It has been rather a peripatetic week. Last Sunday, I was in Louth for the Mayor’s civic parade before heading for London in the evening, ready for the launch of the Joint Committee report (and the Alternative report) on Monday. It was a case of travelling back to Hull on Wednesday evening, ready for teaching on Thursday, and then departing for Oxford yesterday (Friday), where I delivered the first in a series of Beaufort Seminars on ‘Dimensions of Conservatism: Ideology, Policy and Strategy’.
My paper was on ‘Constitutional Issues and the Conservative Party’. This provided me with the opportunity to cover how the nature of constitutional debate has changed in post-war decades, moving from a settled state to one where different approaches compete with one another, and how the Conservative Party has responded to that debate. Part of the problem has been that it has tended to play catch-up, reacting to specific events, rather than thinking through the Conservative position in order to shape its stance when in office. The party faced the 2010 election without having collected its thoughts on constitutional change and was then faced with a situation where it had to negotiate a coalition agreement. This entailed a compromise in some areas (as with the referendum on AV) or conceding a position in others (as with fixed-term parliaments) and, indeed, conceding an approach. The agreement proceeded on the basis of the liberal approach (our political system is broken) rather than the (Westminster or traditional) approach adopted by Conservatives – our system may occasionally need change in order to strengthen, but it is not broken. This not surprisingly has given rise to some tensions. The way in which the Government has approached constitutional change has not been dissimilar to that of its predecessor. Instead of a sharp change, the stance has been marked by continuity.