Last weeks budget provides a time for reflection on the dramatic events of the last year. Appreciation of the scale of the challenge we face is creeping slowly into every crevice of society: even onto the Labour frontbench. While the Labour party lurches from failures to failures, Conservatives have taken time to engage in productive re-appraisals, re-assessing orthodox assumptions and renewing dormant strands of thought. What has emerged is, in the words of Phillip Blond, nothing less than a “social revolution”, spearheaded by David Cameron.
The way out of the mire is not more of the same. There can be no more disregard for irresponsible borrowing. No more disrespect for authority, whether it be parents, teachers or the law. No more disguising social decline with spending sprees. From knife crime to spiralling debt to atomised communities, Labour has failed: economically, culturally and, most noticeable of all socially. And the public knows it. The time is right to carry on articulating a distinct Conservative alternative, just as David Cameron and George Osborne have begun to do: a philosophy based in the historical truths of Conservatism, but fit for the gravity of today’s problems.
Now, there is the realisation that the opportunity Labours failures afford us is the most vital one Conservatives have had in decades. More people know now, what we have always known: that the market is not enough. And though the economic crisis will cause strife for families across Britain, it also gives us the space to review and renew the character of the society we create for the future.
Rather than the rationalist liberal assumptions that assume that what is best for the individual is always best for all, we have the chance to break with the stultifying mediocrity and brutalism of the last 12 years. A chance to revive classic conservative thought, to place Burke’s “little platoons” back at the heart of government policy, so ensuring that the families and communities re-occupy the space that the Labour government and all its quangos have occupied. From Phillip Blond’s ideas of “Red Toryism” to George Osborne’s recent speeches in which he has contested the orthodox assumptions about regulation of the City, the debate about the future of politics and society has never been more healthy. And, critically, the inherited caricatures of Conservatism are being contested, allowing a genuine picture to emerge: the ground is being prepared for a Conservative party that takes the best of both the old and the new.
These developments in internal and external debate mean that, in the future, we have the opportunity to plot the renaissance of community, the resurgence of education and learning and the birth of a new financial architecture. A chance to build a future designed and constructed on sound foundations of respect, responsibility, reciprocity. And through that debate and occasional discord, guide a Britain into the future that is truly built to last. What these debates prove is that Conservatives understand that the institutions of society are more important than the economics that feed feckless individualism. People matter more profits.
Dark times confront us. Alistair Darlings budget speech was portentous – nothing will come easily in the future. But with this darkness, comes the opportunity to create something built to last. To create wealth, but wealth for a shared purpose. Fulfilling this is, I believe, the greatest opportunity politicians have. That is why we must continue the debates we are having about a chance for change; a change for the better.