same fundamental values were emphasised from Cornwall to Northumberland and Cheshire to Kent.



10 Conservative Principles

1) Conservatives believe first and foremost in freedom: because freedom is good in itself; it encourages personal responsibility; and it promotes prosperity. So we want to extend the freedom of individuals, families, voluntary organisations and businesses to run their own affairs as long as they do no harm to others.



Of course, Conservatives have always sought to balance liberty with authority. I believe that we need to shift that balance more in favour of freedom. That is in tune with popular sentiment. And it is all the more essential given that this government is sliding towards the Nanny State.



2) Second, we believe in the rule of law: freedom is only possible under the law. So the law must be upheld and wrongdoing punished. That is why we sought to introduce minimum sentences for repeat offenders.



Most British people are law-abiding, not because of draconian punishments, but because they respect the law. That respect has been built on our knowledge that we will be considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.



That is why we were so cautious about considering plans to restrict people?s right to jury trial. By contrast, the present government seems eager to move in that direction.



3) Third, Conservatives believe we have an obligation to others: the strong to help the weak; the healthy to help the sick and disabled; the better off to help the poor, the unemployed and others who cannot directly participate in and benefit from a free society. And we have an obligation to past and future generations to hand on our heritage, environment and institutions in at least as good a state as we received them from our forefathers.



In many ways this sense of obligation is the most fundamental Tory principle of all. We need to reaffirm it at every opportunity. Unfortunately over the last eighteen years we have allowed to be disseminated, almost without contradiction, a caricature of Conservatism which is almost the antithesis of this. The left, unable to mount any really credible attack on our policies, instead consistently denigrated our motives.



Conservatism was portrayed as the apotheosis of selfishness and greed.

It is an absurd calumny both of Conservatives and of Conservatism.

In practice Conservatives tend to be disproportionately involved in charitable, church and community service. We disdained to respond to such denigration and we still got reelected. So we came to think it did not matter. But by dint of repetition it increasingly came to be accepted that Conservatives believed in nothing more than selfishness and greed.

So people voted for us with increasing reluctance simply because they feared Labour more than they disliked this caricature of Conservatives.

Once fear of Labour was set aside we reaped the whirlwind.



That is why it is essential that we actively repudiate this caricature of Tories as the selfish party. And we must ensure that all our policies prove beyond doubt that contemporary Conservatism is generous and caring.



4) Fourth, Conservatives believe that strong families are the basic building block of society. Our most compelling obligation is to our families.

And it is within the family that we learn to respect others. The state did not invent the family or marriage and should not try to interfere in people?s private lives. But it should try to reinforce families and do nothing to undermine them.



William Hague has reaffirmed our desire to strengthen families and marriage through the tax system. At present the system discriminates against couples who look after their own children. If married couples were allowed to keep both personal tax allowances, the system would be fairer; it would leave parents free to choose whether and when one should stay at home to look after the children, or both should go out to work.



The present government is determined to eliminate the last recognition of marriage in the tax system by abolishing the married couples allowance altogether. That sends out the wrong signals about the importance society attaches to marriage.



5) Fifth, we believe in national self-government: each nation has the right to set its own laws through its own institutions; it has the duty to respect the desire of other countries to govern themselves. We believe in co- operating with others, particularly our neighbours and partners in Europe.

But we want to be part of Europe, not run by it.



6) Sixth, we believe in strong defence. In an uncertain and dangerous world we need to be prepared for threats that may emerge in future.

We need the ability to expand our forces in a future emergency which is why we strongly support the Territorial Army and have opposed the government?s decision to run it down.



7) Seventh, we believe in competitive free enterprise: which is by far the best way to ensure prosperity and to pay for the ever improving public services which enable even those who cannot participate directly in the job market to benefit from growth.



We believe it is important to reduce not increase the burden of regulation on business. That is why we strongly opposed the government?s foolish decision unilaterally to sign the Social Chapter. This will leave Britain open to the flow of new burdens from Brussels.



8) Eighth, we believe in low taxation and a property-owning democracy.

Taxes are needed to finance the services which the state must provide.

But they should be kept low since people know better than the state ever can how to spend, give, save or invest their money; the more responsibility people have over the own lives, the more responsibly they will behave; and low taxes mean greater incentives to work and invest.



