Iain Duncan Smith: Conservatives should pass the Bridget Jones test

The conservative majority is dismissed as anti-women, homophobic and racist
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The Independent Online

The majority of the British people, particularly those who live beyond the metropolitan centres where the liberal elite meet, eat and sleep together, are small "c" conservative. They are conservative in their attitude to national security, economic policy, moral outlook and in their compassion towards the least fortunate.

Intellectually and practically these four strands of conservatism are inseparable. For example, our long-term national security depends upon the promotion of prosperity and justice within developing nations. Britain's prosperity depends upon the values of hard work, thrift and honesty that are taught in the home. An ability to afford to care for vulnerable people depends in large part upon the strength of the economy. Our civilisation - built on time-honoured moral foundations - needs to be defended from terrorist and other looming threats.

Tony Blair's whole New Labour project has been based on an acceptance of the British people's views on denationalisation, fiscal conservatism and national security. It is obvious the New Labour coalition is beginning to fracture. Once Tony Blair worried about the decline of the two-parent family but his government has increased the penalties that face married couples. Once he vowed to keep taxes down but the increases in council tax that his government has necessitated have most burdened the poorest families and pensioners.

The caricatured conservative majority is dismissed as anti-women whenever it expresses concerns about abortion laws. It is homophobic or old-fashioned when it worries about what teachers might tell their children about underage sex. It is racist when it worries about rising levels of immigration. If you don't want abortion on demand, sex legalised for 14-year-olds and open borders you're in trouble with the thunderous commentators recently described by David Blunkett as "The Liberati". Ironically, The Liberati have become the intolerant extremists in this debate. It is Britain's conservative majority that is the voice of moderation.

Although it is possible to say that President George Bush could not have won without the support of those voters who prioritised "moral issues" I do not believe that they were enough on their own. Although the voters of Ohio "voted their values" - despite that state's loss of jobs - most "values voters" enjoy relatively higher incomes. As Britain's electorate becomes wealthier it may regard values issues as increasingly important. Something of this happened in 1997, of course. Prosperous middle Britain found itself able to afford to vote for New Labour and did so because they rejected the apparent sleaze of the Tory years and welcomed Tony Blair's oft-stated moral purpose.

Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason amusingly captured the perceived clarity of Labour's moral outlook at that time. Slightly before the 1997 election a horrified Bridget Jones discovers that her boyfriend is thinking of voting Tory. He lists the policies that predispose him to the Conservatives. She replies: 'The point is you are supposed to vote for the principle of the thing, not the itsy-bitsy detail about this per cent and that per cent.'

New Labour - at least in 1997 - passed Bridget Jones's test. She could not list New Labour's policies but she understood what kind of values the Labour Party tried to represent. The Conservative Party should be able to articulate its own purpose and values. Its policies should flow from those clearly understood values. The values should encapsulate where the Conservative Party stands on national security, prosperity, one nation and the centrality of the family. Fairness could be the Conservative Party's organising value - fairness to those in need of help and fairness for those expected to provide that help. Every Conservative policy initiative should have to pass our own equivalent of the "Bridget Jones Test".

Our test should communicate an outlook as decent and as compassionate as Britain's conservative majority. I would call it the "good for my neighbour test". America has shown that "values voters" have the potential to revitalise local political organisations. America's Republicans believe that "the most important thing in political communications is personal contact from a credible source". With this powerful idea in their heads they have succeeded in creating the broadest and most powerful get-out-the-voter operation in American political history. More than 60 million people voted for George Bush - the biggest ever number in US elections.

Tony Blair has kept the Labour coalition together by simultaneously "talking conservative" but "acting metropolitan". That cannot be sustained for much longer and it certainly won't outlast him. George Bush and John Howard in Australia have both succeeded because of their ability to understand majorities. A one-nation Conservative Party that builds social justice on a sustainable set of values would also be in tune with the overwhelming majority of the British people.