Democracy. We usually do it well here. It’s our most impactful contribution to global stability. Not its invention - for that we have the Athenian leader Cleisthenes to thank back in 506 BC when he spliced demos (the people) and kratos (power/strength) together, christening his experiment with political reform - but Britain has been the trailblazer in its practical application.
The UK's generational progress in shifting power from the elite to the people, defining the roles of the executive, legislative, and judiciary (and their inter-relationship), has helped us to (mostly) avert revolutions and become a global exemplar of stable polity. Also gaining a reputation, when necessary, to lead the fight against tyranny when democracy on the continent was threatened.
Our educational system continues to ingrain democratic milestones such as the Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, and the Great Reform Act. These steps, often emulated by other nations, led John Bright to famously declare in 1865 that "England is the mother of parliaments".
And which Party dominated British politics during the last two centuries of our democratic journey? The Conservatives. Founded on the wisdom of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and Disraeli, what Conservatives did was unite the country and “elevate the condition of the people”.
The rise of populism threatens to split the Tory Party according to Tobias Ellwood
Yet the global trend today sees a retreat from democracy to authoritarianism. 2014, according to the Freedom House index, was the global high tide for liberalism. Its international decline since then prompted Putin to declare in 2019 ‘liberalism is obsolete.’
By any measure our world is becoming more polarised, fragmented and volatile as the China-Russia-Iran authoritarian axis openly advances a competing and combative vision of our Global Order. What we call the ‘West’ is not only shrinking but democratic values within the West are eroding as we see in Hungary, the Netherlands and Serbia.
Time, once again, for Britain to punch above its weight. That’s who we are and what we do, help shape and defend that Global Order which we fought for and helped to craft, protecting our interests and those of our allies when democracy is under threat. It’s why we were the first nation to help Ukraine and now stand by the US in defending the Red Sea. As overseas conflicts increasingly impact on our economy, our nation also expects its Government to act.
Bizarrely, rather than debate how British statecraft should be harnessed as we step forward once again, elements on the Tory-right seek to ignite a battle within our Party, flying the banner of populism. This is not only destructive and defeatist, but it also goes against the grain of our great Party’s history. After all the political turmoil over the last three years it is worth pausing to reflect on what defines our Party and the identity that brings it together.
Tobias Ellwood believes the Tory Party should change the way it elects its leaders
Without an anchor point of what we stand for, the Party will offer a confusing message and inevitable drift. Look back at our history and the pillars of impactful, responsible Conservatism are clear to see: belief in the nation state, prosperity through fiscal prudence and entrepreneurship, the individual's responsibility to family, community, and country, and a strong defence, remain as relevant today as they ever were.
Recent years have certainly been turbulent, but Rishi Sunak has since realigned the Party’s course towards the centre ground – which as history shows, is vital to secure election success.
Yet, months away from the election another splinter group, Pop Con, pops up and pronounces under the umbrella of the Conservatives an alternative populist agenda that has no chance of appealing to the general electorate we are here to serve. What is causing such reckless behaviour? The answer is well known but little discussed: how we select our leader.
Budding future contenders actively promote populist agendas seeking to appeal to our base, making promises which would not survive contact with reality - nor secure support from the wider electorate.
The solution is simple. Allowing Party members to select a shortlist of five leadership candidates and leaving the final decision to MPs would call a halt to our Party sliding to the far right and improve discipline and unity in the Parliamentary ranks.
As global storms gather once more, Britain should be preparing to defend democracy once more, not undermining it within our own Party. As our history shows populism is not the conservative way.
Until we course-correct how our leader is chosen the threat of populism will not only gift the centre-ground to Labour, but it will also maroon the Tories at the extreme and could eventually see our great Party splintering into light and dark blue.
Let’s have the courage to address this. It’s in our party’s and the nation’s best interests.