[Reihan] Many years ago, I Googled words and phrases like "conservative," "Christian Democracy," "egalitarianism," and "inequality" in a long string and I stumbled upon ConservativeHome, a website run by Tim Montgomerie. Montgomerie had been a close advisor to the much-maligned Iain Duncan-Smith, the man who had the unenviable task of leading the Conservative Party after William Hague led them to a crushing defeat. ConservativeHome was an extraordinary resource, and it was an organized around a basic idea Montgomerie calls the "And theory of conservatism."
And theory conservatives’ or total conservatives sign up to core vote’ positions on Europe, tax, immigration and crime. To this extent they are traditionalists but, like other Tory modernisers, they realise that this isn’t enough. They realise that conservatives also need to have answers to inner city decay, environmental deterioration and today’s other problems. Tender policies provide many voters with the leeway to support tough Tory policies The 'politics of and' understands that tender policies don’t require an abandonment of tough policies. Breadth isn’t an alternative to depth it permits it to happen. For example, a tough policy on immigration is sounder (ethically and electorally) if it is accompanied by a strong commitment to international development. A strong international development agenda (adventurously promoted and not just treated as a one speech, tick box policy) reassures moderate voters who want to know that sealed borders don’t also mean a closed mind to the needs of the world’s poorest people.
If this sounds a bit like "compassionate conservatism," you're right to see a family resemblance. The main difference is that Montgomerie and his fellow-travelers have been working furiously to lend policy substance to sentiment. It helps that David Willetts and Oliver Letwin, key members of the new Tory brain trust, are thinking along similar lines. Montgomerie is a rare example of an activist who has actually had a meaningful, positive effect on British politics. Britain's David Cameron and Sweden's Fredrik Reinfeldt are, by American standards, highly unusual conservatives. To put it bluntly, they're both Bobos par excellence. And they're far friendlier to "big government," which is in part a function of the fact that Britain and Sweden both have a far larger public sector workforce. But both have also embraced the best of social liberalism, namely tolerance and openness, and the best of social conservatism, namely support for flourishing family life. Both men have a fairly broad understanding of what a flourishing family life would look like, and that's all to the good. Both are clearly heirs to the market liberalism of Hayek and Thatcher, and yet they both prefer emphasizing competition over privatization: improving services for everyone by increasing transparency and fairness. They're addressing a new political environment that's quite different from the one that prevailed in the late 1970s, the era that paved the way for the last majority conservative victories. A few weeks back, David Brooks wrote about this new political environment.
Today the big threats to people's future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation. Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena. The ''liberty vs. power'' paradigm is less germane. It's been replaced in the public consciousness with a ''security leads to freedom'' paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world.
Tim Montgomerie is one of the most important thinkers tackling this new environment. I'm not confident that American conservatives will pay much attention to Montgomerie's work, not yet at least, but I wish they would. Montgomerie has launched a new blog, Britain and America. I sense that it will soon become indispensable reading. I don't always agree with TM. For one thing, I actually think British Conservatives would be smart to emphasize their independence from the United States. But I've learned enough to know that he's always worth reading.