Going Back To Battle For Thatcherism, 40 Years On

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In this week’s thrilling Game of Thrones season finale, there was a moment when the great wall separating the barbarian wastelands from the civilised world seemed sure to be breached. Disheartened and battle weary, the leader of the wall’s depleted guard crossed enemy lines to negotiate the terms of their surrender to the wildling force besieging them. There was no other way out – when suddenly a saviour rode into view, a king from the south with thousands of armed men galloping behind him.

Trade the fictional land of Westeros for the realpolitik of Westminster, and David Cameron’s Conservative Party are not in quite as bad a shape as the ragtag Night’s Watch army on the wall, holding back the tide of socialism but leaderless and in desperate need of rescue by stronger and more organised forces – at least not yet. But this is largely thanks to the Liberal Democrat implosion and Ed Miliband’s pioneering work in the field of political self-immolation.

Were it not for this hugely favourable climate, the Tories would certainly be on the ropes with less than a year to go until election day. That the conservatives are under siege is evidenced by the fact that they have all the unpopularity of a losing team despite having successfully achieved almost none of their policy goals such as eliminating the budget deficit, rolling back the state or pushing back against antidemocratic EU interference from Brussels.

For British conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals, the heroes riding to the rescue were decked out in workaday business attire rather than the resplendent suits of armour seen in Game of Thrones, but they were no less welcome a sight for that when they arrived at London’s Guildhall to participate in the first annual Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, organised by the think tank Thatcher founded with Sir Keith Joseph 40 years ago.

British advocates of individual liberty and a small state have endured long years in the wilderness – the fading days of the Major government, thirteen years of gradual state encroachment under the benevolent grin of Tony Blair (then the angry fist of Gordon Brown), and four years of conservative-in-name-only meandering under David Cameron’s coalition with Nick Clegg. Aside from the misty-eyed retrospectives following Margaret Thatcher’s death, talk of personal freedom, liberty and unapologetic pride and optimism in Britain have been missing in action from mainstream political discourse, presumed dead.

Before you cry ‘hyperbole!’, think on it for a moment: The main political mantras of the period 2010 to 2014 have been “The Big Society”, “We’re all in this together” and “Paying their fair share” (fairness, of course, remaining conveniently and forever undefined). All are collectivist tropes designed to soothe and placate natural Labour voters, not the principled words of liberty befitting the heirs to Thatcher.

The Big Society was meant to serve as rear-guard cover as the Conservative-led coalition sought to stem the rise in government spending and enlist volunteer groups to pick up the slack, but its architects forgot that a sudden burst of civic-mindedness and philanthropy was unlikely to come to pass if the government did not reduce its ominous presence in everything else that we do.

“We’re all in this together” was always a phrase better left to the teenage cast of Disney’s “High School Musical”, because it sounds both patronising and wooden coming from the mouths of politicians like David Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer. George Osborne & co. are quite clearly not suffering the effects of austerity in the same ruinous way as families who have been deliberately led down the road to government dependence through Labour tax credits and allowances, and stranded there to suffer in the great recession. Suggesting that we are all suffering equally has opened the door to ridicule and Labour’s inevitable counterattack of ‘class warfare!’ as they seek to distract attention from their awful record in office.

And the less said about “paying your fair share” the better; suffice it to note that we now live in a country where any reduction in benefits granted to an individual by the state is not only indignantly referred to by opponents as a ‘tax increase’, phrases such as ‘the bedroom tax’ are unquestioningly adopted by the media without the slightest hint of irony.

As this blog noted yesterday, these are not auspicious times for those Britons who believe in a smaller government and more power for the individual.

But this only made the words spoken and the ideas expressed at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty all the more heartening for those beleaguered souls who think Thatcher was right, and that we need to embrace rather than repudiate her vision of a modern, capitalist Britain.

From start to finish there were powerful speeches on important topics such as re-emphasising national sovereignty, promoting free markets, tax reform, foreign policy, immigration and defence. Sometimes the ideas discussed were almost startling because they clashed so violently with the centrist orthodoxy that now predominates.

