Book review: The Conservative Party and Social Policy

The Conservative Party and Social Policy, edited by Hugh Bochel

‘Cameron’s conservatism has been  created and influenced by political and ideological pragmatism, a variety of political traditions, and involves a combination of ideas and policies that derive from this complex mix and in some respects represents a return to earlier forms of Conservatism that were less ideologically driven as less policy based.’

The emerging and unfolding agenda of a government is rarely seen all at once.  In the early days of an administration kaleidoscope-like fragments of various policies , threads and drivers bump up against one another casting chaotic reflections until they settle into a more regular pattern.

This pattern we are then able to pick over and analyse into eras or epochs and it is in this way that official versions are settled upon.  Still later the unfolding reform dynamics set in train by specific pieces of legislation work their way right through the system.  From this we might assess legacy, outcome and effect in a dispassionate light.

Ultimately then, at this juncture, with very little of the government’s agenda actually enacted onto the statute books, this book is an impressive achievement, comprehensive and coherent in synthesising the intellectual and policy inputs into the current government as they unfold and highlighting  some of the core tensions and questions at the heart of the ‘governing project’ of the conservative party.

Perhaps most helpful is the early delineation and differentiation between the ways in which David Cameron’s first five years as leader of the Conservatives (in opposition) connects with the specific trends and tribes within the Conservative Party itself.

These premises are useful as a platform for exploring the policy platform as advanced;

•    Cameron’s conservatism is a variety of Thatcherism
•    Cameron’s conservatism is related to one-nation conservatism
•    Cameron’s conservatism draws heavily on Blair’s New Labour / Third way ideas
•    Conservative social policy is complicated and dynamic

The book moves deftly between thematic areas of policy, chapters on housing policy (by Peter Somerville in Chapter 7) and devolution (by Richard Parry, in Chapter 13)   stand out for their handling of the subject and there is a recurring theme throughout which compares the legacy of the last government  as context for the reforms of the current government.

In short, then,  an excellent primer supporting an understanding of the aims of the current government  in all their complexity, as summarised by the quotation above. I would contend that the book is essential reading, either for those keen to untangle some of these contradictions to get on with building the big society through compassionate conservatism in coalition with the liberal democrats or, in mobilising against the government following the immortal advice of Lao Tse from the 3rd century BC.  ‘No disaster is greater than underestimating the enemy’


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top