‘Nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action,
but not the execution of any human design.’
Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767)

16 May 2010

Introducing the ‘Salisbury Initiative for Parliamentary Traditions’

Respect for parliamentary traditions is at the core of an organic Tory philosophy. A reverence for the past embodies what it means to be a ‘Tory’, while providing the evolutionary foundation—the ‘tradition’—for organic development.

In light of recent events in British politics, where ‘non-partisan’ conservative political practices are threatened with renewed calls for change, a new project—in keeping with the ideals and aspirations of the Disraeli-Macdonald Institute—has been formed to promote and defend the conventions of the United Kingdom Parliament: the Salisbury Initiative for Parliamentary Traditions.

In the lead-up to the 2010 General Election, the Conservative party sought to re-establish its rapport with the British people—as a political party for the twenty-first century—by emphasising its progressive programme for Britain’s future. Focussing on ‘progressive means for conservative ends’, Conservatives are intent on addressing the ‘broken society’ and ‘broken politics’.

While there are many laudable improvements that can be realised through progressive measures, the Salisbury Initiative was established to act as a safeguard for the conservative principles that must form the core of the Conservative party.

The necessity of buttressing conservative beliefs has risen in importance, in consideration of the coalition government that has been formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to create what some analysts have called a ‘progressive alliance’. With no wish to undermine the strong, stable government this coalition brings forth, there is equally a desire to remain true to the tenets of Conservatism.

While there are many figures in the history of the Conservative party who embody these cherished principles, the figure of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was especially poignant: Lord Salisbury is renowned for his scepticism of the true long-term benefits of institutional ‘innovation’—serving, at times, as a reactionary caricature—and of his faith in history as a reliable counsellor when undertaking salutary political reform.

The Salisbury Initiative is an ally of the Conservative party and seeks neither to undermine its period in office nor its continuing success. ‘The complaints of a friend are things very different from the invectives of an enemy,’ wrote Edmund Burke. ‘It is our duty rather to palliate his errors and defects, or to cast them into the shade, and industriously to bring forward any good qualities that he may happen to possess.’ But, as Burke, explained:

When his safety is effectually provided for, it then becomes the office of a friend to urge his faults and vices with all the energy of enlightened affection, to paint them in their most vivid colours, and to bring the moral patient to a better habit. Thus I think with regards to individuals; thus I think with regard to antient and respected governments and order of men.

This is the intent of the Salisbury Initiative: ‘A spirit of reformation is never more consistent with itself, than when it refuses to be rendered the means of destruction.’

The objectives of the Initiative are simple:

  1. Support for constitutional monarchy;

  2. Support for the British constitution and Parliament—namely, the House of Lords and the House of Commons—and a defence of their arrangements, practices, and the political values they uphold; and

  3. Support for traditional conservative political principles: while necessary reform is a salubrious undertaking, and a fair appraisal of progress underpins evolutionary development, a foundation of enduring principles is at the core of Conservatism.

Plans are to highlight articles and news items relating to constitutional and parliamentary reform—which will be archived on the Initiative’s ‘News’ page—on this blog. Readers are encouraged to forward links which touch on SI’s mandate, and to follow SI on Facebook and Twitter.

Many thanks, tell your friends, and please visit the Salisbury Initiative often!


Dylan said...

With the current deal between the UK Tories and the Lib Dems has put electoral reform (potentially) on the ballot I wonder to what extent FPTP fits within the Tory tradition?

Your thoughts?

S.M. MacLean said...

The mainstay of the Tory defence for FPTP rests on the usual outcome of majority governments, which are decisive, stable, and accountable to the people—all features that are less certain under Proportional Representation.

From another perspective, too, much as traditional conservatism privileges the family as the foundation of society, I think traditional Tories see the constituency as the building block of the House of Commons: one constituency, one MP (passing over, for the movement, the historical evolution in this direction, from multi-member ridings), multiplied by the number of constituencies in the country. PR, with its emphasis upon the national vote, appears to prefer a collectivist approach (ergo the many forms of PR with party lists, with top candidates at the top, with seats portioned out according to vote percentage). The right of a constituency to vote for a person it can defeat at subsequent elections, seems to assume a secondary importance.

Dylan said...

As I suspected.

Sir John A. said that MPs are loose fish, meaning that courting even those of his own party was difficult to do at times. Today, while the electorate is watching the national campaigns and leaders debates, many do not even know the platforms of the parties let alone the people running in their constituency.

Given this, I'd propose STV to be the better option between FPTP and PR for the traditional Tory to advocate given the growing need for electoral reform.

STV be a greater compromise, given that the state of our national elections has dramatically changed. Given new technology, mass media and the emergence of pan-national parties. Not to say anything of the changing structure of political parties themselves - now armed with party whips.

FPTP has failed to give accurate election results and surely the prospects of a majority government is not worth cheating voters. In the 1993 election the Progressive Conservatives garnered 2.1 million votes and only picked up 2 seats. They didn't win the election, and they didn't earn the right to govern - but their results tell two different stories. They should have been the official opposition and yet they were wiped out.

If the UK moves to PR I cannot see Canada getting electoral reform to a ballot anytime soon. However, a move to STV could spell change in Canada given that individual constituencies would remain relevant and MPs would still be chosen by their communities; yet, we would have representatives that truly represent a majority of voters in every riding.