In a growing economy lower tax can be combined with increased resources or priority public services. But that can only work if we stop welfare spending from crowding out other programmes. For 50 years, social security spending had been growing twice as fast as the national income. It was the principal factor driving up taxes. My reforms for the first time set it to take a declining share of national income. We have demonstrated that we can reform welfare.



Labour has virtually given up. Almost every major reform they have introduced involves increased public spending, not, as they promised, cutting the welfare bill.



It was the Conservative belief in encouraging the widest possible spread of ownership that led us to promote home ownership. Before the last election, I suggested plans that would have meant an even bigger extension of property ownership. Everyone entering the workforce would have been enabled to build up their own pension fund. We will continue to work on imaginative ideas to enable everyone, particularly those who start off with least, to own a personal stake in their country.



9) Ninth, Conservatives believe in protecting the environment. We are not ?Johnny-come-latelies? to this issue. It has always been part of our obligation to generations past and future. We want to preserve our countryside and our buildings since they both reflect and affect our character as a people.



10) Tenth and last, Conservatives believe in defending our Constitution against doctrinaire change. Because the British Constitution has evolved, it incorporates the experience and wisdom of generations. Reform is necessary to adapt it to changing circumstances. But change should be evolutionary not revolutionary.



Labour has embarked upon the most dangerous programme of constitutional vandalism since Oliver Cromwell. Its changes threaten to disrupt the whole United Kingdom. We will have to think creatively how to re-balance it.



Our Task

Our task from now on is to apply these tried and trusted principles to the challenges, problems and opportunities which will face Britain early in the next

century after 4 or 5 years of this Labour government. It is an exciting challenge.

And it means the Conservative Party must and will encourage , the most intellectually stimulating ferment of ideas.



We will need to attract the most fertile and creative minds to join in this process. I believe we can do that and we can succeed.





ANNEX -RULES GOVERNING POLICY RENEWAL - extract from speech by Peter Lilley to Conservative Party conference, Bournemouth, October 1998.



?First, our policy renewal will be based on Listening to Britain.





Second, the overall thrust of our policies will prove beyond doubt that the

Conservative Party is generous and caring.



It is time we repudiated the absurd caricature of Conservatives as the selfish party.

The truth is that Conservatives are more involved than many people in charitable, church and community work.

And the most fundamental Tory principle of all is a belief in personal responsibility and obligation to others.



Third, policies for a caring society don‘t begin and end with public spending.

Despite what Labour say, the amount the state spends is no index of compassion.

So we will promote the voluntary sector, boost charities and strengthen families.



Fourth, our policies for the public sector must improve actual results, not simply increase inputs.

The key question is not how much extra you spend on health and education.

It‘s: ‘Are patients being treated more speedily, cured more successfully and cared for better; and can pupils read, write, and pass exams?‘

Labour‘s already failing this test.

Labour‘s policy of measuring success by how much it increases public spending is a recipe for tax and waste.

It‘s not how much government spends that matters, it is what it does for the people.



Fifth, welfare reform will be right at the core of our strategy.

In a growing economy lower tax can be combined with increased resources for priority public services.

But that can only work if we stop welfare spending from crowding out other programmes.



Sixth, whenever we reform, we will make sure that decisions are taken as close as possible to the people they affect.

Parents and patients must have more say; head teachers and family doctors must have more powers and we‘ve got to have greater confidence in local government.



Seventh, we will not move off the Conservative centre ground just to differentiate our policies from Labour‘s new rhetoric.

We will adopt policies because we believe in them not because Labour doesn‘t believe in them.



Eighth, when we oppose measures which Labour introduce, we will not automatically make knee-jerk commitments to repeal (or for that matter retain) them.

Only nearer the election will we be able to decide which of their damaging measures need to be reversed, which need to be reformed and which are, unfortunately, ‘eggs that cannot be unscrambled‘.



Ninth, we must, nonetheless, start thinking now about how to restore balance to our constitution.

As William Hague said at Bournemouth, Labour‘s constitutional upheaval has so destabilised it that we will have to make some changes to restore its balance.



Last, but most important, a common theme of all our policies has to be extending freedom.

I‘m talking about freedom from the Nanny State in Britain........ and freedom from the Superstate in Europe.?

 

 

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