So today the government announced its plans with regards to equal marriage, and as I expected but not as I hoped it is something of a hodge podge. The government is bending over backwards to its most vocal critics in forbidding the Church of England and the Church of Wales from involving itself in equal marriage. As a messy solution it is probably the best we could have hoped for in the light of the intransigence, bigotry and lack of charity of opponents of equal marriage. This however is not going to be a post about equal marriage per se other than how it fits into the bigger picture of the Conservative narrative.
I have to say that days like today do tend to make me wonder whether I ought to tear up my Conservative membership card in despair. Do I really want to be associated with people who look for all the world like spiteful and vindictive relics of a bygone age? No matter how much they protest, and how genuine their belief that is unfortunately how they come across and it is why large numbers of conservative inclined people don’t vote Conservative and why quite a few floating voters won’t float our way. We cannot project to the world at large a face that looks like we dislike the modern world and only put up with it under sufference. We tried that for several elections and it failed abysmally, the other guys won. It is also no good well meaning but stubborn people talking about Conservative natural voters, I have news for them they are a dwindling breed and they aren’t being replaced. It’s all very well looking across the pond and seeing the GOP suffer death by remorseless demographics, but the same thing will happen in the UK if we aren’t careful.
I really do despair at those that simply seem to want to serve up a reheated version of the 2001 or 2005 manifesto in the vain hope that 2015 having both a 1 and a 5 in it will make it work. It won’t. In fact the only time that the Conservatives have done something that has truly had the traditionalist wing cock a hoop it was very nearly fatal. I am talking about the reduction in the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%. We can make the economic case until we are literally blue in the face that it wasn’t bringing in money, but cutting it doesn’t feel right to the vast majority of ordinary voters out there. The economics may have been favourable to the cut, but the politics were unremittingly shitty and it should never have been done. I understand completely why it was, it was a bone to buy off the restless backbenches. However anymore bones like that and we can kiss goodbye to any hope we have of electoral success in 2015. Conservatives need to recognise that the answer to every economic problem isn’t a tax cut, a spending cut or a regulation cut.
Conservatives also need to show that we are broad minded open and accepting of the way society is in the modern era. A conservative party cannot be one that simply wishes to preserve society in aspic. Conservatives have to be agents of change in society, but agents of a type of change that doesn’t destroy those aspects of society that we inherited that are good. The marriage debate is one of those areas where David Cameron is being more truly conservative in my opinion than his opponents. By seeking to enlarge the scope of one of the most vibrant and deep seated institutions on the planet the Prime Minister is being an agent of conservative change, making a change that preserves the good whilst banishing the bad. The more people that feel they have a stake and play a part in society the stronger, more vibrant and more secure that society will be. History shows us that cultures and societies that sought to resist the onward march of change usually didn’t survive the experience. Conservatives who want to stand Canute like against the waves forbidding the evolution of our society, and our culture are making an historical error of epic proportions.
Traditionalists are now wandering around claiming that David Cameron’s policies of treating with the world as he finds it not as his grandparents left it risk losing the next election. I think they are wrong, if the next election is lost it won’t be because of policies like equal marriage but because of policies like the reduction of the top rate of tax. Being seen to be grossly economically unfair will lose far more votes than adapting an institution to fit the modern age. I have been a moderate sort of Conservative for a long time, I believe that making the Conservative case on issues outside of the traditional Conservative comfort zone is absolutely the right thing to do. I know that it is possible to be a Conservative and to be liberal, tolerant, broad minded and forward looking. I also know that trying to keep the Conservatives as some form of retro 1950’s party will lead rapidly to oblivion. I just wish that some others could work that out too.