Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When did we lose our way?

In recent months it has struck me how far the Conservative Party has moved from its natural place in the political spectrum. We have become preoccupied with simply rebutting Labour Party policies and actions. Of course there is nothing wrong with this in and of itself; indeed it is the natural function of the opposition. However before we posit an alternative course of action to one proposed by Labour, we should ask ourselves whether what we are proposing is philosophically conservative.

In a political world increasingly preoccupied with polls and focus groups it is of course incredibly tempting to sacrifice our values at the alter of perceived public opinion. But our job as conservatives is not simply to react to polls; it is to persuade the public that conservative principles are best for the country. Rather than telling us what to do, polls should help us determine where our efforts of persuasion should be focused, and how effective those efforts have been.

If my line of reasoning appears unrealistic given the prevailing political climate, then I would ask you to consider the alternative. If polls and focus groups become our masters, then the political game will cease to be about competing philosophies vying for popular support, and the function of political parties will be reduced to that of analysis. The question will cease to be about who is right in the sense of being correct (I should add the caveat however that being right in this sense is not, independently, enough to win) and will become a question of which party commissions the best polls and interprets the results most effectively.

The application of reductio ad absurdum to this argument suggests the Conservative Party would become an organisation of number crunchers and statisticians. Gone would be the bold thinking which under Thatcher delivered us from the all consuming grasp of socialism. In its place we would have reactionary politics, or more accurately reactionary policy making, bereft of philosophical identity. Conservatism, socialism etc would cease to have any independent meaning. We would find ourselves trapped in a philosophical vacuum; a quagmire of our own making, and from which we would find it increasingly difficult to escape.