IN A speech to the Conservative think tank Onward last week, Justice Secretary David Gauke put the case for ‘One Nation Conservatism’. Conservatism, he argued, should be ‘broad, not narrow; open, not closed; forward-looking, not yearning for a mythical past’. We should be seeking ‘to unite, not divide’. Conservatives should counter ‘the rise of populism’ with ‘a focus upon creating prosperity’, on entrepreneurship and the power of markets. We should reject backward-looking notions, prevalent among certain ‘elements of society’, of preserving the dominance of ‘their culture’, and instead ‘welcome changes that have made society more open and diverse’.
Pro-Brexit Conservatives such as Johnson, Hannan and Rees-Mogg broadly share these global-liberal-market sentiments. Remainers, such as May and Rudd, the founder of the ‘One Nation’ group of Conservative MPs committed to ‘compassionate conservatism’ and stopping a no-deal Brexit, are more cautious, believing that the case for free enterprise should be tempered with a concern for ‘social justice’, and they are keen to advertise their caring liberal credentials. But significantly, neither Remainers nor Brexiteers care much for controlling immigration – the Brexiteers because it would ‘harm’ the economy (by preventing businesses having access to cheap labour and foreign talent), the Remainers because they believe in social diversity.
According to the Telegraph, there are even rumours of a pact between Johnson and Rudd, the two running for the leadership on a joint ticket. No-deal aside, they have a lot more in common than is often supposed. But is the future of conservatism really to consist of turning Britain into a diverse inclusive multicultural society, a dynamic global business park where all who might ‘contribute’ are welcome?
On Tuesday evening, Sir Roger Scruton, our pre-eminent conservative philosopher, reminded us what conservatism really is during a discussion between him and Douglas Murray organised by the Spectator. An audience of a thousand packed into the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster gave him a standing ovation when he walked on stage and said: ‘Well done the Spectator for organising this.’
Scruton argued that the heart of conservatism lies not in the pursuit of profit, or global free trade, or open borders, or diversity, but in our sense of belonging to a community. The conservative instinct is to conserve, that is, to preserve and affirm the things we most value in our way of life – our cherished institutions, our customs and traditions, the sources of our attachments and affections (familial, local and national), and our culture including the precious right to speak freely and utter heresies. Free enterprise plays an important part, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all, particularly when it takes a globalised form which does not respond to local interests: ‘You cannot defend communities simply by letting the market loose on them’. Newcomers are welcome, but we expect them to embrace our way of life, to adopt our ways of doing things. Scruton added that he was hard-pressed to think of a single conservative policy or thought that distinguished the current Conservative government.
So, who is the true conservative: David Gauke or Roger Scruton? Judged by Gauke’s criteria, Scruton is a narrow-minded populist – which, presumably, is why the government sacked him. More probable, however, is that it is Scruton who is the conservative: that it is Scruton who articulates the spirit of conservativism, his eloquence the fruit of a lifetime’s reflection on the subject; and that Gauke, the corporate lawyer, and his friends are nothing but global liberals, who parade their new-age virtue and line their pockets, but have not entertained a conservative thought in their lives.