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 Conservatism, Ideology, Economic Inequality and Poverty

Page last edited:12/05/2017

 

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Breaking News Saturday December 2nd 2017 Click here for Guardian article :Alan Milburn and entire social mobility team quit citing "lack of political leadership." Also click here for BBC coverage and click here for an Observer editorial.

 

 To Advanced Level Government and Politics Students : A Warning

 

If you are studying this topic I am sure that you have good textbooks and are receiving excellent advice from your teachers. They will be able to advise you how to use this document , if at all. It may be, for example , that you will find the Summary more useful than some of the details in the actual document.

 

 I hope that you will find this document useful but I am worried that some aspects of it may not be sufficiently geared to the A Level  Specification which you are following. In particular in the sections on One Nation Conservatism I use some sources which are not referenced in most A Level textbooks which may mean that knowledge of these sources is not required and I draw some conclusions which are tentative and speculative  . Also in the discussion of income inequality and poverty I refer to actual statistical trends in more detail than may be required in Specifications which concentrate specifically on Ideology rather than measurement issues. In the sections on David Cameron and Theresa May I have referred to several quite recent sources but more sources will doubtless become available. However even now the document has more links than you can reasonably be expected to follow up and I have asterisked some of the most important links in RED

Currently I am in particular  looking forward to the publication of Essentials of Political Ideas by Andrew Heywood. It should solve quite a few of our problems!

 

Meanwhile here are some tunes!

 

 

The document is rather long but I hope that the following links will help students to navigate within the document  and there is also a short summary at the end of the document

 

Introduction

Conservatives, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty: General Arguments

One Nation Conservatism: Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty

Thatcherite Conservatism: Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty

Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty in the Post Thatcherite Era. Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism 1990-2017

David Cameron and Ideology: General

Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty and The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition

David Cameron and the Conservative Government 2015-16

Prime Minister Theresa May

Summary

Appendix Phillip Blond

Appendix: Iain Duncan Smith and Welfare

 

Introduction

In this document I first aim to discuss general Conservative attitudes to issues of economic equality and inequality and then to discuss possible variations in these attitudes at different times in the history of the Conservative Party which will involves discussion of the following aspects of the political history of the Conservative Party. I distinguish  between broadly New Right and One Nation  approaches to Conservatism but the concept of One Nation Conservatism has a long history  and although we can see broad continuities  in the policies of the administrations of say  Disraeli, Baldwin, Chamberlain , Churchill, Eden Macmillan , Home  and also Heath the scope of the reforms introduced during these administrations varied enormously . Latterly , however the precise nature of One Nation Conservatism has been subject to increased academic disputes  while there have also been disagreements as  to whether and in what sense Conservative Prime Ministers such as John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May should be regarded as One Nation Conservatives.

 

We may note also that politicians such as Sir Ian Gilmour, Peter Walker and Ken Clarke have been defined as One Nation Conservatives despite the fact that they accepted several elements of the Thatcherite agenda while in interviews given following his resignation Iain Duncan Smith also signalled his commitment to the One Nation cause. Perhaps in a way this should come as no surprise because in the Conservative Party leadership contest of 2001 both Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke emphasised their commitment to One Nation which again points to a certain amount of flexibility within the concept. My own discussion of Conservative ideology and policy will include the following issues.

 

Conservatives , Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty  : General arguments

In order to investigate fully Conservative attitudes toward "Equality" we should have to distinguish between political equality, equality before the law, economic equality as measured by trends in the distribution of income and wealth and equality of opportunity. It would be important to consider not only the degree of equality/inequality between individuals but also the patterns of equality/inequality related to age, social class, disability, ethnicity and gender. However in this document I shall concentrate solely on Conservative attitudes to economic equality/inequality as measured by the distribution of income and wealth and to equality of opportunity as measured by patterns of social mobility.

 

Many conservatives have traditionally adopted an essentially pessimistic view of human nature which is seen as in several respects flawed, imperfect and corruptible. This overall view may derive in some cases [as nowadays among the religious Right in the USA] from a religious belief in original sin and in others from more secular beliefs in human frailty. In the conservative view human beings may be seen as driven not by reason but by basic emotions, impulses and self interest and their activities can be explained more in terms of their individual human frailty than in terms of environmental factors such as  the social disadvantages of poverty and inequality which are given greater emphasis by socialists as is seen, for example in the differences in conservative and socialist approaches to the explanation of crime, poverty and educational achievement

 

The conservative perspective on human nature leads them also to be supporters of economic inequality and to oppose equality of outcome as measured by statistics on the distribution of income and wealth. They argue in this respect that individual genetic differences in talent and ability must inevitably result in some economic inequality of outcome unless governments restrict the freedom of the more talented individuals to turn these talents to their own economic advantage. Economic equality of outcome, therefore, is inconsistent with individual freedom.

 

 Conservatives argue further that economic inequality of outcome is essential to generate the financial incentives for individuals to remain in further and higher education, to work hard and to invest their savings in productive enterprises all of which will result in faster economic growth and rising average living standards and that even the poorest will benefit indirectly from economic inequality as some of the benefits of faster economic growth “trickle down” to them.

 

According to conservatives economic inequality works with the grain of self-interested human nature to produce rising living standards for all whereas the socialist argument that individuals need only limited financial incentives because they can be encouraged to work for the good of the community operates against the grain of human nature and is therefore unrealistic and counterproductive.

 

Although conservatives oppose economic equality of outcome modern conservatives at least support equality of opportunity or meritocracy.  Meritocracy implies that individuals can gain well paid, high status occupations only on the basis of their own merits and not on the basis of social class advantage and/or nepotism and meritocracy is clearly essential   to secure the economic efficiency necessary to generate rising living standards for all because it is essential that those in the most demanding occupations have the skills necessary for them.

 

Once again there are disputes between conservatives and socialists as to the relationships between economic inequality and equality of opportunity. Whereas conservatives argue that the imposition by governments of economic equality denies equality of opportunity to the talented and that equality of opportunity is possible in an economically unequal society, socialists argue that only government intervention to increase economic equality can secure equality of opportunity for the poorest members of society.

 

Economic inequality of outcome will result in the accumulation of private property in a capitalist society and conservatives argue that possession of private property is an important defence against excessive state power in that without private property individuals can work only for the state and live, be educated and treated only in state houses, schools and hospitals respectively. In societies with large private sectors one can seek private provision if one is dissatisfied with state provision and competition within the private sector is assumed to keep up private sector standards.] Socialists ,of course, argue that private provision may result only in wasteful competition and that only the relatively rich can afford it.]

 

Insofar as conservatives believe in economic inequality this implies also that individuals should have the right to accumulate private property which in turn means that conservatives are supporters of capitalist private enterprise although as we shall see  they may also support a not insignificant economic role for the state. Conservatives support economic theories which suggest that the private market mechanism can allocate resources more flexibly and efficiently than can systems of state economic planning and they emphasise also that whereas the market allocates resources in accordance with consumer preferences, in state planning systems it is the planners who determine what shall be produced so that production does not necessarily meet the needs and wants of consumers. This, the conservatives argue, results in all the inefficiencies associated with growing state bureaucracies as indicated in the economic inefficiency of UK nationalised industries and, on a grander scale, in the inability of former “Communist” countries such as the former USSR to generate good living standards for their citizens. 

 

Conservative attitudes to economic equality of outcome and to equality of opportunity influence their attitudes to the desirable extent and direction of state activity.

Some Conservatives from Disraeli onwards have argued that laissez faire capitalism left to its own devices would generate excessive economic inequalities which in Disraeli’s terms would divide the UK into “Two Nations” of rich and poor and that it was therefore desirable that the scope of government activity should be extended to encompass legislation to improve working conditions, housing and public health so as to create a more harmonious “One Nation” society. Further information on the Conservative One Nation tradition  and on the Conservative New Right is provided below.

 

One Nation Conservatism, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty.

 

Click here for an article on One Nation Conservatism by Professor Tim Bale. ** He describes One Nation as" one of the most used and abused terms in the Tory lexicon."

Click here for the Economist on One Nation Conservatism**

Click here for Tim Bale article on Theresa May July 2016

Click here for A Battle for the Meaning of Conservatism. Ben Waite

 

Was David Cameron a One Nation Conservative? Answer: It depends upon what you mean by One Nation Conservative..

It  might be suggested that in broad terms  the C19th history of the Conservative Party encapsulated an ongoing tension between support for classic  free market liberalism and paternalistic reformist Conservatism. More recently in the post-2nd World War period it has often been claimed that Thatcherism was to be associated primarily with economic liberalism [and social conservatism]  whereas One Nation Conservatism was the latest incarnation of paternalistic reformist Conservatism. However  in the last 10-15 years or so it has also been re- emphasised that Disraelian One Nation Conservatism sought a balance between government intervention to secure social and economic reform and private enterprise to provide improved living standards for all , including the poorest. Also , increasingly , there have been disputes within the Conservative Party as to where this balance should be located leading to competing interpretations as to the exact scope and nature of One Nation Conservatism . Thus whether expert political analysts choose to describe John Major or David Cameron or Theresa May or Kenneth Clarke or Iain Duncan Smith as One Nation Conservatives depends to a considerable extent upon the definitions of One Nation Conservatism which they choose to adopt.  I hope that this point will become clearer  as we consider some aspects of recent Conservative  policy

It may be that some  early evidence of One Nation Conservative themes can be found in Peel's Tamworth Manifesto of 1835, in the romantic, quasi-feudal and anti-industrial Conservatism of the poets Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge [who in their youth had supported the French Revolution] , and in the writings of Burke and Bolingbroke. However the origins of One Nation Conservatism  are most often associated with Benjamin Disraeli who had actually pointed  to the existence of two nations [the rich and the poor] in his novels written in the 1830s and 1840s and in speeches in the early 1870s and introduced  a series of  social reforms during his Conservative administrations of 1874-1880 which embodied the principles of One Nation [although apparently Disraeli never in fact used that term.]

The differences between Disraelian Conservatism and its traditional precursors should not be overstated. Traditional conservatives defended the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power as essentially desirable and inevitable but claimed also that those in authority should always be conscious that  with their obvious privileges  came obligations to  safeguard  the interests of the poor and disadvantaged. Consequently so long as these obligations were accepted  societies could nevertheless be seen as organic  communities in which the interests of all citizens were being protected despite the existence of manifest political , economic and social inequalities.  Disraeli  agreed essentially with these traditional conservative ideas  but believed also  that  the social harmony of British society was under threat  and that government action was necessary  if these growing threats to social harmony were to be defused.

In particular Disraeli  argued  that the acceptance by the growing class of industrialists [and by the Liberal Party]  of the doctrines of unregulated laissez  faire had caused them to lose sight of their obligation  to protect the interests of their workers leading to excessive exploitation and inequality .This same growth of inequality  was likely  to increase the popularity of dangerous  socialist ideas suggesting that late c19th England was characterised  not by cross class social harmony but  by gross class exploitation which  might well contain the seeds of social revolution. Disraeli's essential aim therefore was to reassert the politics of national social harmony  via a series of social reforms  which world improve the lot of the working classes  and undermine the arguments of both liberals and socialists while simultaneously safeguarding the interests of traditional political and economic elites .In this respect much has been made of his statement that "The Palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy which may in turn may be linked with the important statement of Conservative principle by Edmund Burke that "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its own conservation."

Social Harmony  among all social classes could best be sustained via the protections of important traditional institutions  such as the Monarchy , the landed aristocracy  and the Church of England each of which had  contributed to the harmonies of feudal society [as Disraeli saw it and could continue to do so  in the newly industrialising society. "Noblesse oblige" had been an important principle in feudal society and should remain  Also although Disraeli had not always been a great supporter of British Imperialism he came by the 1870s  to argue that the growth of the British Empire  could solidify Britain's sense of itself as a great nation  and also bring significant improvements to working class living standards.

In order to promote the emphasis on organic national unity Disraeli  emphasised that the Conservative Party aspire above all to be a national party governing  not in the interest of any one particular class but in the interests of the nation as a whole. Consequently it would be necessary  to introduce a range  of social reforms  in the areas of public health, housing and working conditions which would safeguard the interests of the working classes which meant that the Conservative Party would become at least to some extent the party of government intervention rather than the party of unregulated laissez faire which is how Disraeli characterised the Liberal party.

Disraeli's policies were guided partly by a principled wish to improve the circumstances of working class voters but also by a clear recognition that, as a result of the extension of the franchise, the Conservatives would need to attract increasing support from working class voters if they were to win subsequent General Elections. Thus  critics have emphasised that the Disraelian emphasis on social reform and British greatness was designed primarily  to foster increased working class Conservatism which would support the more or less continued economic and political dominance of existing elites. It was further argued that the actual scope of Disraelian social reforms was limited for the following reasons.

  1. Disraeli did not  envisage significant increases in taxation to finance new social reforms which necessarily meant that the scope of such reforms would be limited.
  2. He believed that Local Authorities rather than Central Government were best placed to introduce such reforms and his legislative initiatives were permissive rather than mandatory. That is:  he gave Local Authorities permission to introduce  reforms but did not force them to do so and in many cases local authorities did not choose  to introduce significant reforms.
  3. With regard to Disraeli's personal role in the development of social reform policies it has been claimed that  although he may have been crucial in setting the overall direction of his administration  he tended to speak in generalities and to leave the development of policy details to others; that as a he grew older  he no longer had the energy  to play an active role in the development of domestic social policies even if he actually wanted to do so because he had a far greater interest in foreign policy.
  4.  In any case  although  future Conservative politicians sympathetic to social reform  have made much of Disraeli's contribution  it has been suggested that they have tended to overstate their case in the belief that that presentation of the Conservative Party as a party of long term social reform  would strengthen their electoral prospects in the 20th and 21st Centuries..

