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Is the 'New Right' a departure from or a continuation of traditional British Conservatism?

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Introduction

Is the 'New Right' a departure from or a continuation of traditional British Conservatism? The New Right, as it is called, has had a phenomenal impact in Britain and the United States since 1979. Both its successes and failures have led to an intense ongoing debate, especially within the British Conservative Party, as to what extent the New Right represents a departure or continuance of, what some perceive as, traditional Conservatism. The long and rich past of the Party has made the citation of a particular period of its history, as being either a source or illustration of traditional Conservatism, very difficult indeed. Nonetheless, certain tenants transcend the breadth of its history to form the criteria by which the New Right can be judged. Conservatism is, first and foremost, composed of many conflicting strands of thought. It does not stand as a monolithic ideology offering an unalterable set of prescriptions which configure to some preconceived, and as yet, unrealised ideal of society. It is not surprising then that "there are many conservatives who would deny the attribution of ideology to their beliefs."1 British Conservatism is, therefore, more accurately, characterised by the prevailing strand or grouping at any given time. ...read more.

Middle

This is a very distinctive Conservative tradition. The New Right did, however, abandon any notions of paternalism and instead emphasised the importance of economics in emancipating the individual. Economics was above politics. This brought the New Right into conflict with the One Nationists who felt, like P. Norton and A. Aughey in 1981, that the "disposition towards economic policy may entail the disseveration of the concept of One Nation."3 The emphasis on free markets, deregulation and an non-interfering state has a strong tradition in Conservatism which stretches back to the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. It was, however, a departure from post-war Conservatism. There had always been mixed and opposing views within Conservatism on the merits of capitalism. Lord Hailsham had criticised capitalism as "an ungodly and rapacious scramble for ill-gotten gains" whereas Burke before him regarded "the laws of commerce" as being "the laws of nature, and consequently the laws of God."4 In this respect the New Right had roots within the longer history of Conservatism. The ferocity with which it economic policies were pursued, in the face of stiff opposition, represented something of a departure in the broad consensus of post-war Britain. ...read more.

Conclusion

Sir Robert Peel, back in 1846, had split the entire party due to his refusal to compromise over protectionism for the land-owning classes. By contrast, the Party managed to hold together under the leadership of Thatcher for ten years and even went on to win a further Election in 1992. A simple majority of MP's had supported Thatcher in the internal ballot of 1989. There must have been common ground under the New Right for all this to have been achieved. The New Right saw themselves as an ascendant strand of traditional Conservatism and did not regard themselves as a complete departure. "Between lasting values and changing circumstances there must be a constant dialogue" Thatcher had said in 1977. It was or is its uncharacteristic ideologicalism which obfuscates the issue of continuity making it seem like a departure. It refused compromise and objected to any tempering of what it thought the best way to proceed. The New Right was not really new because it related to many aspects of Conservatism which had gone before: "the New Right is in fact a renewed Right." It prized freedom, was thrift, classless, populist, nationalistic or patriotic and authoritarian to name but a few. Neither its contradictions or an erroneous view of traditional conservatism should allow it to be labelled a wholesale departure from traditional Conservatism, it is not. ...read more.

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