Take the panels on economics and fiscal policy. With Art Laffer in attendance there was no pulling of punches as he restated his timeless keys to success for any national economy: “A low-rate, broad-based flat tax, spending restraint, sound money, free trade and sane, limited regulation”. It cannot go unnoticed that the Conservatives have ceded some of this ground to UKIP in the past few years, but while policies such as a flat tax may be something of a pipe dream, Laffer’s contribution to the debate could be what is needed to help the Tories rediscover their footing on tax policy.

Also looming large in the discussion was growing cosiness between big business and big government, be it through lobbying at the national and EU level (more than 15,000 lobbyists and counting, noted Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan) or direct collusion on matters such as government surveillance. Perhaps surprisingly, given the circumstances, the delegates still considered big government a bigger threat than big business by a margin of 79% to 21%. Art Laffer summed up this sentiment, saying “big or small business is irrelevant – what matters is efficiency and competency”.

The discussions on national sovereignty and the need to stand firm in support of the nation state as the best guarantor of individual liberty were particularly refreshing, as they stood in such stark contrast to the pessimism and declinism which inevitably colour the attitudes of the pro-Europeans and those who have lost the ability to distinguish between patriotism and nationalist xenophobia.

Daniel Hannan argued that the EU should become “a free trade area in the model of NAFTA”, a nice idea, but given the fact that the European project has taken on a life of its own with the EU’s own interests now superseding those of its member states, there was too little discussion of how best to effect a British exit. Indeed, when the time came to vote on whether the EU can realistically be reformed, attendees voted 43% yes (wishful thinking) but a solid 57% no.

One of the most concrete areas of policy development was on tax, with the launch at the conference of the very SEO-friendly #ThePolicy. This proposed tax reform calls for the total abolition of capital gains and corporation tax for small businesses, giving them a shot in the arm to expand and create more jobs. The negative impact on the Treasury would be offset by the falling welfare bill, together with increases in PAYE and National Insurance contributions from the newly employed. While the policy needs further analysis and costing, it seems a lot more solid than Labour’s various hare-brained schemes to achieve full employment by levying yet another one-time tax on ‘the bankers’.

Underpinning all of these conversations on the economy was the imperative to rescue the reputation of capitalism, which has been tarnished partly through its own fault but mostly by left wing saboteurs, crony capitalism and poor government regulation. Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, posed the question: “How can capitalism work for people who don’t have capital?”. It is certainly the prevailing view, and has too often been the case, that capitalism has not worked well for too many people as implemented by their governments. Changing this negative impression of capitalism, and the element of truth behind it, will be key if the Conservatives are to rebuild the winning coalition of working and middle classes that Thatcher forged in 1979.

This discussion naturally led to the importance of preventing distortions in the market, and the observation that “gifts through the tax code and obscure regulatory benefits” are no less than corporate welfare, and should be discouraged in order to salvage capitalism’s reputation. And in another nod to the importance of semantics, it was reinforced that “libertarians, Thatcherites and other pro-capitalism sympathisers need to speak of being ‘pro-market’, not ‘pro-business’ in order to avoid being associated with harmful crony capitalism.”

There were several interesting debates on the media, with Guido Fawkes blogger Paul Staines and the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg hosting an interesting Google Hangout on the future of news media, the opportunities presented by online journalism and the disruptive impact on existing revenue models – a topic which could have been a day conference in itself. And it was perhaps unsurprising that 70% of delegates were against continued full state subsidisation of the BBC.

On national identity and culture (or what has become known here as the #BritishValues debate), former Australian prime minister John Howard attempted to reframe the argument, describing himself as a “multiracialist, not a multiculturalist”. In doing so, Howard explained that conservatives should be welcoming to immigrants regardless of their race and ethnicity, but hold everyone to the same standards of behaviour and observance of the law – a call to assimilate which many on the left are too timid to echo.

John Howard also had timely words of warning on winning elections, a topic where David Cameron could use advice from a someone with a track record. Howard warned: “The worst way to try to win office is to pretend you’re not too different from your opponents”.

Cameron is limited in what he can do in government by his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, but when the starting gun is fired on the 2015 general election campaign, this will no longer be the case. The Conservative Party – if they are willing and courageous enough to do so – will be able to clearly articulate their policies and present a radically different blueprint for Britain than that offered by Ed Miliband’s dystopian “One Nation” vision.

The centrist status quo was challenged on almost every issue, even if some topics (such as immigration, where delegates from North America and Europe found themselves talking at cross purposes for much of the time because of their differing experiences) were not convincingly resolved.