Very importantly  although Disraeli hoped to improve the lot of  the working class by means of some government social and economic reform he also believed that traditional structures of economic and political power should remain intact and that the private sector of the economy had a vital role to play in improving workers' living standards  The political theorist David Seawright illustrates Disraeli's position via the following two  quotations. To improve and elevate  the "condition of the multitude"..."no important step can be taken unless you can effect some reduction in their hours of labour and humanise their toil"  However then Disraeli immediately adds "the great problem is to be able to achieve such results  without the violation of those principles of economic truth upon which the prosperity of states depends "

In summary , therefore Disraelian One Nation  Conservatism involved three basic elements: the defence of traditional institutions such as the Monarchy, the aristocracy , the Church of England and the British Empire ; the focus of the unity of the nation rather than social class division and the need for  a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective  operation of capitalist private enterprise. It is necessary to use government intervention to improve the living standards of the people but this must be done in a way which safeguards the continuation of a private enterprise system which is the ultimate necessary guarantor of rising living standards. An important implication is that Disraeli's harmonious One Nation Society would remain unequal and hierarchical but that hierarchy and inequality are conducive to good government and economic efficiency.

Insofar as  One Nation Conservatism in general requires a balance between government economic and social intervention and the continuation of private enterprise it is clear that there could be disputes within the Conservative Party as to the actual degree of government intervention which was desirable and there were considerable differences in the variants of One Nation Conservatism which reappeared subsequently  in the Tory Democracy of Randolph Churchill , in the reforming ideas of F. E. Smith [subsequently Lord Birkenhead] and  in the policies Baldwin and Chamberlain Governments   and the rather more radical ideas of the young Harold Macmillan and his supporters in the 1920s and 1930s  

However the emphasis on government -sponsored social and economic reform  within the One Nation Conservative tradition reached its zenith in the policies of the so-called Right Progressive Conservative Governments of 1951-64.  for it was then that the Conservatives accepted that although private enterprise was to remain preeminent  significant economic and social reform would also be necessary in order to advance the living standards and future prospects of working class people.

For much of the post 2nd World War period the Conservative Party was led and dominated by so-called Right Progressives [or One Nation Conservatives]  such as R. Butler, I. Macleod, H. Macmillan and Q. Hogg who harked back to the Disraeli tradition of One Nation Conservatism . They were prepared to accept that unrestricted laissez- faire would generate excessive inequality of outcome and undermine equality of opportunity and so were pragmatically prepared to accept also  the expansion of state activity ushered in via by the 1945-51 Labour government programmes involving selective nationalisation, expansion of the welfare state, Keynesian economic policies and tripartite decision making all of which were designed in various ways to improve the living standards of working class people. [ This was the era of the so-called Post-War Butskellite Consensus  although you may also click here for some discussion of whether or not the Post War Consensus was actually a myth.]

 Once in Government the One Nation Conservatives broadly retained these Labour programmes initiatives while emphasising that the most profitable sectors of the economy would remain in private control and  supporting the continuation of economic inequality because of their belief that private property was a pre-requisite for liberty and that capitalist economic inequality could best promote economic growth and rising living standards. However they also recognised that full employment , the involvement of the trade unions and business interests in tripartite economic decision making and the expansion of the welfare state were necessary to improve health, housing, education and to reduce poverty if the UK was to be a cohesive One Nation community.

Also by the 1960s Harold Macmillan's administration had begun to experiment with increased government intervention in the form of economic planning and incomes policies [via the setting up of the National Economic Development Council and the National Incomes Commission  [Neddy and Nicky as they were called] and believed also that the UK's entry into the EEC could improve the competitiveness of the UK economy However, it could be noted that the Conservatives of this greater role for the state was partly an electoral necessity and that it in no way challenged the existence of the capitalist system based on private property ownership .Conservative Governments at this time accepted most of Labour's nationalisation programme but as expected, given their generalised support for capitalist private enterprise had no inclination to expand the scope of nationalisation.  Furthermore while they were prepared to expand welfare spending there were already disputes within government as to the levels of welfare spending which were actually acceptable. These disputes were set to intensify

Ted Heath became leader of the Conservative Party in 1965 and immediately embarked upon a comprehensive review of Conservative policy. However by the tim eof the 166 General Election  the reviews was as yet incomplete  and for a variety of reasons it came as no surprise  when the Conservatives were defeated quite heavily by Labour in the 1966 General Election and few Conservatives seemed to blame Heath for the scale of the defeat. In 1970 the Conservatives met  at the Selsdon Park Hotel  to draw together the results of their policy review in readiness for the next General Election and the presentation of the outcome of this meeting in the mass media suggested that the Conservatives were now engaged in a significant  shift to the Right in terms of their policies on the economy, the welfare state and law and order. However it has also been suggested  that this alleged shift to the Right has been much overstated  partly  as a result of Harold Wilson's characterisation of the emergence of an economically liberal , socially Conservative "Selsdon Man."  [It is also suggested that Wilson's characterisation gave Conservative policy an apparent  coherence that it did have in reality and thereby helped the Conservatives to win the 1970 General Election

It was widely expected  that Labour would win in 1970 but in the event the Conservatives were returned to power  with a 31 seat overall majority. Heath's key policy initiatives included early UK entry into the EEC [as it then was] , the reform of industrial relations and a  refusal to provide government assistance to unprofitable failing companies [or lame ducks as they were called.] He also stated initially that prices and incomes policies would not be used to control the rate of inflation.

However Heath's attempt to reform industrial relations failed as the trade unions refused to comply with the Industrial Relations Act and as unemployment rose above 1million in 1972 he felt it necessary to reflate the economy via Keynesian methods, to introduce a highly interventionist Industry Act and to nationalise Rolls Royce and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders  to maintain their viability. Also as the rate of inflation increased Heath decided that a prices and incomes policy would after all be necessary.Thus it came to be argued that Heath had initially distanced himself from the politics of the post war consensus  and introduced policies which were subsequently described by some as "proto-Thatcherite" but as a response to rising had returned to the politics of the post- war consensus in what was later described  as a dramatic "U turn".

The UK entered the EEC in 1973 but by this time Heath's government was beginning to face increasing difficulties as the rate of inflation began to accelerate partly due to massive increases in the price of oil and other imports in 1973. Then The NUM refused to comply with Heath's Prices and Income policy which led to a major strike  which prompted Heath to call a General Election in February 1974 which he narrowly lost. Although  The Conservatives had won narrowly more votes than Labour , Labour had won more seats albeit not enough seats for an overall majority and after a failed attempt by Ted Heath to negotiate a coalition deal with the Liberal , Labour were returned to power as a minority government. Wilson called another  General Election in October 1974 in the hope of gaining a substantial majority but succeeded  only in gaining  a small overall majority of 3 seats . Nevertheless having lost 2 successive General Elections  Heath was replaced as Conservative Party leader in 1975 by Margaret Thatcher.

It is argued that in government Heath endorsed proto-Thatcherite policies in 1970-72 but reverted to  One Nation consensus politics in 1972-4. Some have argued that this was a very substantial U turn whereas others argued that Heath's initial support for proto-Thatcherism was limited and that the extent of his U turn was therefore overstated. This is a matter of controversy but what is certain is that once Ted Heath returned to the backbenches he  was a vociferous critic of Thatcherism  and a great supporter of the politics of One Nation Conservatism. 

Click here for a review by David Marquand of the biography of Ted Heath by Philip Ziegler

Click here for BBC documentary: Heath versus Wilson ; The 10 Year Duel

 

We may conclude that Conservative Party leaders from 1945 to perhaps 1975  adhered broadly to the balance of policies which David Seawright [and others]  have said are at the heart of One Nation Conservatism: that is they accepted that  One Nation Conservatism involves achieving a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective  operation of capitalist private enterprise. In terms of outcomes under Conservative Governments 1951-64  near full employment was maintained , there was a steady if unspectacular increase in average living standards , income and wealth equality increased and higher  expenditure on health, education, housing and social security did serve to improve the incomes and life chances of average working class  living standards. Nevertheless significant inequalities in income ,wealth and power remained ; there was still extensive relative poverty and some absolute poverty  and continuing  social class inequalities in educational attainment and life expectancy.  In my view these were recognisably One Nation Conservative governments but although their management of the welfare state did to some extent alleviate extreme inequality and poverty the scope of these reforms should not be overstated.  

 

Even in the era of the post-war consensus many Conservatives continued to hold classical liberal pro-market or traditional Tory views and especially from the 1970s onwards the views of the Right Progressives were challenged  by the  neo-liberal strand of New Right thought   associated especially with the theoretical ideas of academics such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman  and with their development in the UK in pro-Conservative think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs , the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies. Among the first modern UK Conservative politicians to espouse elements of New Right thinking were Enoch Powell and Keith Joseph although it was only when Mrs Thatcher,[ having become leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 ]consolidated her hold on power in the early 1980s that New Right ideas became more influential in government.

 

In the post- Thatcherite era there have been disagreements  as to the extent to which Prime Ministers Major and Cameron continued with essentially  Thatcherite policies or reverted , at least to some extent , to One Nation Conservatism and similar controversies also surround the ideological position of Prime Minister Theresa May. These disagreements arise partly as a result of competing interpretations of the nature of One Nation Conservatism itself . I shall return to these issues after consideration of the Thatcherite era. However you may click here for the document section dealing with Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism 1990-2017

 

Thatcherite Conservatism, Economic Equality/Inequality and Poverty.

 

The individual components of Thatcherite Conservatism are listed below. Thatcherite Conservatives UK have accepted liberal-based beliefs in laissez faire and the market mechanism as well as a strong belief in the inevitability and desirability of economic inequality of outcome  and the sanctity of private property.  This set of beliefs combined with criticisms of excessively wasteful state bureaucracy and the evils of socialism have encouraged them to support economic measures designed to increase economic inequality of outcome as a means of increasing financial incentives to hard work in order to secure higher rates of economic growth.

 

Insofar as Mrs Thatcher and her supporters have accepted this set of beliefs they have been described as neo-liberals rather than conservatives. However it has been argued also that Mrs Thatcher’s version of New Right ideology has involved a combination of neo-liberal and neo-Conservative ideology in that as well as accepting the importance of the market mechanism she and her supporters have believed that a strong state would be necessary to re-establish law and order, to maintain law and order in the face of significant industrial disputes such as the miners’ strike of 1984 -85, to increase expenditure on defence in order to counter the perceived USSR threat and strengthen the role of central government in the provision of state education which was believed to be failing to meet the needs of the capitalist economy. Consequently Andrew Gamble has argued, very importantly that Mrs Thatcher’s beliefs may be summarised as involving a belief in the free economy and the strong state. 

 

 

 

  •    The New Right, Neo- Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism: A Checklist

  Dimensions of Neo- Liberalism

  • Support for Individual Freedom
  • Support for the Market Mechanism and the Private Sector
  • Support for Economic Inequality combined with Equality of Opportunity
  • Against Socialism
  • Against the Post-War Consensus [Click here for Thatcherism and the End  of the Post War Consensus ][
    • Support for lower levels of government spending and lower rates of taxation
    • Support for Monetarist rather than Keynesian methods of macroeconomic management.
    • Support for privatisation as an alternative to nationalisation
    • Support for council house sales and wider share ownership especially via the privatisation of nationalised industriesm
    • Support for deregulation of the private sector of the economy
    • Support for lower levels of spending on welfare
    • Support for the privatisation of welfare services
    • Support for Private Health care and Private Education
    • Support for "Quasi-Markets in State Health and Education services
    • Supporting the reduction of  local government autonomy
    • Click here for a very useful article on neo-liberal attitudes to EU membership
    • Supporting the reduction of  "excessive" trade union power

   Dimensions  of Neo-Conservatism

    • Support for Traditional Sources  of Authority
      • Support for the State
      • Support for strong, punitive approaches to law and order
      • Support for "traditional approaches to morality
      • Support for the "traditional family"
      • Support for "traditional" approaches to education
      • Support for "national culture" rather than multi-culturalism
      • A tendency to Euroscepticism

Also the supporters of the New Right were stanchly anti-Communist for both neo-liberal and neo-conservative reasons.  

 

 

It is  generally argued that Conservative governments under Mrs Thatcher distanced themselves from Keynesian methods and based their economic theories much more on monetarist policies embodied in the so-called Medium Term Financial Strategy which involved 4 yearly targets for government spending, government borrowing [as measured by the PSBR i.e. the public sector borrowing requirement], and the money supply although even by the early 1980s it was being suggested the Conservatives were actually adopting a more pragmatic approach to economic policy and adhering less strictly to the dictates of monetarist theory.

Whatever the complexities of the economic debate it is the case that unemployment did rise very sharply under the Conservatives at the beginning of the 1980s. Mrs Thatcher and her supporters claimed that this was a price worth paying to reduce the rate of inflation  and increase the international competitiveness of the UK economy .The rate of inflation , after rising in 1979-1980 did fall as unemployment remained high into the late 1980s.There then followed a period of severe economic instability between 1988 and 1992 as unemployment first fell with a consequent rise in inflation followed by a rise in unemployment with a consequent fall in inflation. Following the exit of the UK from the ERM in 1992 we have had relative economic stability under both Conservative and Labour governments with steady economic growth , falling inflation and falling unemployment.  Supporters of Thatcherism argue that, in the final analysis, her economic policies were necessary to create the conditions for future economic stability and growth , a conclusion which is rejected by her critics. [Unfortunately I cannot pursue these controversies any further at this point.]

 

Mrs Thatcher and her supporters believed correctly that between 1945 and 1979  the taxation and social security system , taken as a whole, had been an instrument of redistribution from the rich to the poor but the effects had been to weaken economic incentives for the rich and the comfortably off  which ultimately resulted in reduced living standards for the poor. Egalitarian taxation and social security policies resulted in increased equality via a leveling down of incomes whereas what was required were policies which might increase inequality but would also increase economic growth and enable some of the financial benefits of economic growth to "trickle down" to the poor. Consequently in the Thatcher years [1979-90 ] there were gradual reductions in the standard rate of income taxation [from 35p to 30p] and even greater reductions in the highest rate of income taxation [from 83p to 40p] while rates if VAT [a regressive tax] were increased in order to offset  the effects of the reduction in income taxation.

