The future of the Conservative Party
John Bowers reviews Remaking One Nation by Nick Timothy
Nick Timothy saw how raw power could be deployed when he served as Chief of Staff to Theresa May. He gives a no holds barred account of that time and there is some limited mea culpa for his role in the manifesto for the 2017 election. He blames that catastrophe on the “strong and stable” mantra which was used ad nauseam on the stump but just did not fit the personality of the then Prime Minister. He however directs considerable ire towards the “consultants” Lynton Crosby and his team who pressed it in his first chapter. He accepts that Mrs May came out of the election a “diminished figure with a diminished mandate”. He came out of it without a job, but with an important book to write and a good background from which to pen a critique of modern Conservatism.
His basis idea of pitching the Conservative Party to the northern working class vote was essentially correct and was taken further under Boris Johnson. Rachel Wolf on the book’s back cover says that the recent election victory “is a complete vindication of the Nick Timothy approach.”
It was he after all who wrote the famous speech made by Theresa May when she became Prime Minister which was universally well received talking about the Just About Managing.
Anti-globalism is a major theme of this book. Whilst there should be more emphasis on racial justice, he says that “Immigration rules should reflect the quite understandable desire of the majority group to slow the pace of change and protect and preserve cultural identity”. Much of the book reflects the views of the angry white male railing in particular against multi culturalism. And some of its policy predilections could be easily mistaken for a Labour politician of the Miliband (and possibly Starmer?) era.
The book concludes with a rousing call to action but its core is an attack on the ultra-liberal ideology which he says has taken hold in all sections of the political world. He examines the rise of ideological ultra liberalism which he abhors on the left, right and centre. Instead he calls for a new kind of conservatism that respects personal freedom but also demands solidarity.
Concept: ultra liberals
The book seeks to trace the philosophical assumptions and evolution of ideas that influence politics and policies today. He opposes selfish individualism but puts emphasis on the need for individual rights and equality before the law, although some will find this out of kilter with his desire to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
Defining one’s terms here is crucial. He sees liberalism as where “markets trump institutions, individualism trumps community and group rights trump broader national identities”. Essential liberalism has been the basis for successful democratic government for many decades but he sees an ultra-liberal ratchet developing today where beliefs which are not shared between the mainstream parties still drive ideological liberalism onward. Ultra liberalism is fuelling twin crises; cultural and economic.
He says growing up in Birmingham he had no doubt that the Tory Party “shared [his] values and cared about people like” him but those reading the book may think he is blue labour or at best red Tory. He identifies systematic issues which need to be tackled in the UK and he provides an elegant survey of them. For example, he draws attention to the fact that no new airport runway has been built in the South East of England since the 1940s. Electricity prices are 83% more expensive than America. We spend 1.7% of GDP on R&D compared to 2.8% in the US and 2.9% in Germany. Britain is one of the most unequal developed countries in the world; In Europe only Lithuania is more divided. He is concerned that the relationship between labour and capital has become precariously unbalanced. How can we break out of this spiral?
He calls for civic capitalism because the freedom to make money is not more important than our obligations to each other. He is concerned about the failure to address Britain’s regional economic and social disparities. There is a particular plea that the UK should not be so London centric as befits one who was described by the Economist as “the sage of Birmingham”.
He calls for political debate not to be impeded by big business and foreign interests. These concepts have echoes in the recent books by David Goodhart and David Lammy. Each of them abhor the fact that national identity and patriotism are embarrassing topics of conversation for most liberals. Elite liberals he says “mix in privileged and gilded circles, remote from the reality of ordinary, everyday life and blame everybody but themselves for the rise of populism”. This is the man behind the infamous phrase “citizens of nowhere” which has remained controversial.
Timothy is also concerned about the decline of family and the community. He calls for a cohesive society based on an inclusive and sill distinctly British culture and identity. He says that there is more to life than the market, more to conservatism than the individual and more to the future than the destruction of cultures and national identify. But wait: Is this really a conservative calling for “intervening to correct market failures, regulate business activity and right the balance between capitalism and community”. He accepts that the conservatism he seeks would be radically different to that experienced in recent decades.
There would be room for state and social enterprise; “a new principle of ordered pluralism which embraces the freedom of individuals to live their lives as they choose and for cultural and ethnic groups to celebrate their identities yet still builds a stronger civic identity”.
There is a plan of action at the end of the book including regional banking; new regional cultural institutions; increase of the national living wage; retraining; new protections or gig economy; railway workers should be given opportunity to create mutuals and run their own services and a reconsideration of the balance of taxation between income and wealth. He sees a deep crisis in our political system and calls for the present special adviser system to be abolished and voting to be made compulsory. The Cabinet Office should be recreated as a Prime Minister’s Department capable of driving change across Whitehall.
This is an important book about the future of Conservative politics. It is thought provoking and powerful. His writing is subtle and assured. It is probably the future of the Conservative Party after the pain of Brexit.
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