The only question remaining now the conference is over: Is today’s Conservative Party still receptive to what the small government free-marketeers have to say? Will the Tories reach out and take the help and advice being offered?

In Game of Thrones, those who guard the wall are a motley crew of misfits, idealists and outcasts. Anyone who has ever made the mistake of expressing support for conservatism or (heresy of heresies) admiration for Lady Thatcher at a Hampstead dinner party or northern England working men’s club could immediately identify with their plight.

But despite the prevailing atmosphere of scepticism, the happy warriors at the 2014 Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty did something important in defence of the realm the likes of which we have not seen on such a scale since their not-so-ancient order was founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974 – they came together and boldly, unapologetically proclaimed the principles of small government and individual empowerment that saved Britain once and can do so again.

By contrast, Ed Miliband addresses crowds of the Labour faithful (nobody else listens to him now) and – with a straight face – proclaims that his disproven, tired old formula of tax hikes and renationalisation represents “the new politics” that Britain so desperately needs, if only we realised.

Consequently, the 2015 general election could end up being a battle between two recycled political ideologies. And we will have a choice to make: Shall we choose the one that inevitably leads to the four-day working week, rolling blackouts, industrial unrest, punitive taxation, the brain drain, the politics of envy and ‘managed decline’, or the one that puts its trust in the people, liberating them to make Britain great again through their own efforts?

With the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, Thatcher’s peers, friends and successors made a surprisingly forceful show of strength on the side of freedom.

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Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty – Closing Update

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The Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty 2014 is now wrapping up at London’s Guildhall.

Semi-Partisan Sam is live-tweeting the event here, previewed the conference here, and summarised developments here and here throughout the day.

It has been a very insightful day. Tim Stanley put it well when he observed that many of the old Thatcherites in attendance, though advancing in years, often spoke with more energy and enthusiasm than the focus group-approved, cookie-cutter young politicos filling the ranks of the main political parties today.

Here is a round-up of highlights from the afternoon sessions:

A resounding result from the poll on funding of the BBC. Fully 70% of respondents said that British taxpayers should no longer fully subsidise the organisation.

A stern warning from John Howard to the British Conservative Party on electability: “The worst way to try to win office is to pretend you’re not too different from your opponents”. Will David Cameron’s Tories heed this advice once freed from their LibDem shackles in the 2015 general election campaign?

The roots of the financial crash were analysed, and John Howard pushed back on the increasingly popular idea that it was a crisis of capitalism: “US legislators flung money at people who had no ability to repay housing loans”. That sums it up quite well.

The debate on immigration missed the mark a bit, with US/Canadian speakers and those from Europe talking past each other, not really understanding the huge differences thanks to the EU’s common market and free movement of people.

The seeds of an interesting new angle on immigration by John Howard, who described himself as a “multiracialist, not a multiculturalist”. Howard explained that this meant welcoming all races and ethnicities in the immigrant community, but expecting everyone to assimilate. Could this be an effective way for political parties to express a civic view of Britishness?

Rousing words from Toby Young, saying that the British right wing was ideally positioned to claim the mantles of free speech and equality from a tired left wing that is all too eager to “turn a blind eye [when minority groups] do not stand up for equality in their own communities” – citing the treatment of girls in the schools implicated in the Birmingham school trojan horse scandal.

More Toby Young on free speech: “The left has surrendered free speech to those of us on the centre right. We saw this in the Leveson affair”.

Fighting back against the Thomas Piketty phenomenon, Toby Young declares “They [the left wing] have promoted the idea that there is fundamental antagonism between free market capitalism and inequality”.

Property rights came up, and John Howard called for US-style laws on mineral rights: “Mineral rights should belong to landowners, not government”. If fracking is to become widespread in the UK, it is only fair that affected homeowners, rather than the Crown, should reap the benefits.

Jonah Goldberg’s excellent joke when he suffered a Marco Rubio moment – “excuse me, I smoked a huge amount of pot before I got here, I have terrible dry mouth … That joke worked better on college campuses. And in Colorado” – crashed and burned in the hall. CPS delegates need to lighten up a bit.

Jonah Goldberg gives some sound words of advice – that we should all become happy conservative warriors. “Nothing annoys a liberal more than a conservative who smiles … Our tradition of liberty is the best guarantee enabling people to enjoy life”, he says.

