Britain beyond Brexit and the future of Conservatism

Britain beyond Brexit and the future of Conservatism

The End of Austerity and the Call for a New Conservatism

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The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) recently sent shockwaves through British politics with the launch of their new collection of essays, “Britain Beyond Brexit.” Edited by George Freeman, a group of MPs from the 2010 intake contributed essays that aimed to provide the Conservative Party with “a new Conservatism for a new generation.” The launch event was extravagant, held in a grand hall adorned with gilded paint and portraits of Victorian dignitaries. Guests were treated to champagne, cream-and-strawberry scones, and speeches from notable leadership candidates like Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab. Penny Mordaunt, despite sitting out the leadership election, marveled like a mother hen over the event.

Freeman’s enthusiasm for his book and its potential impact is palpable, but perhaps too optimistic. While his collection of essays tackles pressing issues such as the crisis of the Conservative Party and the importance of devolution, it falls short in providing a comprehensive intellectual refueling for the party. One particular essay, penned by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, is shockingly lacking in substance and originality, merely regurgitating clichés about technological innovation without offering any interesting examples. It’s a clear reminder that being in government can stifle intellectual growth and hinder the pursuit of new ideas. To truly make a compelling case against the resurgent left, the Conservative Party must do better than this collection of essays.

The Decline of Intellectualism in Politics

This week’s New Statesman cover package titled “The closing of the conservative mind” puts the spotlight on a broader issue transcending party lines. Robert Saunders argues that the Conservative Party, once a bastion of ideas, is now devoid of intellectual substance. Its recent failures to generate ideas and embrace radical new thinking have led to an ideological implosion, epitomized by its single-minded conviction in Brexit and its blind faith in markets and technology. From Theresa May to Boris Johnson, the party lacks intellectual heavyweights, relying instead on shallow ideology without the necessary intellectual depth. While there are a few interesting thinkers within the party, such as Jesse Norman and Rory Stewart, the intellectual legacy of the Conservative Party seems to be fading.

However, this issue is not limited to the Conservative Party alone. The exhaustion of the Blair-Cameron-Clinton liberalism of the 1990s and early 2000s highlights similar challenges within the Liberal and Labour mindsets, as well as the broader Western mindset. The formula of adding social liberalism to economic liberalism as the basis for a good society is proving to be riddled with contradictions. Economic liberalism has resulted in monopolistic corporations and surveillance capitalism, while social liberalism has exacerbated social breakdowns and contributed to public health issues such as drug addiction and a decline in productivity. The failures of these two forms of liberalism are perhaps most evident in San Francisco, where homeless drug addicts roam the streets while tech billionaires navigate piles of human waste. The old consensus is breaking down, leaving many to question where the future lies.

The Current State of the Labour Mind

In contrast to the Conservatives’ lack of intellectual rigor, the Labour Party has taken a different path in response to the collapse of neoliberalism. Jeremy Corbyn, a man often criticized for his lack of intellectual acumen, has surrounded himself with hard-line Marxists who hark back to a bloody ideology of the 20th century. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, may possess a sharp mind, but his Trotskyism and the party’s ideological leanings continue to push the country toward a precipice. While there are pockets of intellectual diversity within the Labour Party, overall, it seems to be a collective mind closed-off to alternative perspectives and fresh ideas.

The Beacon of Intellectual Conservatism

Amidst this intellectual decline, George Will’s new book, “The Conservative Sensibility,” shines as a beacon of hope. With its 640 pages delving into conservative philosophical traditions in America and Europe, Will demonstrates that at least one conservative mind remains open. His ability to combine high-level thinking with a deep understanding of day-to-day politics sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. However, the reception of his book, marred by the refusal of Princeton students to engage with him due to his intellectual sins, hints at a wider problem: the reluctance of young “movement” conservatives to thrive in journalism and produce substantial works after decades of political engagement.

In conclusion, the Centre for Policy Studies’ attempt to provide a new Conservatism for a new generation falls short of its grand promises. The broader intellectual decline within the Conservative Party, as well as in other political ideologies, raises questions about the future of British politics. However, amidst the darkness, the intellectual brilliance of George Will’s book serves as a reminder that there are still individuals who keep the flame of rigorous intellectual conservatism alive. Only by embracing fresh ideas and rigorous debate can political parties hope to evolve and address the complex challenges facing society today.

*[CPS]: Centre for Policy Studies