'Small c' conservative commentator Douglas Murray wrote an interesting piece last week which highlighted the total lack of ideas or conviction within the Conservative Party, and the ideological retreat of conservatism more generally.
While it begins by noting the philosophical vacuousness of recent Conservative governments, it seems to fall into the common trap of identifying just the last decade or two as the point where this problem began, or at least came to the fore. Those who think this way generally look back to Thatcher as the last 'strong' and genuine Conservative, and hold her up as a sort of gold standard for modern Conservatives to look back upon.
This is extremely misguided, and fails to recognise the revolutionary road that Britain was being led down for several decades by the time the 90s came around and Major came to power. The cultural revolution of the late 60s was the real death knell for conservatism in Britain and the West more generally; the point when the Right forgot what it was supposed to stand for.
Mass immigration, multiculturalism, aggressive secularism, European integration, 'progressive' justice, radically egalitarian education, equality and diversity, radical feminism, casual divorce and abortion and the broad marginalisation of social and national structures - these were all conceded entirely to the Left by the Conservative Party in the late 60s, and in the process the foundations of conservatism were swept away.
All these things were endorsed and indeed often expanded by the Thatcher government, which retreated into global market radicalism in place of any sort of social conservatism; a poor substitute for the things which conservatives were supposed to care about - national sovereignty, secure borders, strong Armed Forces, the married family, traditional Christianity and many other things the Thatcher administration had no interest in maintaining.
The Thatcher government signed the Single European Act 1986 which would lead Britain into the EU's Single Market. It signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty 1985 which majorly compromised British sovereignty over Northern Ireland and granted Dublin a direct and institutionalised role in the governance of Ulster.
The enormous cuts to the Armed Forces laid out in her government's 1981 Defence White Paper, which resulted in leading generals begging her for funding, are considered to have led the Argentinian Junta to attack the newly-vulnerable Falkland Islands and contributed to British casualties in the conflict. A new aircraft carrier was sold to Australia while the entire surface fleet was withdrawn to home waters, including the patrol of HMS Endurance from around the Falkland Islands. Thatcher's cuts were designed to reduce the Royal Navy from a national fleet to a small, specialist anti-submarine wing of NATO.
Meanwhile in domestic politics her attempt to abolish Sunday trading laws, one of the few remaining traditional values and social mores to be upheld by law, resulted in one of the biggest government rebellions in modern history when 72 of her own MPs refused to back her proposals. The economic deregulation of the 'Big Bang' in 1986 saw hundreds of long-established local and regional British firms disappear almost overnight; consumed by multinational conglomerates and erased form ever from our high streets. From this service sector Britain emerged - an economy of finance and services; call centres and McDonalds. What was 'conservative' about this radical transformation; this total overhaul of employment patterns and the resulting social consequences?
Thatcher did nothing to reverse the cultural revolution of the late 60s or the radical social policies which Labour had introduced - with Tory support - during the Wilson government, none of which was reversed. On what grounds could such a politician - essentially a social and market liberal - be regarded as in any way conservative?
This is the heart of the matter. If conservatives and patriots wish to win the battle of ideas Douglas Murray speaks about, it is no use simply to try to sell us more social and economic liberalism - the failed mantras of the past 50 years that have resulted in the shutting down and transformation of our country beyond all recognition. Too many self-identifying conservatives are far too comfortable with the cosmopolitan, de-industrialised, de-nationalised, borderless, atomised, service sector appendage of Europe that Britain was during the Thatcher years, and has only become ever more so since.
This does not mean that the market is not important. Indeed, taxation should be kept as low as it can be once core national and public needs have been met - a strong Armed Forces, secure and staffed borders, core public utilities, fair and decent pensions, and so on. But most fundamentally the Right is not ideologically based on the market, nor was the Left-Right axis originally conceived around the axis of state intervention in the economy. That new dividing line came to the fore when the Right retreated from everything it was supposed to be about and that once distinguished it from the Left: patriotism, sovereignty, national self-interest and decent old-fashioned social values; a healthy respect for tradition, rootedness, connectedness and national distinctiveness over the revolutionary international egalitarianism of the Left. As many commentators have noted, globalism versus patriotism is now a much more relevant axis than nationalisation versus the free market.
It is only by recognising this and returning to these foundations of conservatism that the Right can truly win the battle of ideas with the Left and once again regain its sense of purpose; to offer a compelling narrative that will resonate with a large portion of the British people. The vote to leave the EU which so shocked the political establishment shows the appetite is there - what is needed is a party to harness it.