 

Stay tuned to @SamHooper on Twitter for final live-tweets from the CPS conference, and to this blog for review and post-game analysis of the conference once it concludes.

Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty – Second Impressions

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The Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty 2014 continues at London’s Guildhall.

Semi-Partisan Sam is live-tweeting the event here, and previewed the conference here.

The event continues to surpass expectations, with bold policy suggestions on tax and on the defence of national sovereignty in an age of supra-national organisations chipping away at democracy.

It should be noted that the agenda items that play into hands of the discredited neo-conservatives and national security extremists are yet to come, so the conference could yet take a turn for the worse. Former CIA chief General David Petraeus and the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, for example, are yet to weigh in on the discussion panels.

Key highlights from the late morning and early afternoon sessions include:

STOP THE PRESSES – An important proposal on tax. The Centre for Policy Studies rolled out #ThePolicy, which involves eliminating capital gains and corporation taxes completely for small businesses, unleashing them to create jobs. The loss of tax revenue would be balanced by reductions in the welfare bill and increases in PAYE and National Insurance Contributions from the newly employed.

A lively debate over whether corporations or big government pose the bigger threat to liberty. The result came down emphatically on the side of big government (79% to 21%), perhaps rather surprising considering the increasing synergy between the two.

Art Laffer telling it like it is, with his five keys to success for any national economy: A low rate, broad-based flat tax; spending restraint; sound money; free trade and sane (not excessive) regulation.

A call to embrace the rise of developing economies: Art Laffer says “You need China. Without China there is no Wal-Mart and there can be no middle class”.

Big or small business is irrelevant – what matters is efficiency and competency, and may the best size win, according to Laffer.

The Battle of the Professors: Luigi Zingales and Deirdre McCloskey slug it out in a panel discussion, arguing whether the economic situation of the average (median or mean) person has improved faster or slower in recent years.

An attack on the bailouts, with The Economist’s John Micklethwait declaring that “too many people were bailed out for too much, and it perpetuated this sense of unfairness”.

The conference now continues, with General David Petraeus rebutting some of the theories of American decline in the panel discussion “After America, What?”

 

Stay tuned to @SamHooper on Twitter for live-tweets from the conference, and to this blog for discussion and analysis of the conference after the fact.

Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty – First Impressions

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The Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty 2014 is now underway at London’s Guildhall.

Semi-Partisan Sam is live-tweeting the event here, and previewed the conference here.

First impressions are of a bold start, giving increased hope for the sessions that follow throughout the day. This blog was concerned about the title of the first session, which speculated about whether the EU and big business are ganging up against liberty and the nation state when the answer is all too obvious – but fortunately there was little ambivalence in the lively panel discussion itself.

Indeed, when the time came to vote on whether the EU can realistically be reformed, attendees voted 43% yes (wishful thinking) but a solid 57% no.

Hopefully the remainder of the conference will start to unpick what this means, and what Britain needs to do to preserve and protect her national interests in the all-too-likely scenario that the EU will continue on its course toward ever-closer union without paying heed to the wishes of the European people or the results of the recent European elections.

Other highlights so far:

Daniel Hannan suggesting that the EU should become “a free trade area in the model of NAFTA”

Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, posing the question “How can capitalism work for people who don’t have capital?. Having a strong, compelling answer to this conundrum is vital if conservatives are to rebuild the winning coalition of working and middle classes that Thatcher built in 1979.

The pernicious relationship between big business and big government being made clear in one arresting fact – that there are now more than 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels, taking advantage of “economies of scale” whereby one lobbyist can seek to influence the policies and laws of 28 EU member states. Big business and the lobbyists truly are able to divide and conquer under the protection of the EU.

A timely reminder that “gifts through the tax code and obscure regulatory benefits” are corporate welfare that distorts the free market.

A suggestion that libertarians, classic liberals, Thatcherites and other pro-capitalism sympathisers need to speak of being pro-market, not pro-business in order to avoid being associated with harmful crony capitalism.

 

Stay tuned to @SamHooper on Twitter for live-tweets from the conference, and to this blog for discussion and analysis of the conference after the fact.

 

Can The Margaret Thatcher Conference On Liberty Rescue British Conservatism?

