Chris Rowell: Who are the compassionate Conservatives?

Our new Prime Minister’s vision of a Britain that works for everyone, not just the privileged few, is easy for us as Conservatives to get behind. In reality, this is nothing new, just a reaffirmation of what has been the mission of our party for as long as any member alive today can remember.

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This compassionate mission motivated Churchill when he talked of the ladder and not the queue, it motivated those who followed him when they made the mistake of continuing the socialist post-war consensus, and it motivated Lady Thatcher when she freed us from the consequences of that mistake. It is up to each of our leaders to take on this mission, implementing it as they see fit, and making it the core of our offering to the electorate. Over time this has taken many forms, Churchill ended rationing, Macmillan strived for full employment, and Lady Thatcher cast off the chains of state control and created a property owning democracy.

Mrs May has wasted no time in outlining her interpretation of it, and so far it has been well received. However, the words and actions of some of our fellow Conservatives could undermine it. As someone in the free market wing of the party, I may not have chosen words like ‘industrial strategy’, but I understand the need for the party to be unified, and to give our new leader a chance to lead, if we are to protect the country from Labour.

Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment, “Though shalt not speak ill of a fellow conservative”, is something we should all bear in mind. It was advice given by a Republican Party official after attacks on Barry Goldwater from members of his own party contributed to his defeat in the 1964 presidential election. Such attacks, often called ‘blue on blue’, were all too present during the EU referendum campaign, and now threaten to undermine our unity in a far less direct but equally insidious form.

When some Conservatives overtly label themselves as ‘compassionate’, ’liberal’, ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’, they do so with the best of intentions, but in doing so they imply the worst about good people fighting for the same things as them. By virtue signalling in this way, they effectively say, ‘my brand of Tory politics is compassionate, others are not’, ’I am liberal and other Tories are illiberal’, ‘I am moderate or centrist, other Conservatives are extreme'. When someone claims to be atypical of our party membership because they don’t own half of Yorkshire, or went to a comprehensive school, it is equally bad for the party’s image. The vast majority of our members, activists and voters are entirely representative of their communities; normal people, doing normal jobs, living in normal houses.

I don’t believe in social mobility, greater opportunity and making things better for everyone in our society despite being a free market Conservative, quite the opposite, I believe the free market is the best way to achieve them. In answer to the question of which Conservatives are truly motivated by compassion for their fellow man? I’m yet to meet one who is not. 


Chris Rowell is a Senior Public Relations Consultant based in the North of England. He ran Andrea Jenkyns MP’s successful 2015 General Election Campaign, which unseated sitting Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. He is a member of the Conservative Way Forward National Organising Committee.

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