 

Furthermore the Social Security system had also been abused by many welfare recipients who were claiming benefits to which they were not actually entitled and the system was helping to create a dependency culture in which welfare recipients  came to depend more on State "hand outs " than on their own initiative which according especially to Charles Murray, was leading to the development of an increasingly unemployable underclass of welfare dependants .Therefore according to the Thatcherites, rates of unemployment benefits should be reduced in order to force the work-shy back into work.

 

Within capitalist economies there are in any case tendencies for the wages of skilled workers to increase faster than those of unskilled workers and these trends combined with Mrs Thatcher’s taxation and social security policies and the growth of unemployment  to generate very significant increases in inequality of outcome and in relative poverty. Many analysts argue also that increases in income inequality actually undermine prospects of equality of opportunity and meritocracy

 

  Nevertheless the Thatcherites argued that increases in income inequality would increase economic incentives to work, save and invest which would stimulate economic growth and indirectly improve the incomes of the poorest via "trickle down economics and that those who emphasised the usefulness of the concept of relative poverty were basically misguided egalitarians and that the concept of absolute poverty was a more meaningful concept. Mrs Thatcher claimed, furthermore, that there was no reason why such increases in income inequality should result in reduced equality of opportunity in which she remained a firm believer. In her view the quasi- marketisation of the education system would serve to increase its overall efficiency and hence improve educational the prospects for disadvantaged pupils but this approach to education policy has not been without its critics.

 

Thatcherite economic and social policies came under severe criticism from by politicians associated with the One Nation tradition  within the Conservative Party [ although as we shall see there are ongoing disputes as to the exact nature of One Nation Conservatism] . Thus ,for example, Sir Ian Gilmour argued that Keynesian methods of economic management were superior to the Monetarist theories supported by the Thatcherites and that these misguided monetarist  economic policies had unleashed an entirely avoidable economic recession leading to the rise in unemployment of more than 3million. Mass unemployment had resulted in the growth of mass poverty and Mrs Thatcher was unjustified in blaming poverty on the fecklessness of the poor [ as per Charles Murray's theories of the underclass ] when  when in reality  the main cause of unemployment was the lack of available jobs caused by Mrs Thatcher's own economic policies. Also although Sir Ian Gilmour emphasised  that Conservatives " had never supported equality " the degree of inequality generated partly by Mrs Thatcher's income tax reductions which disproportionately benefited the rich were a a main contributor to increased economic inequality. Nevertheless despite these powerful criticisms of Thatcherism Sir Ian Gilmour did agree in principle with the Thatcherites' programme of privatisation and with industrial relations policies designed to reduce the powers of the trade unions. Furthermore he believed that it was entirely necessary for the Miner's Strike of 1984-5  to be defeated. More recently Ken Clarke who is widely regarded as a One Nation Conservative has also stated that he agreed with much of Margaret Thatcher's economic policies.

 

John Gray  [Is Conservatism Dead? John Gray and David Willetts1997]  provided another powerful critique of the neoliberal policies which he believed were practised by both the Thatcher and Major administrations between 1979 and 1997.Is Conservatism Dead is divided into two sections in which Gray and Willetts debate whether neoliberalism is inconsistent [Gray] or consistent [Willetts]  with the continued existence of flourishing communities. I am unable to do justice to the complexity of both author's arguments but in simplified summary form Gray's arguments may be outlined as follows. [This part of the document may be useful if you are writing essay on Conservatism and  Community]

  1. Neoliberalism results in the growth of free trade which leads to  the relocation of manufacturing jobs from the advanced capitalist countries to the "Third World" where labour costs are much lower.  This results in increasing unemployment , income inequality and poverty especially in the regions of the advanced capitalist economies which are traditionally associated with manufacturing.

  2.  Neoliberalism promotes individualistic materialism whereby our status in society is increasingly measured by our abilities to purchase better cars or better houses which diminishes the kind of status which could be derived from simply being a community-spirited good citizen.

  3. The combination of unemployment, inequality and poverty with individualistic materialism in the economic sphere carries over into our personal relationships which further undermines the institutions of marriage and the nuclear family .

  4. The  decline of community weakens the informal controls which might once have reduced tendencies to criminality  so that rates of criminality and incarceration increase.

  5. Neoliberalism depends for its legitimacy upon continuous economic growth and rising living standards but economic growth may be impeded by periodic economic recessions and more fundamentally by the shortage of resources and ecological damage caused by economic growth.

  6. Unemployment, inequality, poverty and insecurity is likely  to result in the growth of populist and possibly fascist political movements which seriously threaten the continued existence of liberal democratic political institutions.

  7. Key political institutions such as the Civil Service and the Universities and key professions such medicine and teaching are infected by neo-liberal ideas which mean that they can no longer operate in the public interest .

The expansion of neoliberalism is therefore incompatible with the traditional conservative support for viable communities. Neo liberal policies generate rapid and unpredictable social changes which undermine  communities and in its doctrinaire support for limited government it turns its back on conservative pragmatism and scepticism. John Gray certainly certainly does not call for a reassertion of traditional family values and moral standards. These would fail to take account of  much increased diversity of contemporary advanced capitalist societies. Conservatism is dead, according to John Gray, because the modern Conservative Party [as of 1997] has no strategy for reconciling economic policies with the strengthening of communities.

 

 [ In the next section of the book David Willetts argues that it is possible to envisage a "Civic Conservatism" which can combine neoliberalism and communitarianism  and Willetts' ideas have to some extent fed into David Cameron's development of the "Big Society " strategy which is discussed later in this document where it is argued that the strategy did not prove to be especially effective.]

 

If we refer once again to the basic idea that as One Nation Conservatism involves achieving a balance between necessary intervention by government to bring about social and economic reform and policies to safeguard the effective  operation of capitalist private enterprise  it seems fair to say that under the leadership of Mrs Thatcher the Conservatives departed from overall One Nation principles in the sense that although they sought to increase the overall dynamism of the private sector the potential benefits of economic growth did not trickle down significantly to the more disadvantaged sections of the population. Instead there were significant increases in economic inequality and relative poverty  which might well reduce prospects for social mobility and equality of opportunity. The urban riots of the early 1980s pointed to the alienation of inner city youth while the social theorist John Gray who had initially been a strong supporter of Thatcherism now argued that Thatcherite policies had resulted in a serious decline of any sense of community which again pointed to a disjunction between Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism.

 

 

For Discussion

However it should be recognised that although Margaret Thatcher did not often refer to One Nation Conservatism she did on occasion make the case that her Government was in fact a One Nation Government. Click here for a 1985 speech .

 

  • What arguments does Margaret Thatcherism use in support of her claim to be a One Nation Conservative?

  • Can you think of any other arguments in support of her claims?

  • How would you argue against the idea that Margaret Thatcher would be seen as a One Nation Conservative?

  • Can the term "One Nation Conservative" be defined with certainty?  

 

 

 

The following diagrams illustrate the rapid growth of income inequality [measured by Gini Coefficient trends]  and Poverty in the era of Thatcherism but also that subsequent Conservative and Labour Governments were unable to reverse the growth of income inequality . Thus on the basis of these data it would appear that Income inequality and poverty [although they did not increase as in the Thatcher era ] also did not fall either which calls into question whether, in terms of policy outcomes John Major could be said to have led  a One Nation Conservative Government [ See below for further details]  Also the record of Labour Governments between 1997  and 2008/9 left much to be desired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please note that you may access more detailed information on the New Right and Thatcherism here and that information on possible criticisms of New Right and Thatcherite ideology may be found here.

 

Economic Equality, Economic Inequality  and Poverty 1990-2017. Post-Thatcherism and One Nation Conservatism?

 

It has is widely claimed that despite some appearances to the contrary under the successive Conservative  leaderships of  John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard the Conservative Party in government and opposition continued to accept the main principles of New Right ideology.

 

John Major became leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister after defeating Michael Heseltine and Douglas Hurd  in a leadership election which followed the resignation of Margaret Thatcher   Although John Major's 185 votes were 2 short of the 187 votes required to secure outright victory Michael Heseltine [131 votes] and Hurd [56 votes] quickly conceded  victory to John Major   so that no second ballot was necessary. In office the major  difficulties which John Major faced were associated with the weakness of the UK economy, disunity in the Conservative Party over Europe, a series of scandals involving Conservative Ministers and MPs [the so-called politics of Sleaze] and the emergence of Tony Blair as a dynamic leader of the "New" Labour Party.

 

Despite Major's emollient  personality and his perhaps somewhat wistful statements that  he wished to see " a country at ease with itself" and to create " a classless society"[ by which he meant the expansion of opportunities for upward social mobility in a capitalist society which would nevertheless remain unequal rather than  the abolition of private property ownership and the demise of the Bourgeoisie as proposed by Marxists or even the radical egalitarianism proposed by democratic socialists] and his self -identification with One nation Conservatism several political analysts argued that in reality  he continued and actually extended the Thatcherite Strategy. For example in their particularly  critical assessment Mark Garnett and Ian Gilmour argued that  although One Nation Toryism  is not a "rigid creed ".....  "however One nation Toryism is envisaged or interpreted  the Conservative governments since 1979 come nowhere near it " and "Major made no significant attempt  to lead the party back  into the Conservative One Nation tradition" ands in many ways his government became even more right wing than hers [ i.e. than Margaret Thatcher's governments]. [Whatever Happened to the Tories: The Conservatives since 1945. Ian Gilmour and Mark Garnett 1997]

 

In support of this line of argument they cite the privatisation of the railways , the abolition of wages councils  which had been designed to protect the wages of low paid workers, the abolition of the NEDC [which had been a key forum for tripartite economic decision making], the toleration of high salaries for the rich along with the continued demonisation  of the poor as welfare scroungers  and the continued acceptance of regressive patterns of taxation.  These arguments are reiterated strongly in The Major Premiership [edited by Peter Dorey 1999].

 

Also in  a contribution to very useful collection of essays [John Major : An Unsuccessful Prime Minister? K. Hickson and B. Williams eds. 2017] Kevin Hickson agrees that Major departed considerably from the One Nation Conservative tradition  but argues that he had little alternative but to do so given the disunity which existed in the Conservative Party and the emergence of Tony Blair as a charismatic leader of a Labour Party now located much closer to the centre of British Politics. Furthermore Hickson argued that in John Major one can in fact see a mixture of ideological Influences: traditional Toryism, Thatcherism, Centrism and One nation Conservatism. [Further information on this study can be found via the following link:  "John Major: An Unsuccessful Prime Minister".**  This book is a must read if you require further information on John major as PM.] 

 

Also Click here ** for  for Steve Richards' 2013 article on John Major which suggests that he may reasonably be associated with the One Nation Tradition. We should repeat , however we choose to characterise John Major in ideological terms  his Governments did not succeed in reducing income inequality and poverty between 1990 and 1997 although it has to be admitted that this may have been to a considerable extent because of the difficult economic circumstances which his Governments faced especially in 1990-1992.

 

 

I hope to provide further information on the Conservatives 1997-2005 at a later date.

William Hague did show some signs in the early stages of his leadership of attempting to shift the Conservative party towards the centre ground; Iain Duncan Smith was much exercised by the problems of long term poverty and Michael Howard too claimed that he would lead the Conservative Party from the Centre  Yet in none of these cases was the ideology of Thatcherism significantly challenged.once his initial attempts to challenge New Labour on Health Education and Welfare issues proved unpopular William Hague reverted to an emphasis on social authoritarianism and Euro- scepticism in an ultimately forlorn attempt to improve Conservative poll ratings: Iain Duncan Smith’s analyses of poverty were to a considerable extent derived from New Right theories of the Underclass which were supported especially by Charles Murray: and Michael Howard’s claims to new found moderation were rejected out of hand by those who remembered his previous strong support for Thatcherite ideology.

 

 

 

This brief discussion of the ideological stance of John Major illustrates that by the 1990s the meaning of One Nation Conservatism had become subject to competing interpretations. One the one hand it has been associated with the policies of Conservative Governments 1951-64 and to some extent 1970-74 and with detailed statements by Ian Gilmour and his supporters in which they have focused on the importance of government intervention to promote social and economic reforms designed to improve the living standards and life chances of the disadvantaged.

 

Sir Ian Gilmour was  openly critical of the  macroeconomic and social policies in the Thatcher/Major era policies and critical also of the growth of poverty  and of the Thatcher/Major tendency to blame the poor for their own personal failings rather than the misguided nature of Thatcher/Major  welfare policies themselves. Nevertheless he made it clear that although greater equality was now necessary no Conservative had ever supported total equality and he also accepted that Conservative privatisations were likely to increase economic growth and that further restriction of trade union power was essential for otherwise trade unions could well become a threat to democracy. It could therefore be argued that Sir Ian Gilmour had not neglected the importance of a strong private sector as contributing to the living standards of the disadvantaged

 

This approach has been supported by Richard Hayton in an article written in 2014 in which he identifies One Nation Conservatism with the Conservative Governments of 1951-64 and claims the One Nation Conservative approach was discarded by Mrs Thatcher and is unlikely to be  reasserted. in the future . Click here for Richard Hayton 2014 article "The Demise of the One Nation Tradition"** in which he states that " "It is consequently very difficult to foresee a renewal of the One Nation tradition in the contemporary Conservative Party. While future generations of Conservative politicians will no doubt exploit the beguiling rhetoric of One Nation , as an ideological tradition it has been relegated to the very margins of the party's politics."

 

Also in an article entitled Ideology and Values [in David Cameron and Conservative Renewal : The Limits of Modernisation Gillian Peele and John Francis Editors 2017" ] Richard Hayton claims that "despite some rhetorical distancing from the Thatcher era  Cameron largely failed to alter the trajectory of contemporary conservatism which remains essentially Thatcherite "

 

However other analysts  harked back to the original  statements of Disraeli  that social and economic reforms were  to occur within an essentially market economy based upon private enterprise  which was crucial  to overall improvement in living standards and that significant wealth and income inequalities were actually necessary to  promote the economic growth on which rising living standards depended. On this view One Nation Conservatism involved a judicious mixture of government sponsored social and economic reforms  as well as reliance upon the private sector of the economy and Sir Ian Gilmour might be presented as deemphasising the importance of the private sector as a means of attacking the policies of the Thatcher- Major era.

