Is The Good Right too good to be true?
Compassionate conservatism is not a new concept. It's a term that originated in the US, and since become familiar in the UK, which expresses the idea that traditional conservative policies can be good for all, seeking to override the prevailing view of right-wing parties as favouring the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
Working to combat this view, Conservative activist and Times columnist Tim Montgomerie, together with YouGov founder Stephan Shakespeare, yesterday launched The Good Right, a website with a manifesto for how the Tory Party can find, or rather rediscover, its heart.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 yesterday Montgomerie said: "If you ask floating voters what he number one problem is for the Conservative Party, it is the idea that it's the party of the rich."
He continued: "The Tories do have a good story to tell, in an era of austerity they've made a difference for a lot of vulnerable people, but I think it's certainly true the Conservative Party can go a lot further, and this website is about making the case for them to do so."
The Good Right doesn't overlook conservatism's negative press both in the UK and America. It characterises it as an ideology that results in of cronyism and protecting the interests of big business, as well as an emphasis on the individual over the social reliant on a Darwinist 'survival of the fittest' approach to life. There is criticism too of the British Conservative Party's "opportunism" – changing sides in debates to fit the popular mood.
The case for redemption is set out in an initial set of articles on the website (with more to follow), which includes their 12-point draft manifesto of 'good right' policies, drawing on a number of articles published by Conservative politicians and thinkers. Their suggestions include building more housing, introducing higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes for the poor and opening up private schools to bright students from lower-income backgrounds.
The general intention is to "Combine the head and heart of conservatism and centre right parties can defeat the Leftist threat from without and the Darwinist distraction from within."
They say that many on both the right and left won't like their suggestions, one will dislike the emphasis on building homes and increasing taxes for the rich, and the other will disagree on an emphasis on family and renegotiating the relationship with the EU. But it does sound like the kind of combination that could be attractive to many voters, tapping into the broad appeal of the centre right. It provides a bit of blue sky thinking for those have become disenchanted.
But it also feels like it might be a little like having your cake and eating it. The idea sounds great but it's questionable, firstly whether the combination of heart and head really is feasible, and secondly, how much influence a website can have.
That said, Montgomerie has been an influential Conservative voice for many years. He worked closely with Iain Duncan Smith, co-founding the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and set up the successful ConservativeHome website in 2005, also in the run-up to the election. He's been an influential Christian voice in politics; he was one of the founders of the Conservative Christian Fellowship in 1990, which he led until 2003. It isn't a new message from Montgomerie, compassionate conservatism is something he's championed for a number of years, and was central to the establishment of the CSJ.
The website's launch has come at an interesting time. It coincided with the Church of England's House of Bishops letter yesterday, calling for a move away from the influence of Thatcherism in British politics, which was taken by some as an attack on the Conservatives.
With the prospect of an unusually tight election, combined with the much-debated UKIP threat, the Conservative Party will have to do all it can to capture the imagination of the voting public. This manifesto may not have come in time to sway people's votes on May 7, but it may be there for the soul searching about party direction that ought to happen afterwards, regardless of the outcome.