Conservative thinkers

Conservative thinkers: The key contributors to the political thought of the modern Conservative Party

Mark Garnett
Kevin Hickson
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Conservative thinkers
    Book Description:

    This book outlines and evaluates the political thought of the Conservative Party through a detailed examination of its principal thinkers from Harold Macmillan to the present. Traditionally, the Conservative Party has been regarded as a vote-gathering machine rather than a vehicle for ideas. This book redresses the balance through a series of biographical essays examining the thought of those who have contributed most to the development of ideas within the party. The chapters benefit from archival research and interviews with leading Conservatives. The recent revival of Conservative fortunes makes the book particularly timely. The book begins with an introductory chapter explaining the role of ideology in the Conservative Party. It then traces the political thought of the Conservative Party through its principal theorists since the 1930s. These are Harold Macmillan, R. A. Butler, Quintin Hogg, Enoch Powell, Angus Maude, Keith Joseph, the ‘traditionalists’ (Maurice Cowling, T. E. ‘Peter’ Utley, Peregrine Worsthorne, Shirley Letwin and Roger Scruton), Ian Gilmour, John Redwood and David Willetts. The book concludes with an overall assessment of the political thought of the Conservative Party and the relevance of past debates for contemporary Conservatism. The book will be of considerable interest to academics and non-academics alike; for those who have a special interest in the Conservative Party but also for any student of contemporary British Politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-299-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    This book is an analysis of the political thought of the Conservative Party. Academic discussions of the Conservative Party have tended to neglect ideology, focusing instead on the ‘pragmatic’ nature of the Party and its electoral and governmental record. We believe that this view is mistaken, and that the Party’s development since the Second World War cannot be understood without a detailed consideration of ideas.

    The chapters trace the ideology of the Conservative Party through its most prominent thinkers. These are Harold Macmillan; R.A. Butler; Quintin Hogg (Lord Hailsham); Enoch Powell; Angus Maude; Keith Joseph; the traditionalists (T.E. ‘Peter’ Utley,...

  5. 1 Harold Macmillan
    (pp. 8-21)

    According to the late Ewen Green, ‘Harold Macmillan was the most selfconsciously intellectual Conservative leader of the twentieth century’.² Unusually for Green, this is a contestable judgement. Arthur Balfour, after all, was fully aware of his intellectual distinction and wrote serious philosophical treatises. By contrast Macmillan’s political writings rarely strayed into metaphysics, while his taste in fiction was fairly ‘middle-brow’ and parochial.

    Nevertheless, Macmillan was bookish from boyhood and his introspection deepened during the First World War, in which he was seriously wounded. His studious nature did nothing to enhance his prospects after his first election to parliament in 1924....

  6. 2 Rab Butler and the One Nation Group
    (pp. 22-39)

    Ironies abounded in the political career of Richard Austen Butler (1902–82). The conventional view is that he was the nearly-man of British politics, who flunked more than one chance to seize the top job. If a lack of necessary steel prevented ‘Rab’ Butler from reaching Number 10, the jealousy of more successful rivals sidetracked him until the end of his political career from the senior post (Foreign Secretary) which he would probably have held with most distinction. On the other hand, if Winston Churchill had been less tolerant Butler would never have held any major office. His persistence in...

  7. 3 Quintin Hogg, Lord Hailsham
    (pp. 40-56)

    It was no surprise that Quintin Hogg, Lord Hailsham, developed political ambitions at an early age. His great-grandfather had been a Peelite MP, and his father served both as Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor on two separate occasions. His grandfather never entered the political fray; but in addition to being a highly successful merchant he effectively founded the Polytechnic movement in Britain. If this pedigree of politics and public service were insuf-ficient inspiration, the young Quintin Hogg was a brilliant Classical scholar, who could never be accused of undervaluing his own abilities. He showed remarkable promise at Eton, and gained a...

  8. 4 Enoch Powell
    (pp. 57-72)

    The opening quotations highlight the twin ideological traditions that John Enoch Powell attempted to integrate into a coherent whole. These traditions were economic liberalism and traditional toryism. The former emphasises freedom, defined negatively as freedom from coercion and best protected through the extension of the market as the mechanism through which decisions should be taken, and the imposition of strict limits on the role of government. The latter emphasises social order, the authority of the state and the defence of the nation. Both of these positions were articulated by Powell. The main purpose of this chapter is to outline Powell’s...