 

Furthermore David Willetts argued in the 1990s that his Civic Conservatism involved a judicious balance between reliance on the private sector of the economy and the promotion of communitarian institutions and that "the One nation Group were a group of young Conservative thinkers ...who were rebelling against Baldwinian corporatism  and the nearly Bennite socialism of Harold Macmillan's  tract misleadingly called "The Middle Way."  {Is Conservatism Dead John Gray and David Willetts 1997]

 

 David Willetts ,David Seawright and others pointed out  that the original One Nation Group formed in the Conservative Party in 1950 had contained MPs from both the Right and the Left of the Conservative Party who were keen to establish such as balance while in an article written in 2005 Damien Green stated that One Nation Conservatives believe it is the duty of government to take action to reduce poverty and deprivation and that an unfettered free market will not alone achieve this task but also that the history of the One Nation Groups showed that "simplistic analysis of this group or One Nation thought generally as being on the "left" of the party is wrong."

 

Also  Kenneth Clarke who was and still is strongly associated with One Nation politics nevertheless supported much of the Thatcherite economic programme  although he claimed to be more supportive of government spending and to be more liberal on social issues. Thus in his recent autobiography [Kind of Blue 2017]  Clarke [who had served as  Minister in Mrs Thatcher's administrations]  describes himself as an economic liberal and a social liberal and hence a One Nation Conservative.

 

 Mr Clarke states that he agreed with much of the Thatcherite neo-liberal agenda because he thought that it was a recipe for greater economic efficiency the benefits of which could in principle trickle down to the poor. For example  he agreed with the Conservatives 1981 budget which was so strongly criticised by Sir Ian Gilmour and other "One Nation Conservatives"; agreed with the Conservatives' privatisation programme; agreed with tighter regulation of the trade unions; and agreed with the increased quasi-marketisation of the health and education services and as Chancellor of the Exchequer in John Major's Government believed that it was undesirable to reverse the income tax reductions introduced by Mrs Thatcher's Governments because increases in income tax would adversely affect economic incentives. Thus , for Mr Clarke there was no necessary conflict between support for neo-liberal policies because the benefits of such policies could in principle trickle down to the poor.

 

This plot thickened even further following the resignation speech of Iain Duncan Smith who claimed that he was resigning because in his view Mr Osborne had disregarded the One Nation Conservative principles in which he {Iain Duncan Smith ] believed. This reminds us of the variability  and complexity of the term One Nation Conservative" . It might be argued that if the term One Nation Conservative can, at various times incorporate Disraeli, Enoch Powell, Harold Macmillan, Sir Ian Gilmour , Kenneth Clarke, David, Cameron, George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May the precise meaning of the term must be at least a little uncertain.  Remember also that on occasion even Margaret Thatcher sought to identify herself with the One Nation tradition.

 

Furthermore under the leadership of Tony Blair the Labour Party appeared to accept much of the Thatcherite economic agenda [ privatisation, low rates of income taxation,  trade union reform, social security reform ] while claiming that this could be consistent with a revised , modernised version of social democracy. Many may therefore have believed that if such policies were consistent with a modernised social democracy surely they could be consistent also with a modernised One Nation Conservatism. This apparently was the basis of a newly party political consensus.

 

Clearly it has always been recognised that One Nation Conservatism is a term which is subject to competing interpretations and these problems of interpretation were revisited ted in a short article by Professor Tim Bale [written  soon after Theresa May had replaced David Cameron as Prime Minister] in which he argued that it was necessary to distinguish between the mass media and the purist perspectives on One Nation Conservatism  . Thus it would appear that in Professor Bale's view  the purist perspectives on One Nation Conservatism  was to be found in the One Nation Group's emphasis on the need for balance between government intervention and support for the private sector whereas in the mass media greater emphasis is given to the kind of government intervention supported by the Conservative Government s of 1951, by Sir Ian Gilmour and by Harold Macmillan [ whom David Willetts {see above} adjudged guilty of "nearly Bennite Socialism"].

 

According to Professor Bale the Purists have lost the battle for public opinion but the since very concept of One Nation Conservatism is capable such competing interpretations it was no surprise that ideological controversies over its nature were ongoing. Thus  Steve Richards wrote an article in 2013  suggesting that John Major could indeed be regarded as a modern One Nation Conservative;  Martin Kettle would write that David Cameron was without doubt a One Nation Conservative  and  Matthew D'Ancona would write that the 2015 Cameron administration was a One Nation  Government at its core but now had to deliver One Nation policies . Subsequently Ms Theresa May also would identify strongly with the One Nation tradition.

 

 

What is One Nation Conservatism..again?

Read the following articles and summarise some of the difficulties involved in defining One Nation Conservatism

Click here for an article on One Nation Conservatism by Professor Tim Bale. ** He describes One Nation as" one of the most used and abused terms in the Tory lexicon."

Click here for Richard Hayton 2014 article "The Demise of the One Nation Tradition"**

Guardian article on David Cameron as a One Nation Conservative [Martin Kettle]**

Spectator article on One Nation Conservatism**

Click here  for Guardian article  "Toryism has found its heart...." [Matthew D'Ancona Guardian]**

 

 

 

David Cameron's Conservatives and Ideology: General. 

 

Click here for an article on One Nation Conservatism by Professor Tim Bale. **He describes One Nation as" one of the most used and abused terms in the Tory lexicon."

Click here for short article on David Cameron: One Nation Conservative or Thatcherite**

Guardian article on David Cameron as a One Nation Conservative [Martin Kettle]**

*Spectator article on One Nation Conservatism**

Click here  for Guardian article  "Toryism has found its heart...." [Matthew D'Ancona Guardian] **

Click here for an article on the demise of  One Nation Conservatism by Richard Hayton**

Political Studies Association article ..Radicalism or Retreat?  The Ccnservatives under David Cameron**

In 2005 the Conservative Party went down to its 3rd consecutive General Election defeat albeit a narrower defeat than in 1997 and 2001. However in 2005 the Conservative Party was still perceived widely as the party of the privileged few rather than the many; as out of touch with ordinary people; as more preoccupied  with the interests of big business than with the interests of society as a whole; as unlikely to spend sufficient government money to defend public sector services and as generally critical of public sector workers; and as overly preoccupied with issues around law and order, taxation, the EU, immigration and asylum seekers; as outdated in its attitudes toward marriage and the family; and as unwilling to address sympathetically serious issues around national and international poverty , environment and development. With this catalogue of disadvantages it would be no simple matter to achieve victory in the next General Election but David Cameron would seek to do so by adopting and adapting policies both from the Thatcherite and the Blairite political agendas while differentiating the Conservative Party under his leadership from both Thatcherism and Blairism.

 

In recent years political analysts have often utilised the concept of political triangulation to analyse both broad party political strategies and specific party policies. Thus on many issues Tony Blair sought  to differentiate his own policy positions both from the more Right Wing policies associated with the Conservative Party and from more Left Wing policies associated with "old Labour" all of which enabled Blair to claim that his own policies reflected the influence of modernised,, moderate social democracy and ,at least as importantly, that they would correspond closely with the views of the median voter [as discovered via focus groups] with obvious electoral advantage to Labour in 1997, 2001 and 2005. It can similarly be argued that David Cameron's political strategy relied heavily on this idea of political triangulation in that he sought to differentiate the Conservative Party both from the the politics of Thatcherism and from the politics of Blairism  and subsequently of Brownism.

It has been argued also that David Cameron and his close advisers adopted an essentially two stage  strategy to restore the electoral prospects of the Conservative Party. Firstly he would aim  to address the negative image of the Conservative Party which was widely seen as so "nasty" or "toxic" that many voters had simply written off the party as a credible alternative government and in many cases had ceased to listen to the Conservatives even if and when they articulated plausible policies. In this respect much has been made of the findings that respondents  might initially support particular policies but would reject the same policies if they were first told that they were actually Conservative policies. Secondly once the overall image of the Party had improved it was hoped that Cameron might return to some extent to more traditional conservative themes in the hope that these might now receive a more sympathetic hearing from the electorate.

 Cameron would adopt  a variety of measures to improve the overall image of the party including greater emphasis on more salient electoral issues such as Health and Education and a de-emphasis of less salient issues such Europe , Taxation and Immigration which had been prioritised in the failed General Election campaigns of 2001 and 2005  but   David Cameron and his supporters believed also that once they had "detoxified" the Conservative Party and "rebranded" it  as a more centrist, caring, compassionate, environmentally friendly and liberal party they would  then be able re-emphasise traditional Conservative themes of immigration, asylum, law and order, taxation and Europe  but using language and tone which would not antagonise more centrist voters as had occurred in 2001 and 2005.

It had come to be recognised that many voters combine slightly left of centre views on the economy and public services  with rather authoritarian views on law and order and immigration and asylum and that  immigration and asylum and, perhaps to a lesser extent law and order, were increasingly salient issues in the 2005 and 2010 General Election. Thus the Conservative Party would practise the so-called "Politics of AND"::  Cameron's Conservative Party would be the Party of the NHS and  of law and order; the Party of State Education  and of stricter immigration controls  and in order to implement this strategy David Cameron did ,for example , make rather more authoritarian statements on immigration and crime in 2009 and 2010 than in the earlier years of his leadership. His response to the urban riots of 2011 embodied   a traditionally tough Conservative approach to law and order and a the introduction of the Troubled Families initiative which many analysts have subsequently claimed was misguided and ineffective.

 

David Cameron : Urban Riots and The Troubled Families Initiative

Click here and here and here for David Cameron's response to the Urban riots of 2011

Click here and here and here for the Troubled Families Initiative

 

 

There are certainly significant disputes surrounding the ideological beliefs of  David Cameron although it may be that these disputes may be at least partially resolved if we distinguish between  David Cameron's objectives and the policies designed to achieve them. Thus bearing in mind that from Disraeli onwards One Nation Conservatives always believed that any social and economic reforms which were introduced would operate in the context of a private enterprise economy which depended for its effectiveness on the economic incentives provided by a measure of economic inequality we might argue that from the 1990s onwards modern One Nation Conservatives increasingly came to believe that  One Nation objectives could be achieved via some considerable reliance on Thatcherite economic liberalism combined with other measures designed to safeguard the interests of the disadvantaged.

 

 As Leader of the Opposition David Cameron appeared keen to distance himself from the legacy of Thatcherism and in several respects to shift the Conservative Party towards the “centre ground” in a manner which he hoped nevertheless would not overly antagonise Thatcherites within the Party . Thus  while claiming that he is “not a particularly ideological politician” he has also identified himself as both an economic liberal and a social liberal supporting what he believes to be the economic benefits of Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies while also distancing himself from Thatcherite neo-conservatism on issues such as family policy including Single Sex Marriage and law and order.

 

He has  identified too himself with a Macmillanite version of One nation Conservatism and  although he continued to praise Thatcherite economic reforms he noted also that by 2010 there would be many new voters who knew little of Thatcherism; he stated that the Conservatives must challenge Labour in the key areas of health and education policy; he praised the work of public sector professionals ; he has emphasised the increased importance of environmental protection  and the continuing importance of foreign aid; and he signalled a significant shift in Conservative social policy by recognising the significance of both absolute and relative poverty. Also in a telling phrase that “There is such a thing as society but it is not the same thing as the state” he sought to distance himself both from Thatcherite individualism and from the excessively bureaucratised statism which he claimed was typical of New Labour policies. Instead he promised the development of “The Big Society”[see later]  in which Third Sector charitable institutions and greater societal participation would help to alleviate the social problems which in his view had not been amenable to solution by the over-centralised Blair- Brown State.

 

 

On David Cameron and Harold Macmillan

Click here and here and here for David Cameron and Harold Macmillan

 

 While some political analysts have tended to accept David Cameron’s self-definitions as a “ modern”, ”compassionate, “One Nation” Conservative  and to argue that he would indeed have introduced more recognisably One Nation policies if economic circumstances had been more favourable others have denied that he has repositioned the Conservatives on the "centre ground." They claim that  in all essentials Cameron has accepted Thatcherite neo-liberal economic policies; that one should also not overstate his divergence from Thatcherism on law and order questions; that his commitments to environmentally friendly policies have not been sustained in government; and that his plans for increased civic engagement have been met with generalised cynicism and have achieved little.

 

 

David Cameron and Environmental Policy

Controversy arose in 2013 as to whether David Cameron did initiate a redirection of environmental policy away from actual environmental protection towards the minimisation of costs in order to promote economic competitiveness. Indeed it was  alleged that he had used somewhat intemperate language to suggest that it was time to "get rid of all the green crap" while George Osborne stated in a Conservative Party Conference Speech that. Later in 2016 a Guardian assessment overall Coalition policies between 2010 and 2015 had not been especially successful suggesting perhaps that the neoliberal support for free markets had more influence over policy than Green ideas.

Click here for Guardian article on Cameron's 2013 alleged statement

Click here for George Osborne's 2013 statement on climate change and energy bills

Click here for Guardian assessment of Coalition environmental policies

 

 

Meanwhile, however on the Right of the Conservative Party Cameron’s apparent One Nation Conservatism, his links with the Liberal Democrats and his [and, according to the Right] insufficient Euroscepticism have been seen as all too real and a cause for alarm rather than celebration. Finally because he is perceived by some as Thatcherite and by others as One Nation Conservative this has led some to argue that in reality he is the ultimate ideologically rootless, pragmatic politician .

 

Disputes as to the real nature of David Cameron's beliefs is ongoing. Writing in the IPPR journal Sunder Katwala has argued that David Cameron provides a master class in political ambiguity ;  the eminent political theorist Vernon Bogdanor [see here] accepts that Cameron should be seen as a Macmillanite and unideological [really??]   Conservative [ a view endorsed among other by Professor Philip Norton and journalists Martin Kettle and Matthew D'Ancona].

