The Family and the Church: Gay marriage

    An interesting example of the relationship between conservative politics, the family and the Church emerged in 2014, when homosexual marriage was legalized in the United Kingdom. The Conservative Government was responsible for the legislation, which allowed the same right to couples who were until then only eligible for a civil union. That legislation had come into force in 2004, under a Labour government, and so the Conservatives effectively extended that principle to marriage. It was not, therefore, a radical change. Yet it meant that from then on religious organizations had the opportunity to choose to offer the option of an official marriage of homosexual couples. The examples up until now are very few, however, with Quakers and Unitarians among the few groups to decide to do so. The Anglican Church has refused to change its practice, which reinforces the fact that it considers the question from a different viewpoint to the Conservative Party, its traditional supporters. The argument was not justified by the party leader, David Cameron, on the basis of the more left-wing concept of social equality, however. Instead, he appealed to conservative 'traditional' values by emphasizing the belief in the importance of marriage and family as institutions that are at the heart of society. This is an example of displaying conservatism pragmatism on occasion, and the willingness to see 'organic' change in society and tradition. It must be remembered, of course, that this is not how all aspects of conservatism consider the situation, with the more authoritarian tendency among the new neo-conservative Right members (especially in America) arguing that there is a need to guard against any change to traditional institutions or social structures, as this is likely to undermine authority and lead to a lack of order.

  • Multiculturalism: diversity, integration, immigration

    Since the Second World War in particular, societies are characterized by significant changes in their populations as people migrate from one country to another. This process was often due to the needs of states such as the United Kingdom and Germany, as they struggled to recreate and re-establish themselves after the war, partly by attracting workers from other parts of the world. In the case of the United Kingdom, significant numbers arrived from the former Empire countries - people of different nations and religions. The response among British Conservatives has highlighted the differences and tensions between those who are more authoritarian and opposed to change, and those who are more tolerant and willing to embrace change within society. Tensions emerged in the 1960s as numbers began to worry about the knock-on effects of the change, and these reservations were expressed in Enoch Powell's famous speech, which quoted Virgil's line predicting the River Tiber 'foaming with blood'. Powell argued that society was changing to such an extent that people no longer knew it as their own society, and that conflict was the inevitable outcome of the process. He was excluded from the Conservative shadow Cabinet, but the themes in his speech would return.

    By the end of the 20th century liberals in particular had developed the concept of multiculturalism as a means of justifying and arguing the case for ensuring rights for minority groups, demonstrating that supporting their values and lifestyle did not go against traditional western values. The views were accepted in part by moderate conservatives, but things changed following the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks, and the subsequent war on terror. The failure to integrate members of the Muslim community within the wider culture was blamed by many, and indeed these were the Prime Minister David Cameron's arguments in 2011, despite the fact that he was an individual with traditional, rather than authoritarian Conservative views. These aspects emerged during the pre-Brexit referendum debate in 2016, with immigration a major issue as those campaigning for leaving blamed the state's problems on immigrants. There have been divisions among Conservatives during these years, with many turning to UKIP, which expressed much more authoritarian, aggressive ideas that brought Enoch Powell to mind. The Conservative Party itself had also been split into two, and David Cameron now found it difficult to stop the flow of more extreme right-wing ideas. More often than not, romanticising about a 'lost' Britain, the regret at the loss of past institutions, and complaining about the growing undermining of traditional Britain were at the heart of the debate - demonstrating a powerful mix of romantic and authoritarian conservatism. The side effect of this change is not only the Brexit vote to leave, but also policy changes to create a 'hostile environment' for immigrants. As a result, a large number of the older generation - the 'Windrush generation' - who arrived from the Caribbean from the 1940s onwards, have been excluded from the country because of shortcomings in their paperwork.

  • Wellbeing: redistribution and work

    One of the cornerstones of conservative thinking is the faith in the concept of individual responsibility. That is, the Conservative will generally believe that we as human beings control our actions and control our circumstances, without much influence from other directions. On the whole, the traditional Conservative will consider the hard work he does, the earnings he saves, and the respect he derives from his everyday actions to be a direct result of his efforts. This is at odds with socialism, which considers these results to reflect the good fortunes of the individual - the fact that he has, for example, a supportive family, sufficient resources, and inherited abilities. For this reason, the socialist does not consider that we have a simple right to keep all our earnings - to some extent they are the result of luck that is beyond our efforts and responsibility as an individual, and to some extent also prosperity of any form is not possible without reliance on wider society. On the other hand, the conservative will insist that he or she is deserving and that the possessions we have created or won through our own efforts should remain with us.

    There are obvious implications in respect of ideas such as tax, education and work. For the Conservative, we should pay minimal tax because others have no right over our property nor the wealth we create through our labours. We should be free to place our children in private schools with incredible facilities, because where parents are willing to pay such money for education, and give their children maximum benefits, their wishes are more important that any consideration regarding ensuring equality within the community. Indeed, there are no problematic moral implications for the Conservative if this kind of practice and policy leads to a very unequal society over time, because a hierarchy for them is a characteristic part of human society. Social inequality is not the result of different opportunities, or better resources or material benefits, but proof that fundamental differences exist between people's abilities.