On Election Day, I rode to the polling station on a throne carried by the local poor people, with a cripple leading the way blowing a trumpet and shouting "Make way for this Conservative Voter." All well worth the £1.50 I paid him. Arriving at the polling station, I climbed down the backs of the poor to walk along a red carpet rolled out by a member of an ex-miners association, who was chained to a lamppost so he wouldn't do something violent. Handing my solid gold polling card to the lady at the table, I had a street urchin shine my shoes while I waited for my name to be scored off the list. Ballot paper in hand, I went to the booth, stabbed the urchin with a quill and put a X in blood next to the Conservative candidate.
Hello, my name is Ben, and I am a Tory. According to the internet, particularly Facebook, I hate, despise, oppress and seek to destroy: the poor, the disabled, the miners, the Scottish and the NHS. The latest research indicates that 80% of left wing people reading the above story will nod wisely and think: "Yes, I thought so."
The vitriol and hatred displayed on a regular basis against Conservatives is a clear indication of a lack of understanding of Conservative principles and ideology. For it is easy to demean that which we do not understand and easy to simplify that which we put no effort into learning.
Let's get the cold hard truth out here, wild assertions that all Conservatives hate the poor are as crass and unwelcome as any other kind of discrimination. A well reasoned argument as to why conservative policy might harm the poor is perfectly acceptable (if, as I would counter argue, wrong). Spurious nonsense about millions of Britons voting to kill disabled people is childish and limited.
One of the fundamental difference between conservative and non-conservative voters can be summed up in two words: individual responsibility. And on those two words rest a world of difference and centuries of cross purpose debating.
Individual responsibility is the bedrock and foundation of conservative ideology. It works in many ways and many situations. It means primarily that I am deemed responsible to make all decisions about my life. Do I smack my children? My decision. Do I smoke? My decision. Do I get into debt? My decision. How much do I give to charity? My decision. Do I buy a product from Israel? Do I boycott Nestle? Do I celebrate meat-free Monday? All my own decision.
Now, and this is the hardest part to understand, as a Conservative I fully expect people to make "bad" decisions, decisions which can be proven to be detrimental or just plain wrong (although there is likely more decisions in the "what I think is bad" box than the "what is actually bad" box). But terrible life decisions is the price of individual responsible and leads nicely into the second part of the concept: individual responsibility means individual consequences be that suffering or benefiting.
St Paul hits the nail on the head when he says: "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." 2 Thessalonians 3 v10. This verse encapsulates perfectly this concept of individual responsible followed by consequences. If a man chooses not to work (as is always his decision) he must face the stark reality (he will starve). This is good and right and proper, not that the man starves, but that the man must face the reality that he will starve if he doesn't work. Choice devoid of consequence is no choice at all and makes slaves of us all.
The main fallout from this principle is that there is suddenly much that the state should have no say on. For it is not the job of the state to tell us how to run our lives. The responsibility of the state and the responsibility of individuals should not overlap. The state may determine some of the consequences for a sub-set of our actions deemed in the public interest (i.e. crimes) to regulate but the choice must rest with the individual. The state is no god to bend to its every whim, but a servant of the people, to serve us where best it can and to leave well alone what is has no right to touch.
There are grey areas with this concept of individual responsibility. I would argue from this principle to privatising the NHS on the basis that I want people who make bad health choices to have to pay for them. If someone chooses to binge drink on a regular basis, such is their decision to make as part of their individual responsibility. They should also suffer the individual consequence of higher health care costs further down the line. Many among Conservative voters would say that this takes the concept too far. The point is, it's more of a spectrum than an absolute value, yet the principle is still strong.
Take the matter of the uber-rich. The principle of individual responsibility means that they are no more required to pay more tax (proportionally) than anyone else in society. Their money is exactly that, theirs to do with as they wish. Now, as a Christian, I would argue strongly that they should, as a moral principle, give as much as they can away and that if they don't society and the poor will suffer through growing inequality and resentment. But this is divorced, by the principle of individual responsibility, from my ability to dictate to them that they must pay more.
Let's consider the poor now: once again the principle of individual responsibility means that the primary responsibility for solving poverty lies with the individual who is poor. Stay with me here, my experience of working with a charity that helped people in debt was a real eye opener to why people live in poverty. And one of the main reasons was that people make stupid choices with their money, it may be that there are lots of extenuating circumstances for these decisions, but the truth is still there and uncomfortable. One of the great reasons why clients for the charity didn't get out of debt was that they refused to take individual responsibility for their finances. The charity could only help people who were willing to work in partnership with them.
That's the hard truth part of Conservative ideology but is a sure guide for us. It puts conceptual limits on what the state can achieve through any benefit system. But individual responsibility is a principle that works both ways. When I walk past a homeless man in the street I refuse to let myself think: "the government should be doing more." Instead, I think: can I be doing more? And it turns out, I can give to a homeless charity. Individual responsibility means that the problems which society faces aren't "someone else's problem." They are my problem. Being strongly on the libertarian spectrum I would answer the question of: is it the state's responsibility to eliminate poverty? With the answer no, it is mine.
As I conservative I believe in the primacy of individual responsibility in a system of choice and consequence. The law expressed in the Bible this way: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." Galatians 6 v 7. Each one of us has to face this reality, a universe of choice and consequence, many decisions that have the potential to benefit or hurt us and others. It is only in this framework that we can grow to maturity and have the individual responsibility to accept what is ours anyway.
To get back to my opening story, as a conservative I do not hate the poor or the disabled or [insert minority group here]. Instead, I am in favour for a society that promotes individual responsibility, a system of individual choice and consequence, a system which encourages people to take ownership of their lives and livelihoods.
The next post in this series is here! The second principle of Conservatism: Life isn't fair.