See especially with Martin Kettle's Guardian article on David Cameron's speech at the 2013 Conservative party Conference. "For this was emphatically not the speech of  a Tory leader whose primary aim was to move his party to the right. On the contrary this was a speech of what Cameron is and has always been : a One Nation Conservative who is still seeking in the words of Matthew D'Ancona's important book about the Coalition to solve the political theorem  which dominates post-Thatcherite Britain:  that of combining the vigour of market economics with social justice and social responsibility"

 

Guardian article on David Cameron as a One Nation Conservative [Martin Kettle]

Spectator article on One Nation Conservatism

Click here  for Guardian article  "Toryism has found its heart...." [Matthew D'Ancona Guardian]

Further short comments either endorsing or rejecting the perception of Cameron as One Nation Conservative may be found in this recent Observer article .

 

However the  journalist Steve Richards [see here and here]  disputes these views and is supported in academic studies by Matt Beech and Simon Lee, by Richard Hayton and by various academics writing for the LSE Political Blog.

David Cameron and Austerity [Dan Bailey: LSE Politics and Policy Blog]**

David Cameron and Welfare [Libby McEnhill LSE Politics and Policy Blog] **

 For example in an article entitled Ideology and Values [in David Cameron and Conservative Renewal : The Limits of Modernisation Gillian Peele and John Francis Editors 2017" ] Richard Hayton claims that "despite some rhetorical distancing from the Thatcher era  Cameron largely failed to alter the trajectory of contemporary conservatism which remains essentially Thatcherite " while in  "The Demise of the One Nation Tradition" [2014] he states , "It is consequently very difficult to foresee a renewal of the One Nation tradition in the contemporary Conservative Party. While future generations of Conservative politicians will no doubt exploit the beguiling rhetoric of One Nation , as an ideological tradition it has been relegated to the very margins of the party's politics."

Click here for an article on the demise of  One Nation Conservatism by Richard Hayton

 

[Another manifestation of the  debate around David Cameron and One Nation Conservatism was seen in the setting up of The Good Right Project by Tim Montgomerie and Stephan Shakespeare in 2015 In the following videos of an event launching the project Michael Gove lectures on Compassionate Conservatism  and Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith,  Sajid Javid  and Ruth Davidson discuss the New One Nation Conservatism . There is interesting material here but we must also note that Tim Montgomerie subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party in March 2016 due to David Cameron's qualified support for the UK's support for the UK's continued membership of the EU. It may be fair to say that little has been heard of The Good Right Project since then.

Click here for Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism?

Click here for The New One Nation Conservatism ]

 

Of course part of the problem involved in determining whether or not David Cameron should or should not be defined as a One Nation Conservative derives from the existence of competing opinions  which have been outlined above as to the nature of One Nation Conservatism itself.

 

  Economic Equality, Inequality and Poverty and the  Conservative=Liberal Democrat Coalition.

 The themes of inequality, poverty  and social mobility were to be given increased  by David Cameron  who quickly set up six policy development groups [Economic Competitiveness, National and International Security, Overseas Aid, Globalisation and Global Poverty, Public Service Reform, Quality of Life and Social Justice  ]

Prior to the 2010 General Election  both David Cameron and George Osborne were keen to criticise New Labour’s record on income inequality, poverty and social mobility. Thus they pointed out that by 2010 income inequality as measured by Gini Coefficient data was higher than when Labour took office in 1997; that there was evidence that although overall relative poverty had declined the extent of severe poverty had actually increased and that a widely reported study by S. Machin and J. Blanden indicated that rates of social mobility were actually declining.

However of course critics argued that the Osborne/ Cameron interpretations were flawed and pointed out that the most significant increases in income inequality had occurred in the Thatcher-Major years and that although Labour had failed to reverse the trend to greater income inequality they had at least mitigated it; that data on the extent of severe poverty are considered by many experts to be unreliable ; and that since  the Machin –Blanden study actually compared the mobility rates of children born in 1958 and 1970  the 1970 data actually referred to individuals who would have been educated in the Thatcher era. Notwithstanding these criticisms David Cameron stated that when elected  is Conservative Government would safeguard the interests of the disadvantaged far more effectively than previous Labour Governments had done.

In overall terms statistical data do indicate that overall income inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient did increase slightly under Labour Governments [1997-2010] and that according to ONS data income inequality did fall slightly under the Coalition Government but it is fair to say that in both cases the changes in income inequality were very slight such that there was very little overall change in income inequality since the Thatcher era during which time income inequality had increased very substantially. [ Also the accuracy of the ONS data has recently been called into question as is indicated in this recent Guardian article by Larry Elliot This issue is considered in a little more detail below.]

With regard to the issue of poverty it has already been mentioned that  Conservative Governments of 1979-1997 had been influenced by a version of "Underclass theory" which was associated primarily with the American political scientist Charles Murray and it is arguable that to a considerable extent Murray's indirect influence over Conservative welfare policy continued under the leadership of David Cameron notably via the role of Iain Duncan Smith in the development of welfare policy . Iain Duncan Smith had himself been leader of the Conservative  Opposition between 2001 and 2003 and made some attempt to promote so-called Compassionate Conservatism which emphasised Conservative concerns to alleviate poverty, inequality and social deprivation but having been replaced as leader by Michael Howard, moved on to found the Centre for Social Justice  in 2004 . David Cameron  appointed Iain Duncan Smith as chairman of the Social Justice Policy group which published reports entitled Breakdown Britain and Breakthrough Britain in 2006 and 2007. Iain Duncan Smith was appointed  Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. in the Coalition Government in 2010 .

The overall analysis in the CSJ reports  did appear to reflect an essentially New Right approach to the causes of and remedies for poverty.[Click here and here and here for IDS at the BBC 2006 discussing Breakdown Britain. Notice also that Iain Duncan Smith again focussed on the development of  a UK  underclass in his responses to the UK urban riots of 2011.] Thus the reports reiterated theories that an Underclass was indeed developing in the UK and that this was related to problems of family breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse, the growth of debt, a failing education system, worklessness and dependency and that possible remedies included strengthening marriage, action to reduce drug and alcohol abuse, improvements to the education system , reform of the benefits system to make work pay and  increase the obligations on the unemployed to seek work and increased reliance upon the voluntary sector to improve community cohesion.

 

 [Ian Duncan Smith has also focused to a great extent  on the existence of a poverty trap whereby the existence of a variety of complex means tested benefits means that there may be little financial incentive to work because for every £ earned from employment perhaps 70 pence may be lost as a result of the withdrawal of means tested benefits. As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan  Duncan Smith would aim to develop policies to alleviate the poverty trap but disputes with George Osborne and David Cameron over welfare benefits policy would eventually lead Iain Duncan Smith to resign from Cabinet in March 2016 . [See later] ]

 

[It is very important to note, however, that many social policy analysts have argued that both the analysis of the causes of poverty and the methods proposed for its alleviation by the CSJ and supported by Iain Duncan Smith are seriously misguided and I have included some further information on theories of poverty in an Appendix which appears at the end of this document.] Meanwhile Click here for  a rather critical assessment of the Conservatives' approach  to the eradication of poverty. Of course Conservatives would reject such criticisms.

On the basis  the Centre for Social Justice  reports David Cameron stressed that it would be necessary for the Conservatives to fix our" Broken Society" but that this would not be achieved solely via increased intervention from the central state. Instead although the state would provide some  guidance our Broken Society" was to be fixed primarily via the development of "The Big Society." 

Much of this strategy  appeared to be encapsulated in the now well known phrase  that "There is such a thing as society but it is just not the same thing as the state." In this single phrase  Cameron could signal that he wished to distance the Conservative Party from what centrist voters might see as the excessive individualism associated with Thatcherism as exemplified in her statement that "There is no such thing as society", a statement which has, however been subject to much misinterpretation, and to distance the Conservative Party also from what he saw as the excessive top- down centralism and bureaucratic regulation associated with the New Labour State. In Cameron's view in the new post-bureaucratic era  excessive state power could be reined in and replaced by the development of the Big Society.

Cameron's espousal of "The Big Society was influenced to a considerable extent by the theoretical ideas of David Willets and subsequently Phillip Blond. Thus from the early 1990s onwards Willetts developed the concept of Civic Conservatism whereby he argued that although the market based private system was crucial to economic progress and that it also strengthened local communities to some extent  Conservatives should do more promote stronger local communities which should take on some of the functions currently performed by the centralised, remote and overly bureaucratic state  .Phillip Blond also developed similar ideas in a series of speeches and articles  and in more detail in his study entitled "Red Tory" [2010]. Essentially Blond argued that UK society had been undermined successively by excessively  bureaucratic and centralised social democracy, by the excessive individualised liberal liberalism of the "permissive society" and by the excessive economic inequality associated with Thatcherite neo-liberalism . By 20190 he was optimistic  that what he saw as Cameron's new brand of One Nation Conservatism would begin to deal with all of these problems  . Thus "Cameron has called for a recovery of society  and the refashioning of the state  to facilitate human relationships  and the building of real communities and a new capitalism that works for society rather than against it"Click here for further information on Phillip Blond **

Essentially the notion of  the Big Society suggested that the inefficiencies of excessive state control could be overcome via the reform of the public sector involving the growth of so-called quasi -markets within the public sector which would increase competition and consumer choice , the increased devolution of decision-making from Central to Local Government, the increased reliance on the Third Sector for the provision of services and the increased involvement of individual citizens .

 However critics of the Big Society  have claimed that it underestimates the crucial role of the central state in the provision of public services and amounts only to a fig leaf designed to hide Cameron's true aim which is to shrink the central state and promote the expansion of the private sector for ideological reasons and that it would be impossible to begin to generate "real communities unless a Cameron administration addressed directly the fundamental economic and social inequalities which scarred UK society. These claims were of course denied by David Cameron and his supporters deny. However in any case  one significant problem which David Cameron did face was that although The Big Society was much emphasised in the 2010 Conservative Manifesto it was not an idea that canvassers found helpful on the doorsteps as many potential voters apparently found the concept quite difficult to grasp and were unenthused by it.] Steve Hilton, one of Cameron's key strategic advisers who was  a key supporter of The Big Society initiative soon took unpaid leave from Downing Street  and by 2012 Phillip Blond's optimism about the prospects of reform under David Cameron had declined significantly although he would subsequently hope for more progress from Theresa  May's administration.. 

  • Some Further Information on Civic Conservatism, Red Toryism and The Big Society
  1. Click here for David Cameron's 2010 speech on The Big Society

  2. Click here and here for articles by Phillip Blond [2012 and 2017]

  3. Click here for an article on Steve Hilton's departure from Downing Street

  4. Click here for a Parliamentary Research Briefing on The Big Society

  5. Click here for the website of Andrew Heywood. Then scroll down Mr  Heywood's list of articles for an article on The Big Society which references E. Burke, D. Willetts and P.Blond

  6. Click here for article on Conservative Modernisation

  7. Click here for Whatever happened tp Compassionate Conservatism?

  8. Click here for article on Phillip Blond and here for a New Statesman article and here for a fine critical review of Red Tory

  9. AUDIO Links to two editions of Radio Four's "Analysis" on "The Big Society" here and here

 

 

 

 Following the 2010 General Election the Conservatives were returned to government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats > Coalition proved possible to negotiate because Cameron's Conservatives had apparently adopted  a more progressive stance in relation to social mobility, poverty and welfare, gay rights, foreign aid and the environment while the Liberal Democrats , especially those influenced by so-called Orange Book Liberalism, have similarly accepted much of the neo-liberal policy programme which the Conservatives themselves still supported. Although the Conservatives in 2007 had stated that they would support current Labour plans for government spending they changed their macroeconomic approach fundamentally in response to the credit crunch and subsequent economic recession. The Coalition government was certainly faced with a difficult economic legacy which both Coalition partners  took every opportunity to blame upon the economic mismanagement of the previous Labour Government  while critics of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats focussed upon the role of the international financial crisis rather than high Labour spending as the major cause of recession and subsequent increase in the budget deficit. Whatever the causes of the deficit any government elected in 2010 would have aimed to reduce it and subsequent party political disputes revolved around the speed at which the deficit should be reduced,   the relative importance of government spending reductions and taxation increases in the deficit reduction process and the impact of the chosen debt reduction policies on trends in income inequality and poverty.

 

Conservative Chancellor George Osborne stated that the Coalition would reduce the budget deficit more quickly than would Labour and that they would do so primarily via government expenditure cuts rather than taxation increases  . They stated also that Health, Education and Foreign Aid budget would be protected but that other departments should expect substantial expenditure cuts and that in particular there would eventually be significant reductions in the Social Security budget as real benefits were cut and more stringent conditions were attached to the receipt of benefits via schemes such as the Employment Support Allowance [ESA] eligibility for which would be determined by a Work Capability Assessment [WCA]. In the 2012 Budget George Osborne announced that the highest rate of income tax would be reduced from 50p to 45p which led to criticisms that the Conservatives were protecting the interests of the rich at the expense of the poor . However George Osborne claimed that the actual loss of taxation revenue would be small and that aspiration and incentives would be increased as a result of the lower tax rate.

 

Conservative rhetoric around the deficit reduction plans between 2010-2015 was in some respects ambivalent. On the one hand although George Osborne took every opportunity to claim in relation to the sharing of the burden of deficit reduction that "We are all in this together" he also opened up distinctions between "workers and shirkers" or "strivers and skivers" as he tried to build political support for significant reductions in the social security budget as indicated in the following link. Click here for Strivers versus shirkers : the language of the welfare debate and here for a similar article. Meanwhile David Cameron informed us in his 2011 Conservative Party Conference Speech that "Yes: this is a One Nation deficit reduction plan from a One Nation Party." However perhaps not a phrase that one could immediately associate with Harold MacMillan

 

The actual measurement of income inequality and poverty involves some technicalities . Essentially income inequality is often measured by means of statistical concept known as the Gini Coefficient  which potentially varies between 0% [total income equality ] and 100%  [total income inequality] or between0 and1 in. decimal terms  Thus the higher the Gini Coefficient the greater the degree of income inequality. Poverty may be measured in absolute and relative terms and before and after housing costs.

