Tories need a long term relationship with liberalism

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 5 October 2011 in Diary
It's about time we faced up to the fact that the Conservative Party needs a long-term relationship with liberalism and the Liberal Democrats, argues Ryan Shorthouse

In Manchester, several senior Conservatives have been pushing for the party to take distinctive policy positions from our Liberal Democrat partners in preparation for life after the coalition. Cue calls for withdrawal from the EU and the scrapping of the 50p tax rate.

But, as Nick Boles MP, the guest speaker at Bright Blue’s conference party explained, such policies have little appeal to those – often on middle incomes – who continue to shun the Conservative Party, but whose support is needed if the party is to ever form a government commanding majority support.

Currently, these people, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling in Project Blueprint shows, do not think the Conservative Party represents them. So, clearly, what is needed from the Conservatives is a focus on policies that appeal directly to them: help with childcare costs, a reduction in the tax burden, good schools and hospitals.

In fact, the Ashcroft polling unearths that these Tory-sceptics believe the party does not represent their values. These values include supporting the most vulnerable and being liberal-minded and tolerant in respect to minorities.

So it’s not just relevant policies the Conservative Party needs, but a strong dose of liberalism. As Boles explained, the Conservatives did not win an outright majority in 2010 because “frankly, we were not liberal enough”.

The liberalism – economic and social - of the public will only deepen in the future. One of the prime reasons for this is that people are spending longer in education. A wealth of evidence demonstrates that the more educated people are, the more socially liberal they become in regards to respect for alternative lifestyles and antipathy towards state moralising and authoritarianism.

They will probably become more economically liberal too. This is because people are spending more years in education and more hours working, and this is especially true for women. These people will believe they have put considerable effort into doing well in life.  As a result, they will be less willing to hand over their hard-earned money through higher taxes.

More and more people in society are classifying themselves as economically and socially liberal. So to survive and flourish in the long-term, the Conservative Party needs to be seen to generate and trumpet liberal ideas.

Actually, it could well be in the best interests of the Conservative Party to reinforce their liberalism by now establishing an official long-term relationship with the Liberal Democrats – perhaps an electoral pact or even a merger.

Ryan Shorthouse is the director of Bright Blue

Tags: Bright Blue, Coalition, Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats, Nick boles, Ryan Shorthouse

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