"Have confidence in conservatism." Tim Montgomerie is keeping the faith. While many of his party run toward a centre ground defined by New Labour, becoming careless of long-held principles as they scent electoral victory, Montgomerie offers a voice of admonition. His brand of centre-right politics is generous, democratic and firmly conservative -and he believes it is only such authenticity that can win.
Ex-chief of staff to Iain Duncan Smith, Montgomerie is not without experience in these matters. His conservatism, informed by Christianity and strong on personal rectitude, has sometimes been mocked. But in 2009, such "old-fashioned" sentiments have never seemed more timely. As Britain struggles to cope with financial turmoil and the legacy of a decade of spin, Montgomerie may well be right that only his kind of integrity can rescue the country from its social and economic malaise. When a message centred on economic freedom would be lucky to gain a fair hearing, his social conservatism has more traction, offering pragmatic and immediate answers, calling individuals to uphold the vigorous virtues of courage, ambition, creativity, self-sufficiency and enterprise. His beliefs are firm, but his analysis is also hard-headed. Studying the conservative victories of the first half of the decade in Australia, America and Canada, he concluded that their electoral coalitions were built around "Morrisons Voters" (named after the supermarket chain): lower-income families at the bleeding edge of failed government interventions and surreptitious tax hikes, adrift in the ruins of the civil society those interventions tore down. In the US, Tim Pawlenty used the phrase "Sam's Club voters", referring to a discount store, and rightly identified them as the missing ingredient in post-Bush Republicanism.
A British Conservative victory, Montgomerie argues, cannot be assembled by simply wooing the press, decontaminating the Tory brand and expecting the party faithful to trot loyally after Cameron's bicycle. That kind of centrism, built around a managed political message issuing from the centre, misunderstands the damage a top-down model has brought.