 

It must however be noted that there are discrepancies in the measurement of the Gini Coefficient trends as between the ONS and DWP sources of data as indicated in  this recent Guardian article  by Larry Elliot . If you scroll down the article a little you will come to   a diagram showing 3 measures of Gini Coefficient trends indicating that in the ONSETB [ETB refers to the ONS publication on Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income] data the Gini Coefficient is at its lowest for 30 years but that this is not the case in the other two measurement trends based upon DWP data . It is the ONSETB data which  are regularly quoted by Conservative spokespersons in order to defend their record on income inequality but the Governments claims are not supported by the DWP data and researchers from the Resolution Foundation argue that  further reanalysis of the data may well lead to the conclusion that income inequality has increased significantly between 2010 and 2015.[ONS ETB refers to the annual ONS publication on Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income]

 

 

Click here for the most recent edition of Households Below average income and here for longer term trends in Gini Coefficient and click here for latest long term income inequality trend statistics[1979-2016]  from ONS.  Click here for the recent Guardian article  referred to above and click here for the Resolution Foundation research paper to which Larry Elliot refers. Pages 8 and 9 contain diagrams of different measures of Gini Coefficient trends

.

We could conclude that on the basis of ONSETB DWP data income inequality increased significantly in the Thatcher era  and also increased , but slowly in the Blair -Brown era. and that  income inequality did decline slightly between 2010 and 2015. However  there are discrepancies between the ONSETB data and the DWP data and  the true situation is that income inequality may actually have increased. between 2010 and 2015. [Obviously these sources are quite technical but I have included them because disputes as to income inequality trends are likely to figure large in future political debates.]

 

We could also conclude that in any case that   it does seem questionable whether we can expect significant reductions in income inequality under future Conservative governments given the Conservatives' belief that income inequality promotes economic growth and rising living standards for all . Also in one of their most recent publications the IFS actually predict increasing income inequality and increasing relative poverty. They do predict that levels of absolute poverty will remain static but that levels of absolute poverty among children will actually increase. Click here for  a more recent [November 2017] IFS Publication on Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK  2017/18- 2021/22 and click here and here for  related articles.

 

As has been mentioned although Conservatives tend to support a substantial measure of economic inequality they are also supporters of increased social mobility and meritocracy. Thus the erstwhile Secretary of State Michael Gove regularly claimed that his new educational policies which included reform of school curricula , rapid expansion of the academisation programme, the introduction of free schools and the Pupil Premium [a policy supported especially by the Liberal Democrats] were all designed to improve the social mobility prospects of poorer students. The Conservatives, he claimed as the 2015 General Election  approached must be "warriors for social justice."  His successor Nicky Morgan aimed to continue with the general direction of Govian education policies albeit with a more conciliatory tome than had sometimes been adopted by Michael Gove in his dealings with the teaching profession and critical policy academics who at one point were labelled "enemies of promise".

 

 However under the Coalition Government some Sure Start Centres were closed ; the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year-olds was discontinued ; and Higher Education tuition fees were tripled. The Coalition answered criticisms of these policies by claiming that the aim was to amalgamate Sure Start Centres; that alternative financial support schemes for 156-18 year olds had replaced the EMA; and that increasing numbers of students [including students from disadvantaged backgrounds ] were  enrolling on HE courses.

 

 It is currently impossible to assess the likely effects of Mr. Gove's and subsequently Mrs Morgan's educational reforms on the educational prospects of disadvantaged pupils but the continued existence of wide disparities in educational attainment between pupils eligible and ineligible for free school meals should be noted. It should be noted also that many , perhaps most,  experts on social mobility argue that higher rates of social mobility are most likely to be achieved in relative equal societies which encourages the government's critics to claim that its hopes for social mobility are unlikely to be realised unless there is a fundamental increase in economic equality. Furthermore it is also often argued that the growing emphasis upon the desirability of greater social mobility might be seen as a [not especially effective] smokescreen to hide the facts that the actual distributions of wealth , income and power remain decidedly unequal and that since it is impossible for all pupils to be upwardly mobile much more consideration should be given to those who are less successful in education.

 

Following the Conservatives' outright victory in the May 2015 General Election the Conservatives quickly attempted to reiterate their One Nation or "Blue Collar" Conservative credentials and this reiterated  self-definition again found its supporters and detractors among both academics and journalists. In the July 2015 Budget Mr Osborne sought once again to re-establish the Conservative Party's One Nation credentials via the introduction of a new "living wage", the removal of non-dom tax status  and an increase in the personal tax allowance. However his critics were quick to point out that the "living wage" was set a low level; that increases in personal tax allowances from [x to Y] do nothing to help those on below incomes of  £ 11,000 ;  reductions in tax credits for many of those in work would  be likely to offset of increased wage rates for the foreseeable future; and that the increase in the inheritance tax threshold would clearly benefit the comfortably off rather than the poor.

 

Yet again the theme of One Nation Conservatism was reiterated at the Conservative Party Conference of October 2015 and once many Conservative supporters endorsed the view that the Conservatives under David Cameron are now a One Nation Conservative Party and once again Conservative critics denied that this was the case. Discussion of The Conservatives' attempts to re-establish their One Nation credentials is provided via the following links.

 

 

The  Budget July 2015, the Trade Unions,the Conservative Party Conference October 2015 and the Resignation of Iain Duncan Smith March 2016: Some Useful Links

  • The Budget July 2015
  1. Observer coverage of July Budget

  2. Guardian coverage of Inheritance rate tax cut 

  3. Click here for information on tax credit cuts

  4. Click here for BBC coverage of Inheritance rate cut

  • The Trade Unions 2015-16

  1. Click here for The Trade Unions Bill July 2015

  2. Click here for The Trade Unions Bill October 2015

  3. Click here for The Trade Unions Bill April 2016

  4. Click here for the Trade Unions Bill April 2016

  1. IDS Resignation : BBC Newsnigh

  2. IDS Resignation [Robert Peston] 

  3.  IDS Resignation {Andrew Marr]

  4. BBC Newsnight : Nicky Morgan and tax/benefit changes
  5. IDS Resignation Articles : here and here   and here and see below.

    Following his resignation from Cabinet in March 2016 Iain Duncan Smith gave a long interview to Andrew Marr. In relation to the Conservative Government he said that "We were in danger of losing the narrative that the Conservative Party is a One Nation Party.....caring for the disadvantaged." and "I want the team to succeed as a One Nation team"

     

 

By March 2016 it was becoming increasingly clear that there were serious divisions within the Conservative Cabinet over the forthcoming EU Referendum  while the 2016 March Budget also provoked great dissension within Conservative ranks which would lead to the resignation of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith.[Ian Duncan Smith had  focused to a great extent  on the existence of a poverty trap whereby the existence of a variety of complex means tested benefits means that there may be little financial incentive to work because for every £ earned from employment perhaps 70 pence may be lost as a result of the withdrawal of means tested benefits. As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan  Duncan Smith would aim to develop policies to alleviate the poverty trap .

 

However  George Osborne's plans to make public expenditure savings of £4.4 Billion by reducing spending on personal Independence Payments while at the same time increasing the threshold for higher rate income tax payers and reducing capital gains tax brought to the fore the disputes between George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith which had apparently been simmering for many years and led Iain Duncan Smith to resign from his  Cabinet post on the grounds that this combination of policies was inconsistent with the claim that "We are all in this together" [clearly a barbed swipe against the Chancellor since this was a phrase which he had regularly used and inconsistent also with the Conservative's claim to be a "One Nation Conservative Government".

 

Given Iain Duncan Smith's overall approach to welfare policy not everyone would have associated him with One Nation Conservatism although he had briefly tried to pioneer "Compassionate Conservatism" as leader in 2001-3 and so perhaps his claim to be a One Nation Conservative was reasonable although it may also point to the inherent flexibility of the term. Meanwhile while Iain Duncan Smith now presented presented himself as the champion of the disabled others pointed out that he had introduced the Benefit Cap, the Bedroom Tax [or the Spare Room Subsidy and stringent Work Capability Assessments  which meant many were declared fit for work when clearly they were not. Consequently many claimed Iain Duncan Smith's main aim was to embarrass Cameron and Osborne in the run up to the EU Referendum.  

 

Also following the March 2016 Budget Nicky Morgan gave an interview on Newsnight which appeared to show her lack of detailed knowledge of taxation and welfare benefit trends and also that , irrespective of Ms. Morgan's knowledge that IFS Data illustrated that in the next five years the rich would gain much more than the poor as a result of future Conservative tax and welfare benefit changes This , more than any statements from Iain Duncan Smith surely called into question any claims that the Conservatives could be regarded seriously as a One Nation Government, or as David Cameron put it as "the Party of Equality"[ Click here for The Conservatives have become the party of equality] although he was referring here to plans to improve the interview prospects of ethnic minority members with foreign- sounding names  rather than to address what , according to the Left at least , are the structural inequalities which disfigure UK society.

David Cameron, Inequality and Poverty: Summary

David Cameron and Inequality [The independent] July 2016

Bank Bonuses 2017 Guardian  February 2017  This link relates also to PM Theresa May

It has already been noted that the are competing interpretations of the nature of One Nation Conservatism . David Cameron has claimed to be a One Nation Conservative  but that this has meant that he intended to combine a  primarily neo-liberal economic agenda with a series of policies  such as the increase in the income tax threshold, educational reforms and policies associated with the "Big Society" in order to protect the living standards and increase the life chances of the more disadvantaged sections of British Society and with more socially liberal measures such as support for single sex marriage..

 

 Official income distribution data do suggest that income equality did increase marginally between 2010 and 2015  and poverty declined on some but not all measures . Nevertheless we should note  that these increases in income equality are limited and that as  in the era of Coalition Government the UK has remained a deeply unequal society. It can perhaps be argued that the Coalition Government has had to govern in particularly difficult economic circumstances and that had it not been for the economic recession income inequality and poverty may have been reduced more substantially. However the facts suggests that whether or not David Cameron may justifiably be characterised as a One nation Conservative the Coalition Government has done little to increase income equality and equality of opportunity nor to reduce poverty.

 

 

Theresa May: New Conservative Prime Minister

Following  the UK EU Referendum which resulted in a victory for the Leave Campaign by 51.9% to 48.1 % David Cameron's resignation as  PM triggered a contest  for the leadership of the Conservative Party among candidates Boris Johnson, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May. Boris Johnson[ who had initially been seen as one of the favourites to win the contest] quickly withdrew once he realised he could no longer rely on the support of Michael Gove [who had decided to stand himself] . In the first Ballot Liam Fox  came fifth and last and was eliminated while  Stephen Crabb was obliged to withdraw as a result of unfavourable revelations about his private life . In the second Ballot Michael Gove was eliminated and once it  became clear to Andrea Leadsom that she had very little chance of defeating Theresa May she also withdrew which meant Theresa May  was consequently returned unopposed without the necessity of a final ballot of the party membership.  [Click here for a little more information on the leadership contest]

After leaving Buckingham Palace where she had been confirmed as Prime Minister Theresa May made a statement in Downing Street outlining her overall policy approach. Key quotations from the statement include the following. Theresa May :First Speech as Prime Minister**

She then referred to the lower life expectancy of the poor, the discrimination faced by black people in the criminal justice system, the educational disadvantage of white working class boys, the over-representation of privately educated pupils in elite occupations, the discrimination of women in the labour market, the inadequate support for those with mental health problems and the difficulties faced by young people in the housing market. Then she focussed particularly on the difficulties of those who are "just about managing" [aka "the JAMS"]: those who have jobs but not job security, who might have difficulty paying the mortgage or who might worry about the cost of living

Her government, MS May said would take on board the problems faced by these disadvantaged groups. "When we pass laws we'll talk not to the mighty but to you. When it comes to taxes we'll prioritise not the wealthy but you. When it comes to opportunity we won't entrench the opportunities of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever their background to go as far as their talents will take them." 

In subsequent speeches Ms May stated that she believed in the merits of free market capitalism which would nevertheless be regulated in various ways . A new industrial strategy would be developed; high executive pay would be controlled; tax avoidance and evasion would be restricted, ; workers and consumers would be appointed to company boards of directors; gas and electricity prices would be capped; new education policies [including most especially the opening of more grammar schools ]  would help to promote greater social mobility ; and as already mentioned the interests of the just about managing  would be privileged. It seemed like a set of policies which would help to rebalance society in the interests of the "just about managing" and in so doing improve Mrs May's electoral prospects even further against an already apparently very unpopular Labour Party.

As we have seen there are tricky disputes surrounding the precise meaning of One Nation Conservatism but in these speeches could  surely could be seen  a clear unequivocal statement by Ms May of One Nation principles updated to suit the political conditions of the 21st Century .Some were quick to suggest similarities of approach between Theresa  May and Ed Miliband who had also attempted to portray himself as a "One Nation Labour " politician. Indeed in an amusing tweet to Theresa  May  he wrote "Congratulations on becoming PM. Good words in Downing Street. Time will tell. I have unused material..". Further similar tweets from Mr Miliband have occurred on occasion! ] Click here for Theresa May and Ed Miliband

 

 

Key Statements from PM Theresa May   with some analysis

 

 

 

Ms May subsequently also stated on several occasions that there would be no need for a General Election for the foreseeable but on April 18th 2017 announced that there would indeed be a General Election on June 8th 2017. The Conservatives had enjoyed substantial  lead in the polls since the General Election of 2015 and the first polls after the announcement of the General Election suggested overall poll leads of between 18% and 25% partly as a result of strong support for the Tories among working class voters. Perhaps these voters had listened to Ms May's One Nation programme and liked what they heard. Be that as it may Matthew D'Ancona has speculated in the Guardian that MS May might indeed finally win the working classes for the Conservatives while Laura Kuenssberg has actually ,but surely not entirely seriously, pointed to similarities between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  

Click here for Andrew Rawnsley's Observer article assessing Ms. May's Administration [somewhat critically [April 30th 2017]**

The General Election  result saw the Conservatives lose their overall majority and they were able to remain in government only with the support of the DUP. Disunity at the top of the Conservative Party intensified as a result of ongoing disputes over the Brexit negotiations and dissatisfaction with Ms Mays leadership of the party  which has become increasingly precarious. There are also continuing concerns over the long term prospects for the UK economy which in the Conservative perspective mean that ongoing restrictions on government spending are still essential which in turn suggest that Ms May will find it difficult in practice to implement the kinds of One Nation policies which she initially endorsed.

