Damian Green is Chair of the One Nation Caucus, a former First Secretary of State and is MP for Ashford.
Those of us who have always described ourselves as One Nation Conservatives have enjoyed playing word bingo with the Prime Minister’s speeches during and since the general election. He has been determinedly and repeatedly insistent that he will lead a One Nation Conservative Government, and I give multiple cheers to that.
But what does it mean? Not, specifically, what does Boris Johnson mean by One Nation Conservatism. He is better than anyone at vivid political language, and in any case every Prime Minister comes to be judged on actions, not words. Rather, what does a phrase which has been used by political insiders for 150 years without having much impact on the general population entail in the 2020s?
The first key step is to recognise that your attitude to Brexit does not determine whether or not you are a One Nation Conservative. There are arguments to come about the shape of trade deals, but the fundamental decision on Brexit has been taken and should be respected. The pre-requisite for sanity and reason to prevail on Brexit is for those who lost the Referendum to recognise that fact, and for everyone to stop defining each other as Remainers or Leavers. That’s what we were in 2016. The world has moved on, and so should the British political debate.
The One Nation Caucus of the Conservative parliamentary party has produced a set of principles which seek to reflect our underlying values without descending into motherhood and apple pie. They cover the Union, active global leadership, life chances and social responsibility, as well as more traditional One Nation commitments on public services, the environment, human rights and the rule of law.
These principles are recognisably moderate (we praise overseas aid and want to show leadership in fighting climate change) while being equally recognisably Conservative (we think the UK and its values are a force for good in the world and we believe in a market economy with strong regulation to promote competition).
So there will be those in the Conservative Party who do not believe in all of them, and anyone in another party in who signs up to all of them is welcome to come on board. In particular, any former Labour supporter who is fed up of being called a Tory by Corbynistas may look at these principles and make a reality of what was meant as an insult.
Applying these underlying principles to the challenges facing the current Government is of course the key test. In this regard, the Prime Minister’s determination to level up those parts of the UK that have been left behind is absolutely on the money.
One Nation originally meant removing barriers between rich and poor all over the country, but now we have seen that specific areas can be left behind it is squarely within the tradition to address those particular problems. Improving the infrastructure in those parts of the country is important, but the underlying aim to improve the life chances of those living there, and in particular allowing them to live fulfilled lives without feeling that they have to move away.
There will be other policy areas where I expect One Nation conservatives to be cheerleaders for Government action, and more than that being the strongest voices urging further and faster action. Environment policy is such an area. Not only in the area of climate change, but in the important role of acting as stewards to our local and national environment, it will be inspirational to have a Conservative Government leading the way. It is the right thing to do in any case, but it has the beneficial political spin-off of showing younger and future voters that Conservatives hold the same values as many of them.
Whichever Conservative tradition we belong to, we know that there are differences between on us the size and role of the state. Those who think that conservatism is all about cutting back the size of the state will have to recognise that this is going to be an interventionist Government which will not rely on unfettered markets to solve all our problems. Using the state’s ability to borrow money at historically low rates of interest to build necessary infrastructure might offend the free market purists but is absolutely a sensible response to the needs of the 2020s. As a pragmatic and moderate Tory I am looking forward to the Budget.
So far it is less clear what will happen in another area which is a huge interest to One Nation Conservatives, that of the constitution and our institutional arrangements. One of the key differences between moderate Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is that we believe in the wisdom inherent in the institutions that have developed over the centuries. They always need reform, but preserving the benefits of an independent legal system, a well-functioning Parliament and a free media should be at the heart of the Conservative project. I very much hope that in the years ahead the Government recognises this.
The One Nation Caucus will put out policy ideas, promote debate, and find many other ways to keep our values modern and relevant. I look forward to doing this in support of a One Nation Conservative Government,