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These are not auspicious times for people who believe in the rights of the individual and the need for a pared-back, smaller, more efficient state.

It says everything about today’s Conservative Party, governing in weary coalition with the Liberal Democrats, that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party find the current Tory spending levels palatable enough that they have vowed to stick to them should they win back power in 2015, while their eurosceptic credentials are now so widely distrusted that UKIP have become the standard-bearers for defending Britain’s national interests abroad.

Just as Gordon Brown agitated for power and eventually deposed Tony Blair without a real agenda for governing (and we all know how well that worked out for him), so David Cameron’s Conservatives stumbled across the finish line and into Number 10 Downing Street with a half-hearted policy agenda built only to address the immediate economic crisis while ‘detoxifying’ the conservative brand rather than building the foundations for twenty-first century Britain.

Meanwhile, the assault on personal privacy and freedom from the surveillance state is gathering speed and momentum. In the United States, those on the side of liberty have at least found voice through whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and journalists like Glenn Greenwald, forcing American politicians to at least pay lip service to the protections set out in their Constitution.

In the United Kingdom, however, the juggernaut has continued without so much as slowing down. Politicians from David Cameron on downwards have expressed no contrition that such a pervasive surveillance apparatus was constructed without any public debate or approval, while civil servants from the intelligence services remain unrepentant and continue their work without proper Parliamentary oversight.

As this goes on, the British people are assured that there is no reason to worry because we are only being spied on to protect us from terrorists, and that the surveillance takes place under “strict legal controls” – though thanks to the opaqueness of the British legal system and the propensity of the government to interpret laws creatively in their favour, this is of no reassurance at all.

Britain may not yet be facing a new winter of discontent – there may be no widespread industrial unrest, the rubbish may not be piling up uncollected in the streets and the economy may not be in freefall – but you would have to be mad not to pick up on the sense of pessimism and foreboding. The economic recovery remains an “order book recovery” at present, its benefits not yet felt by many financially squeezed families.

And now we are told to rejoice that six years after the financial crash, Britain’s economic output has finally caught up with where it was in the heady days of 2008. More than half a lost decade.

No, these are not auspicious times.

Paul Goodman agrees, writing at Conservative Home:

50 years on from the new social freedoms of the 1960s, and 30 years on from the new economic ones of the 1980s, liberty has decreased, not increased.  What we drink, what we smoke, what we speak, how we drive, how we bank, how we live: all these are far more restricted by law than was the case in the 1970s.  The reasons for curtailment may be contestable – health and safety, Islamist terror, the Dunblane atrocity, NHS costs – but the direction of travel is clear.

While there is no major existential threat to Britain at present as there was in 1979 – the unions having been tamed and the Cold War won – there is still an urgent need for radical conservative thinking and policy solutions, just as there was in 1979 when Britain stood at the abyss.

All those years ago it was the (then) new think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, that served as the intellectual engine behind the incoming Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher. No mere talking shop, the CPS developed ideas that changed Britain for the better once put into practice, as John O’Sullivan reminds us in the Telegraph:

This stream of pamphlets argued for limited government, reduced public spending, control of the money supply as a means controlling inflation, an end to prices and incomes control, the abolition of exchange controls, the privatization of industry, the scrapping industrial subsidies and the wider dispersal of wealth. Study groups, at one time numbering more than twenty, were set up. One of them, the Trade Union Reform Group under the chairmanship of Sir Len Neal, a former trade union leader, laid the foundation of the legislation later introduced to reform trade union law. Another pamphlet was inspired by Keith’s vision of the wider ownership of wealth; it led to PEPS (later restructured to become ISAs).

In 2014, the CPS is now celebrating its 40th birthday with a major international conference, the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty.

It should be encouraging that the organ which did so much to inform and influence Thatcher’s government is riding to the rescue once again, but a glance at the agenda for today’s event hints more at the degree to which Britain has fallen back from the ‘peak’ of liberty achieved by Thatcher than it offers hope for bold new policy initiatives ready to be rolled out.

The first order of conference business, after the introductory speech by Sir V S Naipaul, is ditheringly titled: “The EU and the Big Corporations: are they ganging up against liberty and its protector, the nation state?”