 

It is clearly impossible to summarise the full range of the policies introduced by Ms. May's Government  but I shall briefly  outline below some of the policy difficulties which Ms May has faced in recent months and/or may face in the future.

 

In November 2017 after Ms Theresa may had been Prime Minister for about 17 months the Institute for Fiscal studies published its predictions of likely future trends in Living Standards , Inequality and Poverty. In summary the IFS concluded that although income inequality had fallen between 2010 and 2015 it is likely to increase in the next few years as is relative poverty. Overall absolute poverty is expected to remain static although increases in absolute poverty among children are expected. Some further discussion of recent ideological developments in the Conservative Party are provided below but once again that whether of not we accept that David Cameron and Teresa may represent a return to the politics of One Nation Conservatism the impact of their policies on income inequality and poverty will be decidedly  limited and possibly negative if the IFS predictions are to be believed

The following issues presented further policy difficulties for Ms May. There are several important links here and Advanced level students should take advice from the teachers as to how much of this information might be useful for examination purposes.

 MS May has articulated  a programme based upon One Nation Principles but she is also a Prime Minister who believes in free [but regulated ] markets and presumably accepts  traditional Conservative arguments in favour of some measure of economic inequality as a means of providing the economic incentives which will promote the economic growth the benefits of which are to "trickle down" to the poor thereby guaranteeing rising living standards for them too. Meanwhile,  she also accepts that deficit reduction continues to be essential to future economic growth and that such deficit reduction is to be achieved partly via restriction of both public sector wages and welfare benefits which means that it will prove very difficult to increase economic equality especially as estimates published in connection with the November 2017 budget suggest rates of economic growth and real wages growth are likely to be low for the foreseeable future.

 

. Increased Social Mobility also is seen as highly desirable on grounds of social justice and also because it will increase overall economic efficiency. It is hoped that social mobility can be increased by the continuation and extension of the education policies introduced initiated by the Thatcher administrations and followed to a substantial extent by subsequent Labour and Coalition Governments . However many education policy experts have argued that such policies are unlikely to increase equality of opportunity which they claim will be possible in a much more equal society than is countenanced by the Cameron and May Administrations whether or not they chose to describe themselves as One Nation Conservative .

 

Summary

 

In this document I have tried to outline  the various conservative arguments which have been used to justify economic inequality  as well as Conservative attempts   to reduce the high levels of inequality and poverty which could arise in  a totally unregulated capitalist system. This has involved some  consideration of the changing nature of One Nation Conservatism from Benjamin Disraeli to Theresa May  and its comparison with the economic and social policies of the Thatcherite era. It has been emphasised that  in his version of One Nation Conservatism [although he did not actually use the term] Disraeli emphasised that social and economic reform  should take place  within an economy which would be dominated by the private sector which would indeed generate substantial economic inequality. However this same inequality  would stimulate the economic efficiency and growth which would lead to better living standards for all including the poor and disadvantaged . This general principle has been  accepted to a considerable extent by all subsequent One Nation politicians  whatever the sometimes substantial differences between them .

 

 

All Conservatives have believed that some degree of income inequality is inevitable if differences in individual talents and abilities are to be allowed to flourish and that such inequalities are also desirable because they provide the financial incentives which are necessary to generate the faster economic growth which will improve living standards even for the poorest. Income inequalities are highly likely to lead to wealth inequalities which may solidify  further as a result of the intergenerational transmission of wealth  and Conservatives are likely to justify wealth inequalities in general as a reward for hard work and to justify the inter-generational transmission of wealth as the outcome of an entirely natural and honourable wish to provide for one's descendants such that high taxation of inherited wealth would amount to an unjustified infringement of individual liberty.

 

Conservatives  are also likely to believe that the scope of state nationalisation should be restricted because it is unlikely to secure economic efficiency and that the scope of  egalitarian taxation and end benefits should also be restricted so as to restrict the growth of a welfare dependency culture. Yet although they reject significant increases in economic equality of outcome  they are strong believer in equality of opportunity on grounds of both social justice and economic efficiency. However critics have noted that Conservatives tend to neglect arguments  that high levels of income and wealth inequality themselves may be likely to inhibit equality of opportunity.

 

Within the Conservative tradition there have been long term disputes between so-called One Nation Conservatives and those Conservatives more sympathetic to the ideals of laissez faire [ such as , especially, New Right Thatcherite Conservatives.] Also as the above notes have indicated there are considerable disputes surrounding the ideological positioning of David Cameron and his supporters and similar  disputes will surely occur around the ideological positioning of the Theresa May administration. Wherever we choose to position Mr Cameron and Mrs May we shall have to wait and see whether there are any significant trends  toward greater income and wealth equality and/or increased social mobility/ increased equality of opportunity in future  

 

I have provided some information on Disraelian Conservatism much earlier in the document but will concentrate in this summary on some of the main developments in British Conservatism since the Second World War. During the 195os and early 1960s so-called Right Progressive Conservative Governments [of 1951-64]  accepted most of the broad outlines of the economic and social reforms introduced by Labour Governments of 1945. Consequently levels of employment remained high,  average living standards improved and overall data on income distribution trends suggest that there were increases in income equality between 1951 and 1964 although income inequality ,relative poverty and significant social class differences in life expectancy, housing quality  and educational attainment remained substantial. Thus although the One Nation Conservative Governments of 1951-64  did reduce income inequality and poverty and improve working class living condition their success in these respect should not be overstated

 

Ted Heath became Leader of the Conservative Party in 1965 and Conservative Prime Minister between 1970 and 1974. It is argued that in government Heath endorsed proto-Thatcherite policies in 1970-72 but reverted to  One Nation consensus politics in 1972-4. Some have argued that this was a very substantial U turn whereas others argued that Heath's initial support for proto-Thatcherism was limited and that the extent of his U turn was therefore oversated. This is a matter of controversy but what is certain is that once Ted Heath returned to the backbenches he  was a vociferous critic of Thatcherism  and a great supporter of the politics of One Nation Conservatism. Click here for a little more detail on the Premiership of Ted Heath

 

Under the the Thatcher administrations of 1979-90  there was a significant shift government policies in the direction of Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism  which  came to be known collectively as the New Right of in the British context as Thatcherism. Such policies included macroeconomic policies based upon Monetarist rather than Keynesian theory, privatisation and deregulation of industry, tighter legislative control over the trade unions , tighter control of government spending [ and in particular of spending on Social Security and reduced rates of income taxation especially for higher income earners which was to be offset by higher rates of VAT. It Was hoped that  these policies would increase the rate of economic growth some of the benefits of which would allegedly "trickle down" to the poor. However in the event income inequality and relative poverty increased and so it seems  fair to conclude that both in terms of ideology and of policy effects  the Thatcherite Administrations differed  significantly from previous One Nation Governments.

 

Despite Major's emollient  personality and his perhaps somewhat wistful statements that  he wished to see " a country at ease with itself" and to create " a classless society"[ by which he meant the expansion of opportunities for upward social mobility in a capitalist society which would nevertheless remain unequal rather than  the abolition of private property ownership and the demise of the Bourgeoisie as proposed by Marxists or even the radical egalitarianism proposed by democratic socialists] and his self -identification with One nation Conservatism several political analysts argued that in reality  he continued and actually extended the Thatcherite Strategy. For example in their particularly  critical assessment Mark Garnett and Ian Gilmour argued that  although One Nation Toryism  is not a "rigid creed ".....  "however One nation Toryism is envisaged or interpreted  the Conservative governments since 1979 come nowhere near it " and "Major made no significant attempt  to lead the party back  into the Conservative One Nation tradition" ands in many ways his government became even more right wing than hers [ i.e. than Margaret Thatcher's governments]. [Whatever Happened to the Tories: The Conservatives since 1945. Ian Gilmour and Mark Garnett 1997]

 

In support of this line of argument they cite the privatisation of the railways , the abolition of wages councils  which had been designed to protect the wages of low paid workers, the abolition of the NEDC [which had been a key forum for tripartite economic decision making], the toleration of high salaries for the rich along with the continued demonisation  of the poor as welfare scroungers  and the continued acceptance of regressive patterns of taxation.  These arguments are reiterated strongly in The Major Premiership [edited by Peter Dorey 1999].

 

Also in  a contribution to very useful collection of essays [John Major : An Unsuccessful Prime Minister? K. Hickson and B. Williams eds. 2017] Kevin Hickson agrees that Major departed considerably from the One Nation Conservative tradition  but argues that he had little alternative but to do so given the disunity which existed in the Conservative Party and the emergence of Tony Blair as a charismatic leader of a Labour Party now located much closer to the centre of British Politics. Furthermore Hickson argued that in John Major one can in fact see a mixture of ideological Influences: traditional Toryism, Thatcherism, Centrism and One nation Conservatism. [Further information on this study can be found via the following link:  "John Major: An Unsuccessful Prime Minister".**  This book is a must read if you require further information on John major as PM.] 

 

 

 

However the concept of One Nation Conservatism has always been subject to competing interpretations. According to Sir Ian Gilmour and his supporters and to political theorists such as Richard Hayton and Peter Dorey it is associated especially with the Conservative Governments of 1951-64 and both the Thatcher, Major, Cameron and May Governments would all be seen as departing clearly form the principles of One Nation Conservatism. Sir Ian Gilmour was  openly critical of Thatcherite macroeconomic policies and critical also of the growth of poverty  and of the Thatcherite tendency to blame the poor for their own personal failings rather than the misguided nature of Thatcherite welfare policies themselves. Nevertheless he made it clear that although greater equality was now necessary no Conservative had ever supported total equality and he also accepted that Conservative privatisations were likely to increase economic growth and that further restriction of trade union power was essential for otherwise trade unions could well become a threat to democracy.

 

Yet other analysts harked back to the original  statements of Disraeli  that social and economic reforms were  to occur within an essentially market economy based upon private enterprise  which was crucial  to overall improvement in living standards and that significant wealth and income inequalities were actually necessary to  promote the economic growth on which rising living standards depended. On this view One Nation Conservatism involved a judicious mixture of government sponsored social and economic reforms  as well as reliance upon the private sector of the economy.

 

Consequently both David Willetts and David Seawright pointed out  that the original One Nation Group had contained MPs from both the Right and the Left of the Conservative Party who were keen to establish such as balance while in an article written in 2005 Damien Green stated that One Nation Conservatives believe it is the duty of government to take action to reduce poverty and deprivation and that an unfettered free market will not alone achieve this task but also that the history of the One Nation Groups showed that "simplistic analysis of this group or One Nation thought generally as being on the "left" of the party is wrong."

Also  Kenneth Clarke  who was were strongly associated with One Nation politics also  supported much of the Thatcherite economic programme  but claimed that as a politician who was both an economic liberal and a social liberal he was indeed part of the One Nation Conservative tradition despite his support for the Thatcherite economic programme.

 

David Cameron described himself as an economic liberal and  social liberal  which meant that in early 21st century terms he felt able to describe himself as a One Nation Conservative despite supporting the economically liberal policies which had been introduced by Mrs Thatcher in 1979-90 and extended by John Major in 1990-97. Many have agreed that he was indeed a One Nation Conservative because although he planned to use Thatcherite economically liberal methods these were intended  to improve the prospects of the disadvantaged  and to be combined with a range of socially liberal policies, environmentalism and Big Society style communitarian social policies . The following articles provide differing analyses of David Cameron's relationship to One Nation Conservatism. 

Click here for Richard Hayton 2014 article "The Demise of the One Nation Tradition"**

Guardian article on David Cameron as a One Nation Conservative [Martin Kettle]**

 

 

We might conclude that David Cameron has claimed to be a One Nation Conservative  but that this has meant that he intended to combine a  primarily neo-liberal economic agenda with a series of policies  such as the increase in the income tax threshold, educational reforms and policies associated with the "Big Society" in order to protect the living standards and increase the life chances of the more disadvantaged sections of British Society.

David Cameron stressed that it would be necessary for the Conservatives to fix our" Broken Society" but that this would not be achieved solely via increased intervention from the central state. Instead although the state would provide some  guidance our Broken Society" was to be fixed primarily via the development of "The Big Society." 

Much of this strategy  appeared to be encapsulated in the now well known phrase  that "There is such a thing as society but it is just not the same thing as the state." In this single phrase  Cameron could signal that he wished to distance the Conservative Party from what centrist voters might see as the excessive individualism associated with Thatcherism as exemplified in her statement that "There is no such thing as society", a statement which has, however been subject to much misinterpretation, and to distance the Conservative Party also from what he saw as the excessive top- down centralism and bureaucratic regulation associated with the New Labour State. In Cameron's view in the new post-bureaucratic era  excessive state power could be reined in and replaced by the development of the Big Society.

