Skip to main content

One-nation conservatism has always been a relatively malleable concept. First conceptualised in 1837 by Benjamin Disraeli, it has constantly been reinvented throughout the party’s history to meet the demands of an evolving society. Historically, it has referred to the paternalistic duty of the privileged to look out for those less fortunate and a commitment to maintaining the Union of the United Kingdom, but following the result of the 2019 General Election, it should be reinvented once more to meet the demands of British society in the 2020s. With the advent of Boris Johnson’s ‘People’s Government’ amidst the increasing fragmentation of the Union, Britain needs one-nation conservatism more now than at any time since the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

Perhaps the most notable period of one-nation conservatism was between 1951 and 1964, when Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, and Alec Douglas-Home led pragmatic governments committed to narrowing inequality whilst helping Britain recover from the economic tribulations of the War. They were also faced with the challenge of establishing Britain’s place within a changing international order. Boris Johnson’s government also faces this challenge, as the task of re-establishing Britain’s global role in the wake of Brexit presents huge opportunities within economic and foreign policy. Similarly, the flattening economic and social consequences of the Coronavirus outbreak require policies which cater for everyone in society. Naturally, this requires different policies to those implemented after the War, but the principle remains the same – the Government must represent the interests of everyone in society, making no exclusions based on race, class, gender, sexuality or disability.

Such has been the transformation of British society, the Conservatives now represent constituencies outside their traditional support base, such as Blyth Valley and Bassetlaw. Transformations require new commitments. Where one-nation conservatism has traditionally aimed to narrow the degree of inequality between the richest and poorest sections of society, it should now strive to narrow regional inequality as well. One of the worst countries in the world for regional inequality, Britain has seen a disproportionate yet necessarily high level of investment in infrastructure and employment in London and the South East, but often overlooked working class and coastal communities in the north of England, Wales and Scotland. In 2017, average disposable income in London stood at £28,000 p/a, compared to just £16,000 in the North East. To be a one-nation conservative in the 2020s should mean a commitment to investing in infrastructure projects in underfunded regions of the UK, improving standards of education in these areas and empowering local communities.

Infrastructure projects such as HS2 are therefore essential to combat Britain’s increasing centralisation by making the north better connected. So too is the extension of subsidies to attract new employers to former manufacturing communities suffering from a high level of structural unemployment, to have a similar impact that Nissan has had in Sunderland. This is especially important in the context of an increasingly fragmented Union. The rise of Scottish nationalism, complemented by a lack of identification and engagement with London and the South-East from other parts of the country has shrouded the future of the Union in uncertainty. This could be rectified by a commitment to promoting regional equality, by creating new opportunities for less developed areas of the country, without damaging progress already made in other areas. By adopting new principles, one-nation Conservatism can remain committed to its traditional principles.

In order to understand what one-nation conservatism means, it is important to understand what it means to be British. Whilst historically concerned with addressing class differences, the latest evolution of one-nation conservatism should strive to promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity. Post-war immigration from the Commonwealth, and more recently from Eastern Europe and the Middle East has seen Britain become a multicultural society where multiple faiths are practised. In 2018, 13.8% of the British public came from a minority ethnic background – a percentage which is much larger in urban areas. One-nation conservatives should promote inclusivity and tolerance, whilst aiming to narrow inequality between different ethnic groups. At a time where there is little that unites the British population, being British should be celebrated for the diversity it implies. Beyond ethnic diversity, one-nation conservatives should also promote inclusivity and equality of opportunity in terms of sexual orientation, disability, and gender.

Traditionally a pragmatic form of Conservative ideology, one-nation conservatism in the 2020s should be no different in this regard. It should be pragmatic in its attitude to the changing demands of society, and pragmatic in the means it adopts to achieve its socially liberal aims. This is not to say that one-nation conservatism should abandon Conservative economic principles. It should remain fiscally responsible, promote equality of opportunity, and reward individualism and enterprise. It should find a balance between social and economic liberalism to forge a Conservative Party which works for the whole country.

As a new decade begins, so too should the new direction of one-nation conservatism. The Conservative Party, by embracing the latest evolution of one-nation conservatism, has the opportunity to reinvent itself, unite the nation and protect the future of the Union – an opportunity it can ill afford to waste, given the need to adapt, to avoid losing power after ten years in government. The extraordinary election result , coinciding with the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union presents a unique opportunity for Britain to forge its own path once more. By empowering the new communities that it represents, and celebrating the uniqueness of multicultural Britain, the Party can dispel the urban myth that it represents only the wealthiest in society, and establish a new reputation as a benevolent party committed to equality of opportunity by economically responsible means. Beyond enhancing itself, the party can also make the United Kingdom a more liberal, socially mobile country with one of the most advanced infrastructure networks in the world. Only by championing the latest form of one-nation conservatism will this be possible.

Ollie is a second year History student at Newcastle University and is the winner of the Tamworth Prize 2020. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Number 10]