It's time for a renewed focus on the bonds that connect us.
Lockdown showed us what we're capable of - it’s time for a renewed focus on the bonds that connect us.
Miriam Cates MP Danny Kruger MP -The Telegraph
Danny and I both became new MPs in the election last December. The thumping Conservative victory was a confirmation of the referendum result of 2016. But studies of public opinion show that 2019 wasn’t just a vote for Brexit. It was a vote for a whole set of changes, which can be summarised as the renewal of the bonds that connect us to each other.
These bonds have been fraying for decades, worn thin by policy and culture. Economics promotes the mobility of labour and capital, nationally and globally, rather than stronger relationships between people and places. Our social doctrine urges the emancipation of the individual from the restricting obligations of family, religion, and tradition. Meanwhile power has travelled inexorably upward, from local government and civil society to regional and national bureaucracies, and from Parliament to the EU.
Economic mobility, personal freedom and centralised power have delivered many benefits, and we don’t seek to turn the clock back to a time before they existed. Instead we need to modernise further - adapting our politics, economics and culture to a world radically different from the mid-to-late 20th century when those trends began. But the paradox is that this modernisation involves the recovery of an historic idea. Individuals, we believe, are most fulfilled, most secure, and most genuinely free when they belong to a strong family, a strong community, and a strong nation.
How will this old idea help us modernise?
Because in a time of radical uncertainty, of unknown threats and opportunities, we need the associations of family, community and nation to create the social capital, the networks and the motivation that drives prosperity. In the language of John Bowlby, the theorist of child development, they establish a ‘secure base for bold ventures’.
Brexit is the first, great step towards the strengthening of the nation. We need to honour our promise to leave the single market and customs union by the end of this year, and resume responsibility for the flow of people and things - immigration and trade - across our borders. We also need to defend, intelligently but robustly, the UK’s historic national values and institutions - including the Union itself - that are under assault from radical intellectuals and radical thugs.
We have just witnessed, during the lockdown, the most tremendous evidence of community capability. Neighbours spontaneously formed mutual aid groups to look after each other. Public services showed an extraordinary flexibility. Businesses stepped forward with innovation and generosity. We need to build on this, localising power wherever we can, giving civil society a greater role in local public services, and challenging businesses to consider their purpose not just their profits.
To strengthen families we need recognition of, and support for, the economy of households.
At the moment, policy seems designed to pull families apart by making the home as uncomfortable, expensive, and pointless as possible. We have childcare subsidies that only work if you put your kids into a professional nursery for most of the day. We have taxes and benefits that treat each adult as a distinct isolated individual, and penalise couples who live together. We have a housing policy that has created the smallest homes, and a jobs market that has created the longest commutes, in Europe. We have a higher education system that makes young people study far from home, for jobs that only exist in the big cities. And we have a social care system that only pays out when you go into residential care, or if you’re even moderately rich, makes you sell the family home to pay for it.
Policies encouraging ever increasing numbers of people into full-time work have weakened family life, and have also weakened voluntary and community life. In our own communities we know how hard it is to find people who have time to serve on the PTA or as Parish Councillors, or to run play groups or Scout troops or sports clubs. Surely the economy we want is one that frees up the time and skills for these essential unpaid jobs.
This is not a nostalgic vision - still less one that relies on traditional gender roles. We have fortunately moved on from the days when women were expected to stay at home and men go out to work. But instead we seem to be trying to encourage both parents to live the life of a mid-twentieth century man, prioritising paid work over family and community. We need a more modern approach, creating an economy that enables both parents to live a better, more local life, blending formal employment, family time and community responsibility.
This agenda - a politics of the nation, the community and the family - is a restatement of our party’s philosophy. We don’t believe Conservatism simply stands for the maximum possible freedom and choice for individuals. We believe our identities as individuals are inseparable from our roles and relationships within society.
This insight is, we believe, the true foundation of Conservatism. It’s also where our voters are. There is a temptation to pander to the ‘woke’ consensus which has taken hold in our universities, in parts of Whitehall and in many businesses. This is a trap that will annoy not just our grassroots and our newly-won ‘Red Wall’ voters, but mainstream opinion everywhere. The 2019 election was not won on Twitter, or in the metropolitan centres, but in towns, rural areas and coastal communities where people believe in the traditional British values of patriotism, tolerance and self-reliance. People here would be baffled if the Government they elected to restore the ties that bind us instead aped the liberal left’s obsession with individual autonomy, and with the hierarchies of privilege and victimhood.
Our political mission as a government, and the fundamental mandate of our 2019 victory, is to bring our country together - to create ‘one nation’ in its true sense. Conservatism stands not for personal liberation or identity politics, but for the common good.