Can a libertarian be a Conservative?

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Old Teaser

Written by Dan Hannan

First-past-the-post tends to produce a two-party system; and in any two party system, both parties will be coalitions. The Conservative and Unionist Party was founded in 1912 as a merger between the Conservatives and those old Whigs who, having rejected Home Rule and the Leftward drift of their party, sat under a confusing variety of names: Liberal Imperialists, Liberal Unionists and so on. It is thus heir to both the Tory and Whig traditions. It contains libertarians and authoritarians, radicals and conservatives, forward foreign policy types and non-interferers, ideologues and pragmatists, churchgoers and atheists. This ought hardly to need saying, but observers still like to confect “rows" out of the fact that Conservatives sometimes disagree one with another.

This weekend, I have observed the full spectrum of the modern Conservative Party. Last night, I spoke at the Christmas party of the never-sufficiently-to-be-praised Adam Smith Institute, which feeds the sacred flame of liberty within the conservative coalition. Today I am back in Cameron country: the quiet, patriotic, undogmatic shires that shaped the young Tory leader, first speaking to the Lower Sixth at Bradfield, and then doing a branch function at Cold Ash. (Sorry for the light blogging yesterday: I was having what the late Roy Jenkins would call “Wather a mouvementé day").

Among the libertarians at the ASI party was the hugely entertaining blogger Devil’s Kitchen (warning: if you are squeamish about strong language, don’t follow that last hyperlink). As you will see, the Devil has a low opinion of traditional Tories. I suspect the feeling is mutual: undoctrinaire Tories regard ideological libertarians as slightly mad. But here’s the thing: it’s a problem in theory rather than in practice.

Set aside a couple of slightly recherché issues, such as drugs. On the biggies – school choice, Euroscepticism, tax cuts, welfare reform – we all agree. And the reason we agree is that the current state of Britain is so far removed from what either a conservative or a libertarian wants that any disagreements can be comfortably postponed. It’s as though you were driving from London to two adjoining streets in Aberdeen: almost the whole route would be identical. As my old history tutor used to observe, the differences between Tory and Whig can safely be deferred to after the grave.

Published on here.