Cameron's espousal of "The Big Society was influenced to a considerable extent by the theoretical ideas of David Willets and subsequently Phillip Blond. Thus from the early 1990s onwards Willetts developed the concept of Civic Conservatism whereby he argued that although the market based private system was crucial to economic progress and that it also strengthened local communities to some extent  Conservatives should do more promote stronger local communities which should take on some of the functions currently performed by the centralised, remote and overly bureaucratic state  .Phillip Blond also developed similar ideas in a series of speeches and articles  and in more detail in his study entitled "Red Tory" [2010]. Essentially Blond argued that UK society had been undermined successively by excessively  bureaucratic and centralised social democracy, by the excessive individualised liberal liberalism of the "permissive society" and by the excessive economic inequality associated with Thatcherite neo-liberalism . By 20190 he was optimistic  that what he saw as Cameron's new brand of One Nation Conservatism would begin to deal with all of these problems  . Thus "Cameron has called for a recovery of society  and the refashioning of the state  to facilitate human relationships  and the building of real communities and a new capitalism that works for society rather than against it"Click here for further information on Phillip Blond

Essentially the notion of  the Big Society suggested that the inefficiencies of excessive state control could be overcome via the reform of the public sector involving the growth of so-called quasi -markets within the public sector which would increase competition and consumer choice , the increased devolution of decision-making from Central to Local Government, the increased reliance on the Third Sector for the provision of services and the increased involvement of individual citizens .

 However critics of the Big Society  have claimed that it underestimates the crucial role of the central state in the provision of public services and amounts only to a fig leaf designed to hide Cameron's true aim which is to shrink the central state and promote the expansion of the private sector for ideological reasons and that it would be impossible to begin to generate "real communities unless a Cameron administration addressed directly the fundamental economic and social inequalities which scarred UK society. These claims were of course denied by David Cameron and his supporters deny. However in any case  one significant problem which David Cameron did face was that although The Big Society was much emphasised in the 2010 Conservative Manifesto it was not an idea that canvassers found helpful on the doorsteps as many potential voters apparently found the concept quite difficult to grasp and were unenthused by it.] Steve Hilton, one of Cameron's key strategic advisers who was  a key supporter of The Big Society initiative soon took unpaid leave from Downing Street  and by 2012 Phillip Blond's optimism about the prospects of reform under David Cameron had declined significantly although he would subsequently hope for more progress from Theresa  May's administration.. 

 

 Official income distribution data from the Office for National Statistics [ONS] do suggest that income equality did increase marginally between 2010 and 2015  and poverty declined on some but not all measures . Nevertheless we should note  that these increases in income equality are limited and that  in the era of Coalition Government the UK has remained a deeply unequal society. It can perhaps be argued that the Coalition Government has had to govern in particularly difficult economic circumstances and that had it not been for the economic recession income inequality and poverty may have been reduced more substantially. However the facts suggests that whether or not David Cameron may justifiably be characterised as a One Nation Conservative the Coalition Government did little to increase income equality and equality of opportunity. It is also important to note that  in this recent Guardian article  Larry Elliot has argued that in reality income inequality may well have increased between 2010 and 2015. [New link added December 3rd 2017.]

 

In  a series of speeches in 2016 and 2017  Ms May stated that she believed in the merits of free market capitalism which would nevertheless be regulated in various ways . A new industrial strategy would be developed, [thus apparently signalling a significant shift away from neoliberalism] ; high executive pay would be controlled; tax avoidance and evasion would be restricted, ; workers and consumers would be appointed to company boards of directors; gas and electricity prices would be capped; new education policies [including most especially the opening of more grammar schools ]  would help to promote greater social mobility ; and as already mentioned the interests of the just about managing  would be privileged. It seemed like a set of policies which would help to rebalance society in the interests of the "just about managing" and in so doing improve Mrs May's electoral prospects even further against an already apparently very unpopular Labour Party. As we have seen there are tricky disputes surrounding the precise meaning of One Nation Conservatism but in these speeches could  surely could be seen  a clear unequivocal statement by Ms May of One Nation principles updated to suit the political conditions of the 21st Century

However in practice Theresa May has had to deal with the difficulties of the Brexit negotiations, a difficult economic situation and a diminution of her own power as a result of the unfavourable [for the Conservatives ] General Election result Consequently even if she is committed in principle to some version of One Nation Conservatism it seems likely that for a variety of reasons relatively high levels of poverty and income inequality are likely to continue for the foreseeable future which may lead us to question the extent to which Ms May as Prime Minister will be able to secure One Nation Conservative policy objectives.

My final conclusions are as follows.

  1. Conservatives have used a range of arguments to defend economic inequality

  2. There is a long tradition of One Nation Conservatism within the Conservative Party but the meaning of One Nation Conservatism is subject to competing interpretations.

  3. The Post War Conservative Governments of 1951 -64 and 1970-74 are generally regarded as One Nation Conservative Governments. They introduced social and economic reforms which contributed to improved working class living standards and life changes although significant inequalities of income and opportunity remained .

  4. Income inequality and poverty increased significantly in 1979-90 when New Right Governments were generally seen as departing from One Nation Conservatism. Many argue that in 1990-97 John Major followed an essentially Thatcherite programme  .

  5. Disputes as to the meaning of One Nation Conservatism meant that some analysts considered the administrations of John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May to be adapting  the concept of One Nation Conservatism to meet the changing conditions of the late 20th and early 2ist Centuries. On this view One Nation Conservatism could be compatible with neo-liberal economic policies so long as the condition of the disadvantaged could be improved.

  6. Other theorists argued that the Major, Cameron and May Governments could not be accurately described as One Nation Conservative Governments.

  7. However the Major, Cameron and May Governments are categorised they have done little to reduce overall income inequality and poverty. It must be admitted however that they have had to deal with difficult economic circumstances which may have inhibited their objectives of securing a greater measure of equality.

  8. However others argue that the ideology of One Nation Conservatism, however broadly defined, may well be incompatible with any significant increase in economic equality or social mobility. Click here for a recent Guardian article on the continuation of the Benefits Freeze for working age people.

  9. The resignation on December 2nd 2017 of Alan Milburn and the entire  Social Mobility Commission team points clearly to high level dissatisfaction with the May Administration's approach to social mobility.

      Breaking News Saturday December 2nd 2017 Click here for Guardian article :Alan Milburn and entire social mobility team quit citing "lack of political leadership." Also click here for BBC coverage. Click here for Poverty 2017 : a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and here for a brief report from ITV News.

And the saga continues.

 

 

 

Appendix: Click here for The Premiership of John Major

This link is not yet operative . I shall add further information on John Major fairly soon.

 

 

 

 

Appendix: Poverty, Underclass, Charles Murray, Iain Duncan Smith and The Centre For Social Justice: Some Criticisms of the Approach

  1. Assuming for the time being that an underclass exists it is generally assumed to comprise about 5% of the population and even Charles Murray agrees that not all poor people are to be considered as a part of the underclass since , clearly , not all poor people are fatalistic, work shy and prone to criminality.  

  2. In the cultural version of the underclass theory formulated by Charles Murray and to a considerable extent accepted by Iain Duncan Smith it is argued that underclass poverty derives from the dysfunctional attitudes of the poor which have been generated by easily available welfare benefits. However in structural theories of poverty it is argued that poverty arises out of broader structural factors such as the income inequality which is inevitable in capitalist societies and by the growth of unemployment in advanced capitalist societies caused as a result of the relocation of manufacturing jobs to cheaper labour economies in the "Third World" and by the periodic recessions which occur in capitalist societies.

  3. Assuming that a particularly poor disadvantaged section of society does exist there is considerable evidence suggesting that the attitudes and values of these individuals are not significantly different from those of other members of society:  unemployed workers are generally keen to find work if they are fit to do

  4. Unemployment derives primarily not from fatalism and work shyness but from a lack of available jobs. Any fatalism which does exist may be seen as primarily  a response to long term unemployment and poverty rather than a cause of them although it can be argued that a fatalistic response makes it more difficult to escape from the unemployment and poverty which has been caused primarily by structural factors.

  5. It should be noted also that when supporters of the cultural version of underclass theory claim that there are families where three successive generations have never worked there are in reality very few of such families. Click here and here for two Guardian criticisms of the IDS line

  6. According to critics excessive reliance on a cultural version of underclass theory means that Iain Duncan Smith and his supporters are providing an inadequate, inaccurate theory of poverty. Again according to critics it follows that the policies proposed in the publications of the Centre for Social Justice and broadly accepted by the Coalition Government are unlikely reduce the extent of poverty and inequality very significantly. Of course the Government disagree.

  7. Iain Duncan Smith is a great supporter of marriage  and argues that the decline in the UK marriage rate is a significant factor in the generation of poverty and disadvantage. He emphasises that they children of married couples  are more likely to achieve educational success and less likely to experience poverty in later life than are the children of cohabiting couples [who are more likely than married couples to separate] and lone single parents although he does agree that many cohabiting couples and lone parents rear their children very effectively. Others argue that the correlation between marriage and childhood well-being may arise because marriage is an increasingly middle class phenomenon and that it is primarily class advantage which contribute to the well-being of married couples' children. [For example Click here for an excellent article by Ruth Lister and Fran Bennett from Renewal.]

  8. Iain Duncan Smith argues that policies are necessary to improve the education system and to reduce alcohol and drug abuse. This is clearly true but critics of Coalition Education policies argue that they are on the wrong track in several respects . I have no knowledge as to the effectiveness of Coalition policies to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.

  9. Iain Duncan Smith argues that it is especially important to promote increased employment as a pathway out of poverty and several  Coalition Social Security policies are designed to achieve this objective. Such policies also involve the increased use of the sanctions in the form of loss of social security benefits  as a method of encouraging current benefit claimants into work. Some of these policies are discussed in a little more detail below but they are subject to the general criticisms that during the economic recession the  level of unemployment reached about  2.5Million while the current number of vacancies was approximately 500,000 so that it would clearly have been impossible for all the the unemployed to find work however hard they tried.

  10. Click here for David Cameron speaking in 2012 on the the Benefit Cap ."Don't complain about the beneit cuts: go out and look for a job."

  11. It is true that levels of unemployment have subsequently fallen and that the level of employment has increased . The Coalition Government and the subsequent Conservative Governments of David Cameron and Theresa may argue that this shows the success of their economic and social policies. However critics argue that the official data understate the real levels of unemployment and that many workers are in poorly paid work which means that paid work in itself is not necessarily a route out of poverty.

  12.   Iain Duncan Smith's policies have involved the increased use of government contracts with private sector companies and with so-called Third Sector Charities to deliver increases in employment on the grounds that this makes for more effective delivery than does reliance on what the Conservatives believe to be the over-bureaucratic, over-centralised state. However critics have argued that in several cases private sector companies are not efficiently delivering services provided under the terms of the Work Programme, the Employment and Support Allowance and the Mandatory Work Activity scheme.

  13.   Iain Duncan Smith's policies focus primarily on the situation of the poor and on measures which oblige the poor to seek employment much more actively which will thereby reduce their dependence upon welfare benefits. However critics argue  that since the Coalition are doing little or nothing to restricts the growth of high salaries there will be little overall effect on income inequality which in turn is likely to inhibit social mobility. If previously unemployed workers find work as , say, poorly paid shelf stackers, how is this likely to improve the educational prospects of their children, if at all?

  14. With respect to this point Peter Dorey argues in his study "British Conservatism: The Politics and Philosophy of Inequality [2011] that "...in the context of their opposition also to increasing the taxation of the super-rich it is difficult to see how the successful enactment of proposals enshrined in Breakthrough Britain would do much, if anything to reduce the gulf between the very rich and the very poor in contemporary Britain."

  15. Click here and here and here for BBC items and here for a Guardian item on IDS resignation which are useful for the overall poverty and social security debate                         

 

 

 

 

Appendix Phillip Blond and "Red Tory" [2010].

David Cameron's concept of "The Big Society was much influenced by the work of Phillip Blond who explained his ideas in his study entitled Red Tory [2010] According to Blond British society had bee seriously damaged via the combined adverse consequences of, successively, centralised social democracy, liberal permissiveness  and neo-liberal economic ideas. Again according to Blond social democracy had led to the expansion of state health, education. housing and welfare services  but the result had been the creation of over-centralised, remote and inefficient state bureaucracies which had turned people into passive recipients of centrally provided services instead of of active citizens  who could play an important role in the organisation of these services at local level. Spending on social security in particular had generated a dependency culture which could lead only to the perpetuation of poverty. Subsequently, according to Blond, the liberal permissiveness of the 1960s had unleashed a selfishly hedonistic, individualism leading to the decline of the nuclear family, increased incidence of single parenthood, the growth of irresponsibility among the young , increased drug addiction and violent crime. Finally the rise of neoliberalism resulted in the growth of materialism at the expense of community solidarity and the growth of income and wealth inequality which further entrenched the economic and social disadvantages of the poor.

Of course supporters of social democracy, liberal permissiveness and neoliberalism rejected Blond's analysis for a variety of different reasons but Blond argued that a new kind of politics was necessary to deal  with the problems which he had highlighted. Essentially it was necessary to reform the state in order  to increase the active involvement of citizens at local level and to allow for services previously delivered by the central state  to be delivered  to a greater extent by non -state organisations such as community groups, charities and private companies. It was necessary also to change the emphasis in our culture  from an emphasis on liberal individualism to a community centredness which recognises  the value of traditional institution such as especially the family ; and it was necessary  to open up our economy  in order to encourage the development of small scale firms  which would offset the development of multi- national corporations especially in the financial sector which had been responsible for the growth of gross economic inequality and, in the case of the financial sector for the financial crash and subsequent economic recession of 2008 onwards.

In 2010 Blond was hopeful that what he saw as Cameron's new brand of Civic Conservatism  would begin  to deal with all of these problems. Thus "Cameron has called for a recovery of society and the reforming of the state  to facilitate human relationships  and the building of real communities and a new capitalism that works with society rather than against it. These two intellectual intents mark the birth of a genuinely new civic conservatism that privileges human association above the state  and market ideologies that have for the last 230 years  constituted the governing consensus" Also "this is the true spirit of a renewed conservatism and a radical One Nation Conservatism and this is the ideal by which we must judge  a future Conservative settlement  and the merit of what was done in the light of what was promised. "

However critics argued that Cameron was unlikely to mount a serious challenge to the fundamental economic and social inequalities which exist in the UK and it was not long before Phillip Blond himself signalled his disappointment with the Conservative- Liberal Democrat Coalition

Click here and here for articles by Phillip Blond [2012 and 2017]