  9. 5 Angus Maude
    (pp. 73-90)

    On 14 January 1966, theSpectatormagazine ran an article written by Angus Maude, the Conservative front-bench spokesman on the colonies. As a former newspaper editor, Maude could not have been ignorant of the rules governing an article of this kind, written for a publication which was closely identified with the Conservative Party without being slavishly loyal. Even if he disagreed with current party policy, he would have to express this dissent in coded terms rather than launching a frontal attack. Anything more robust would carry the risk of dismissal from his current job – unless he was on excellent personal...

  10. 6 Keith Joseph
    (pp. 91-104)

    Keith Joseph is usually held to be the key influence on Margaret Thatcher and through this influence and the formation of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) in 1975 is regarded as a leading thinker in the Conservative Party and the development of the New Right. He has been the subject of two biographies and his work is discussed in all studies of the New Right.³ However, one aspect of his thought has been relatively neglected, namely his view on equality and how it relates to British Conservatism. Hence, this chapter will examine in detail his arguments for inequality, assessing...

  11. 7 The traditionalists
    (pp. 105-120)

    The purpose of this chapter is to outline the political thought of the traditionalists associated with the Conservative Party. The core ideas of the traditionalists can be summarised as a strong sense of patriotism, defence of the established social order and respect for tradition and authority, as the two opening quotations highlight. The role of the traditionalists has been at times limited. This was so after 1945 when the ‘die-hards’⁴ fought desperately against both the end of the British Empire and the acceptance of most of the social reforms introduced by the Attlee Governments after 1945. However, both seemed futile....

  12. 8 Ian Gilmour and the wets
    (pp. 121-139)

    On 14 September 1981, Sir Ian Gilmour was told by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, that she no longer required his services as a cabinet minister. This was no surprise for Gilmour. Back in MayThe Timeshad reported that ‘Friends of Sir Ian say he is half-expecting to be sacked’, and he had composed a resignation letter during his summer holiday. He completed his preparations by giving an interview in advance to the Press Association, saying that it was no use throwing a man overboard if the ship was heading for the rocks. Gilmour favoured such nautical imagery; he...

  13. 9 John Redwood
    (pp. 140-154)

    John Redwood has been one of the most consistent advocates of the economic liberal (or ‘freedom loving’, as he prefers to call it),³ variant of Conservatism for many years. He emerged as one of Margaret Thatcher’s senior advisers in the mid-1980s and continued to advocate free-market principles as an MP from 1987 and Cabinet Minister between 1993–95. Since the downfall of the Conservative Party in 1997 he has continued to advocate liberal economics, so that as the New Right academic Norman Barry has commented, Redwood is a ‘gloriously unreconstructed Thatcherite’.⁴ The development of these economic liberal ideas and Redwood’s...

  14. 10 David Willetts
    (pp. 155-168)

    David Willetts’s contribution to Conservatism is more substantial than that of anyone else at a senior level in the Party since the downfall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. He has been involved in all of the major debates over the future ideological direction of the Conservative Party since then – the direction that the Major Government should take, the development of social liberal ideas after 1997 and the emergence of a more collectivist form of Conservatism in more recent years. Throughout this process of ideological reflection, Willetts has sought to promote the idea of ‘civic conservatism’.

    The purpose of this chapter...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 169-178)

    The post-war Conservative Party has been equivocal in its attitude towards intellectuals. In some circumstances a reputation for profound thought could be a major asset. Sir Keith Joseph, for example, won unthinking respect from many of his colleagues because of his All Souls fellowship. Joseph’s otherworldly demeanour worked in his favour, making him seem like a living refutation of John Stuart Mill’s jibe about the Conservatives being ‘the stupid party’. By contrast another All Souls fellow, Quintin Hogg, laid himself open to criticism, partly because he was so clearly convinced of his intellectual superiority, but also because he struck populist...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-186)
  17. Index
    (pp. 187-194)