It was once believed in Britain that traditional conservative attitudes towards Europe, law and order, immigration, gay rights and nationalism had long been in decline amongst Britain's political parties. However over the last few months British politics has seen a resurgence of traditional conservatism. Three political parties in particular have spearheaded this resurgence. Firstly the Conservative Party, secondly and quite surprisingly the Labour Party and thirdly the UK Independence party (UKIP). This right wing shift in social policy may have grave consequences for British society and is there anyone left to make the case for a more liberal and more tolerant society?
The Conservatives’ Rightwards Shift
Perhaps it is only obvious that a rightward shift in social attitudes and a return to traditional conservatism would happen within the Conservative Party. The Tories, when David Cameron first became leader portrayed a more tolerant view of society. This was coined by the media as "hug a hoody." However following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the Conservative Party has begun to return to the hard justice traditional conservative policies of Michael Howard in the 1990s. This even lead to the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling calling for homeowners to be able to use force to defend their property. This policy was dubbed "bash a burglar" by the media. This has been accompanied by a re-emphasis on punishment and prison within law and order policy, this focus on tough justice was first displayed a year ago in the response to the summer riots.
The European Union remains a bone of contention for the Conservative Party; an increasing number of Tory MPs are becoming Eurosceptic and vocally attacking Europe on many issues. Many right-wing Tories would like to scrap the Human Rights Act the because of the codification of the European Convention on human rights within it. Some Tories are even talking about Britain leaving the Council of Europe because of this opposition to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Conservatives have returned to their traditionalist roots in regard to many issues that affect society. There are even over 100 Tory MPs willing to vote against same-sex marriage. The notions of hug a hoody have long since faded and the re-emergence of the Nasty Party has taken place.
Labour’s One Nation Conservatism
Lord Glasman shortly after the last general election developed a thesis called Blue Labour. Blue Labour combined the Labour Party's traditional focus on social democracy with traditional conservative values. This conservative social democracy has increasingly crept into the mainstream of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband at the last Labour conference even adopted the Conservative slogan of "One Nation." This slogan had originally been applied to Conservative Prime Ministers such as Benjamin Disraeli, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath. The thread of one nation conservatism within the Labour Party would no doubt have had former Labour Party leaders turning in their graves.
Labour have continued to pursue very populist policies on law and order usually attacking the Coalition for not being strict and hard enough in tackling crime and punishing those responsible. The Labour Party also remains committed to authoritarian policies such as a CCTV surveillance state and an illiberal DNA database, both of which would erode civil liberties. A few weeks ago the Labour Party allied itself with Eurosceptic Tories to vote for a cut in the European budget. This event in particular showed that the Labour Party is becoming much more opportunistic on Europe and is increasingly unwilling to make the case in favour of the European Union. When Labour does make a progressive argument on the economy, it does so by wrapping it in nationalist terms, for example "how will this work programme help to create one nation?"
Labour’s incorporation of one nation conservatism within its existing social democratic views is very much in the essence of the Blue Labour thesis. When it comes to law and order, Europe, immigration and the concept of the nation, Labour is becoming increasingly traditionally conservative.
UKIP: The Ultra-Conservatives
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is an emerging force in British politics. In most opinion polls UKIP is only a couple of points behind the Liberal Democrats, meaning that UKIP are now the undisputed forth force of British politics. The party of Nigel Farage is very right wing party and the more conservative than the Tories on both social and economic issues. Their primary objective is to withdraw from the UK from the European Union. They are spearheading Eurosceptic sentiment in the UK. Furthermore they are incredibly anti-immigration and want to prevent hardly any immigration from the EU into Britain. They are the only senior party that is openly hostile and opposed to the concept of equal marriage between gay and lesbian people. This Eurosceptic party as its name and philosophy suggests is profoundly nationalistic in its political views.
An Opportunity For The Liberal Democrats
Considering the increasingly conservative attitudes of the Tories, Labour and UKIP, who is left to make the case in favour of the EU, immigration, civil liberties, human rights and a tolerant view of law and order? The move to the right on social issues may provide an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to defend a liberal view of society. Their liberalism embodies civil liberties, internationalism and socially tolerant view of law and order. The Lib Dems must use this as an opportunity to defend liberalism in the face of increasingly conservative opponents. Crime, justice and prison policy are almost entirely viewed through conservative lenses by the other political parties. They mst also avoid the populist nationalism of the Tories, UKIP and increasing Labour. Furthermore they must not be afraid to be proud pro-Europeans who are pro-immigration and display an unwavering commitment to internationalism in contrast to the Euroscepticism of the right and the opportunism of the one nation Labour Party. If the Liberal Democrats cannot defend liberal principles amongst the rise of increasingly conservative parties in Britain, no other political party will.