David Seymour and Judith Collins meet Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan is a British politician whose joy in clear thinking probably exceeds his ambition for high office (although he played an influential and honourable hand in the Brexit ruckus).  

And his thinking on the future of Britain’s Conservative party has resonance for right-of-centre politicians around the world.

Boris Johnson’s concatenation of free trade, free spending and febrile nationalism is historically mainstream, he argues.  Any modern right-of-centre party in a first-past-the-post electoral system will be a fusion of social conservatism and market liberalism – with liberalism very much the junior partner.

By this reckoning, Margaret Thatcher was a lonely insurgent:

Thatcher’s brand of Manchester liberalism never colonised the Conservative Party. At best, it formed a contingent alliance with mainstream Toryism – an unequal alliance, it should be added, for the free-marketeers were always the minority.

W.E Gladstone also started as a Tory before he found nineteenth century Liberalism more intellectually and emotionally compelling.

Successful politicians of the right must ride both horses well.  But they also need to know which one leads.

Hannan again:

We classical liberals were few enough before 2020. The median voter was always to our Left on economic issues and to our Right on cultural ones. As is often pointed out, the political centre of gravity in Britain is ‘fund the NHS, hang the paedos’. The epidemic has made us even more of a minority. Around the world, people are more frightened and therefore more authoritarian.”

We feel your pain, Dan.  But it’s also worth celebrating the fact that most opposition to Covid authoritarianism has come from the right of centre politicians, with both factions represented.

Parties and politicians of the right are generally less implicated in grabbing the opportunity presented by Covid to tell others what they must do, or using it as a dividing tool.

They may also benefit electorally as the pressure to re-open makes it harder to present self-interested pleading by public sector workers and unions as Covid-based patriotism.

That said, Hannan is acute when he observes that the desire to take responsibility away from government, whether economically or socially, is at a low ebb.  In recent years, the more government has failed, the more it seems to be wanted.  Boiling frogs come to mind.

This is relevant for both the National and ACT party leaderships.  Covid politics has given Seymour and his colleagues an opportunity to more clearly establish a separate market liberal party as a distinct and politically comprehensible entity in terms that Hannan would understand.  That in turn requires the Nats to determine if that necessitates any change in their principles (which are conveniently broad) or merely their policies and coalition planning.

But the common ground on which the parties come together is in defining the default space for individual and group responsibility.  And pushing back against special interests with their hands out, saying “actually, we were hoping you could make a contribution to the kitty instead”.

Margaret Thatcher (and indeed the Grand Old Man) would have understood.

2 thoughts on “David Seymour and Judith Collins meet Daniel Hannan

  1. “Around the world, people are more frightened and therefore more authoritarian.” Absolutely, and the Left are exploiting that fear to great effect, especially among women voters in New Zealand without whom, as the polls reveal this week, Labour would be toast. National’s “principles” however sadly seem to be all over the place. They need an urgent makeover.


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