The NS Interview: Tim Montgomerie

“God is not a Conservative, but Christianity led me to the party”.

You're described as the voice of the Tory grass roots. What are they saying?
They are dominated by a dislike of Gordon Brown. But they are confused, sometimes, by the Cameron project.

How has the internet changed politics?
The internet is a historic decentralisation of power. If political parties don't listen, they'll be swept away by an internet-based movement.

How influential do you think you are?
ConservativeHome is influential. But if it was just me spouting off, then it wouldn't be.

Are you a divisive influence among Tories?
What ConservativeHome does is open things up. You can say that's divisive, and in some ways it is, but the party has never complained to me.

How is your relationship with the leadership?
I have a very good relationship with them. They've never stopped engaging, even though I sometimes cause them a headache.

What are the weaknesses in the Conservative election campaign?
You have a central office that needs to feed the media monster. Occasionally, mistakes will be made. My advice: don't rush out a product until you're convinced it's the right thing to be saying and you've checked all your numbers.

What is the first thing you would want a Conservative government to do?
Unless we start tackling the Budget deficit quickly, international markets will panic.

Is ConservativeHome a mouthpiece for your own brand of social conservatism?
I give my view, but on the platform it's diverse. On climate change, for example, I'm a sceptic, but we have people in favour of radical action.

How do you define "climate-change sceptic"?
I'm sceptical about policy. We should do green things, but only when they have other benefits.

Do you believe that Britain is broken?
The whole of Britain isn't broken, but elements are. Unless we repair the family, demands on the state are going to grow.

Why the obsession with marriage?
It's not just marriage - the Tory policy has lots of dimensions. But every European country other than us supports marriage in some way.

What made you a Conservative?
When I was 11, a teacher told me about the evil of nuclear weapons. My dad, who was in the army, introduced me to the idea of deterrents.
I became fixated with politics thereafter.

What has been the Tory party's low point?
Thatcherism's failure: the failure to look like we cared about everybody in the country.

Were you always religious?
My parents say that at the age of seven I started nagging the family about why we never went to church. My father's a lay reader now.

How will you hold Cameron to account?
We will watch what they are doing; we're not going to be puppies in government. David Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party, but he doesn't own it. It's all of ours, and long after he's gone, members will still be helping to form it. So they deserve their say.

Are you influenced by extreme American Christian conservatism?
I have learned from what the United States has done wrong, as well as right. For the church to have become identified with abortion and homosexuality is a terrible failure. There's a lot about American Christianity that I admire, but no, I'm not importing it to the UK.

In your ideal world, would abortion be illegal?
An unborn child is the most vulnerable of human beings in society. In my ideal world, lots of things would be different, but my ideal world
is never going to happen.

Are your political convictions inherently linked to your religion?
Yes. There are Christians in all parties - God is not a Conservative. But Christianity has led me to be a Conservative because of what I believe about family and individual responsibility.

Is there a plan?
By the end of the year I want to be doing something different, to stop blogging.

Is there anything you regret?
My biggest regret is from my faith. I took quite a doctrinaire view in my twenties about homosexuality, and I was wrong. I don't think there has ever been an occasion with a gay person on which I've been anything other than kind and friendly. But it's quite a big regret.

Are we all doomed?
If anything should keep us awake at night, it's nuclear proliferation. I'm much more worried about Iran than about global warming.

 

Defining moments

1970 Born into an army family, grows up in Hampshire and Germany
1990 While studying at Exeter University, sets up Conservative Christian Fellowship
1992 Takes a post at the Bank of England
1998 Joins Conservative Central Office, working on outreach to faith communities
2003 Appointed political secretary to Iain Duncan Smith, then party leader
2005 Sets up the ConservativeHome political website

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 15 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Falklands II

Getty
Show Hide image

The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times