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26 April 2023

Letter of the week: Conservatism’s DNA

Write to letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

In both your editorial (“The new Tory tribes”, 21 April) and Andrew Marr’s column (Politics, 21 April) there is a suggestion that the division between “National Conservatives” and “Liberal Conservatives” is a post-Thatcherite development. Yet this tension within conservatism spans two centuries, reflecting the party’s DNA and the reasons for its electoral success.

The Conservative Party emerged in the 1830s from an uneasy synthesis of two opposed philosophies: Toryism, with its stress on order, tradition, community and the periodic extension of state power; and Whiggery, with its focus on free trade, capitalist innovation, individual freedom and laissez-faire government. These sets of principles may seem contradictory, but for 200 years they’ve reflected the hybrid wishes of voters: those who crave greater authority and greater liberty, and those who back the occasional enlargement and occasional reduction of state activity. Should the Tories eschew (rather than clumsily manage) this contradiction, their philosophy would be more coherent. But their electoral appeal would be seriously narrowed, leaving millions of voters politically homeless.
Richard Kelly, Manchester

The new old Toryism

Andrew Marr (Politics, 21 April) made many pertinent points on the current Conservative Party and elements within it flirting with nationalist and populist agendas. But regarding the supposed “liberal/national split”, as one of the seemingly few remaining globalist, socially liberal Tories who doesn’t believe the EU was the great Satan, it feels as though there can be no split when the liberal elements have such little influence in the first place.
Councillor Richard Kennett, Emsworth Ward, Havant Borough Council

Unless there is a rethink, UK conservatism is headed for the same destination as its US allies. Imagining a new way of doing things is difficult while we hold on to an outdated economic system, based on extreme inequality and exploitation. As of yet, neither the left nor right show any evidence of rising to this challenge.

For its first 150 years the Conservative Party offered political programmes to curb the excesses of capitalism. To avoid becoming a populist quagmire, it needs to learn to do so again.
Paul Lally, Liverpool

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THANK YOU

Your Leader (“The new Tory tribes”, 21 April) states that the Conservatives’ “animated debate” defining their party’s purpose has no centre-left equivalent. I beg to differ. I have spent the past few years developing policy and support for the shadow team as part of one of the think tanks and ecosystems you say do not exist. 

Keir Starmer and his team need to find ways to make those discussions, papers and ideas cut through. The unfortunate recent adverts are not the answer.
Christopher Harris, Harlow, Essex

My blood runs cold at the words “National Conservatism”. If the Tories need factions and labels, they would do better to revert to the more benign, and British, One Nation Conservatism. Danny Kruger (NS online, 15 April) must be ignorant or deluded to put Giorgia Meloni on a pedestal: does he not know she began her political career in the youth movement of a neo-fascist party? 
Ann Lawson Lucas, Beverley, East Yorkshire

Free news ain’t free

I share Tim De Lisle’s immense sadness over newspapers no longer being central to our national life (Reporter at Large, 21 April) but he sidesteps one of the key reasons for that decline. If you give a product away for free, you inevitably devalue it and the craft behind it. The “skilful use of the begging bowl” exploited by De Lisle’s employer, the Guardian, is a tiny plaster trying to cover up a gaping, self-inflicted wound.
Grant Feller, London W4

Of books and blokes

I enjoyed Will Lloyd’s none-too-mournful eulogy on the decline of the “Literary Bloke” (The Critics, 21 April). The contrast drawn between the sometime literary celebrity of Jonathan Franzen and the doomed obscurity of Virginia Woolf’s Septimus Smith is positively Manichean. I wonder which camp Lloyd feels himself to be in?
David Perry, Cambridge

On Will Lloyd’s piece, since when did being “cool” become a meaningful term of literary criticism? Are we seriously meant to believe the prime motivation of most male authors has been money and sex? And to miss the sheer snobbery of Virginia Woolf’s references to young male writers called Smith who borrow books from public libraries – well, that’s what I call uncool.
Oliver Bennett, Bristol

Norman conquest

Congratulations on another successful ten years! In 2013 I went with Jason Cowley to ask my friend Norman MacKenzie (Correspondence, 21 April), who at the time was probably the last survivor of the NS’s great era under Kingsley Martin, to write a memoir about that long editorship between 1930 and 1960 for your centenary issue. In that piece, probably his last, MacKenzie wrote that Martin was less the conscience of the left than the “unconscious of the middle class and that’s why he had such power. He had a very deep sense of his readership.” It was Norman MacKenzie’s swansong. He wrote for the New Statesman from 1943 to 1962 and died two months after the centenary issue in 2013.
Hugh Purcell, Llanwern, Powys

Football’s coming crisis

Russell Davies’s column stirred a memory about the horrible impact football can have on a player’s health (The Fan, 14 April). During the late 1990s I wrote a feature for the Harlow Star on head injuries in sport. I interviewed a doctor, Cliff Bishop, who told me that centre-halves were more likely to experience serious brain injuries than amateur boxers. As Davies stated, concussion sports law will be a major feature of football.
David Rimmer, Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire

Waiting for the bus pass

It is depressing to have to add to the woes of Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 21 April), but I fear his hopes of free bus travel when he turns 60 will be dashed, at least in Brighton and Hove. Despite having a Green council, it sadly seems unable to match what exists in London and Scotland, and he may have to wait until 66 or even 67.
Christian Hogsbjerg, University of Brighton

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This article appears in the 26 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The New Tragic Age