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Why ‘shy Tories’ won the vote

15 May 2015

THE General Election was won last week by the "shy Tories": those Conservative-inclined voters who stayed under the radar of the pollsters, but turned out in large numbers to vote on the day. Tory voters may be shy for all kinds of reasons, but one of them may be the fear of being disapproved of.

This might account for the fact that in 22 years at the BBC and 15 subsequently in ministry in Cambridge and Oxford, I can count on one hand the number of colleagues who were or are self-confessed Tories. The worlds of broadcasting, academia, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the Church tend to regard Tories as intellectually deficient and morally suspect. No one wants to be thought of in that way, and so those with such sympathies shut up.

Research shortly before the election suggested that the majority of those who identified with the C of E were, in fact, Conservative voters. But even they are somewhat under the radar. The rhetoric that comes from church leaders, even when it is as carefully worded as the Bishops' Pastoral Letter (News, 20 February), tends to sound as if it comes from the centre left. That is at least in part because Church of England thought has been influenced by Catholic social teaching: a well-argued body of thought which assumes that an interventionist State can be an effective instrument of social justice.

Shy Tories have difficulties with this view. Not only do they tend to distrust the extent of the State's involvement with everyday life: there is a perception that the State is something of a necessary evil. It cannot be a truly moral entity, because it is impersonal, and only persons can act as moral agents.

Many Conservatives believe instead that, while there is a place for the State in encouraging virtue, charity, and compassion, when the State attempts to enact those virtues, it overreaches itself and inhibits the place of the charities, individuals, and enterprises that can bind society together.

Worse, the State removes the impetus for personal virtue by promoting the view that it alone is the guarantor of goodness in society. But this will always be an illusion, and one that fuels dependency, bureaucracy, and, in the end, corruption.

Shy Tories are also shy of some of the failures of contemporary Conservatism. They wince at the self-indulgence of bankers, at tax-avoidance by corporations, at the cartels that act against the interests of the public. But all this does not add up to a quick answer, or even a decision to vote, until you look at what might happen if you don't. This, I think, is what the shy Tories finally did on Thursday last week.

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