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A very British Tea Party

Read Carefully

On the face of it, Conservative Voice – launched yesterday – is just another right-wing, anti-European Tory ginger group. But does its creation signal a more fundamental move to the right for the Conservative Party?

The members of Conservative Voice – who include former Defence Secretary Liam Fox and the man David Cameron beat to the Tory leadership in 2005, David Davis – certainly are not happy with their current leader. In the group’s own words, Conservative Voice’s “primary aim is to secure a working Conservative majority at the next – and every future – election” – a clear dig at Cameron, who failed to deliver the general election victory in 2010 that was there for the taking.

Conservative Voice could be one more step towards the end of the leadership of the beleaguered Cameron and a lurch further to the right for the Tories. Don Porter, a former member of the Conservative Party Board and the founder of the new group, has denied that Conservative Voice has such underhand objectives, but the very act of launching this group undermines Cameron. The group does not think that the current party machine is delivering and believes that Fox, Davis and ‘rising stars’ like Priti Patel could do better, if only they had the opportunity.

Cameron’s EU concessions are insufficient for those who want a more solidly right-wing approach across all policies

Cameron has tried to appease the Right of the Tory Party. In December he sought confrontation in Brussels by refusing to support stronger EU control over national spending, isolating the UK in order to please his Party. More recently, he has carried out a cabinet reshuffle that is widely recognised as having moved his government to the right. These concessions are clearly insufficient for those behind Conservative Voice and those – including among the party’s grassroots supporters – who want a more solidly right-wing approach across all policies.

Certain elements of the Conservative Party clearly feel the need to re-connect with their ‘base’ and to rejuvenate the Tories. Otherwise they fear that traditional Tories will lend their support to parties such as the UK Independence Party (Ukip) who better represent the ‘Flag, Faith and Family’ world view – small government, lower taxes, an unflinching defence of national sovereignty and a tough approach to law and order. If supporter Priti Patel’s views on the death penalty are anything to go by, Conservative Voice’s support for a “firm but fair approach to law and order” amounts simply to retributive justice.

This is little more than Tea Party-lite, both in policies and rhetoric: Conservative Voice and the Tea Party share a liking for vague sloganeering. For example, the new group wishes to defend a ‘British way of life’. However, it does not clearly define the concept, explain why we need to stand up for it, or outline the threat.

This is little more than Tea Party-lite, both in policies and rhetoric

One of these threats, no doubt, is ‘Europe’. Conservative Voice proposes a broad, rather than deep relationship with the European Union and intends to promote deregulation to support British business. This sounds laudable until you consider that this legislation actually makes business easier for UK companies by facilitating the movement of goods across the continent.

It is true that Latin America and Asia present opportunities to British business and this is constantly highlighted by Eurosceptics. However, the UK is likely to get more favourable trading terms with these regions by negotiating as a member of the EU, rather than alone.

We shall see whether Conservative Voice achieves its improbable goal of a perpetual Conservative majority. But in the meantime I find the creation of the group a rather worrying development. I may not be a fan of Cameron but at least he is trying to lead a balanced Conservative Party and is preventing the Tories going down the dark route back to their recent past. Conservative Voice would do well to remember how that turned out for the Party last time.

Image: Steve Harvey on Unsplash