After everything that has happened in Europe and Britain over the past several months, with the electorate’s rejection of the pro-European integration status quo and the rise of parties like UKIP, is this still a question that really needs to be asked? A forward-looking conference would be debating the best way to take advantage of the public’s growing scepticism and antipathy toward undemocratic supra-national institutions in order to either enact radical reform or achieve freedom from them, not half-heartedly speculate about whether the EU and the Brussels lobbying industry pose a threat in the first place.

And at the risk of venturing into conspiracy theorist territory, the fact that a number of conference attendees will participate in a session entitled “Big Government, Big Corporations: what chance for small business and innovation?” having come fresh from the Bilderberg 2014 meeting in Copenhagen, where big government gets together with (you guessed it) big corporations to the exclusion of everyone else does not speak very well of their legitimacy to discuss such matters.

One gets the sense that the Margaret Thatcher 2014 conference agenda was devised in order to fit the specialist knowledge and talking points of those special guests who accepted their invitations rather than the more fearless approach, which would have been to identify the most pressing trends facing Britain and the West, determining what needs to be discussed, and then engaging the support of those high-profile individuals who can best offer and promote policy solutions.

And while CPS is eager to promote the credentials and resumes of the conference’s star panellists, some of the luminaries scheduled to impart their wisdom – conservative celebrities though they may be – have decidedly questionable records when it comes to standing up for liberty in action.

If the Centre for Policy Studies is serious about rejuvenating conservatism and ushering in a new birth for freedom (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln), the honoured guests from America should include the likes of libertarian standard-bearer Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, or Ted Cruz of Texas (abrasive and odious though he may sometimes be) or at the very least Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

If this conference really is to recapture the success of 40 years ago and spark some new ideas, there should be representation from that force which is doing the most to upend the stale conservative status quo across the Atlantic, the American Tea Party.

But instead, the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty 2014 will be hearing from discredited, neo-conservative fossils the likes of Jonah Goldberg, who has never seen a war that he was not in favour of launching (though not personally participating in, of course), and Rich Lowry, who openly and unapologetically fantasises about the populist, proudly anti-intellectual Sarah Palin.

Sure, these big-name commentators may talk the talk when it comes to small government – at least, if you consider relentlessly hammering away at a “no new taxes, ever” message whilst simultaneously seeking to shrink the deficit and ringfence government spending on generous benefits for senior citizens or America’s bloated defence budget to be a “principled” form of conservatism – but it all goes out the window when it comes to foreign policy, national security and the surveillance state. On these issues, the likes of Goldberg and Lowry whine and clamour for big government louder than most die-hard left-wingers.

These people are Believers in Liberty in Name Only – or BLINOs. What insights and advice are they expected to give that they do not already regurgitate week after week in their National Review columns?

People like Jonah Goldberg – neo-conservative nepotism beneficiary extraordinaire – should be pariahs at a rejuvinated, forward-looking Centre for Policy Studies conference, not guests of honour.

It is curious that while some of the CPS’s American invitees are both out of power and widely discredited, their British counterparts are currently in power but are struggling to make a noticeable impact on an otherwise very centrist, pro big state, pro-Europe government.

Michael Gove, due to attend, is a formidable intellect and the closest that the Cabinet has to a libertarian (his bravura performance when giving evidence at the Leveson Inquiry saw him at his best); but Gove has achieved all that he feasibly can at the Education Department, and has recently made a series of political missteps that could harm his chances of winning another major government brief in the upcoming reshuffle.

Likewise, the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan is an articulate advocate for the eurosceptic cause, and yet his caucus did not do enough by way of defending Britain’s national interest to stop the rising tide of public fury at the antidemocratic European Union, which saw the Conservatives’ European Parliament group leader, Martin Callanan, lose his seat.

John O’Sullivan, writing in The Telegraph, notes:

As Henry Kissinger points out, senior people in modern government are simply too busy and too tired to think creatively about the problems facing them. If they haven’t used opposition to do some fresh thinking, they have to fall back on the ideas of their opponents.

The Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty 2014 has the advantage of throwing together conservative thinkers in power (albeit the dying days of coalition with the Liberal Democrats) with those in the wilderness of opposition (as President Obama’s administration inches closer to its lame duck days). According to Kissinger, this should be the best of both worlds – a combination of Tory blue sky thinking and hard nosed pragmatism from the coal-face of government.

Such a conference could do more than generate headlines for one day in a slow news season – it could provide the spark that finally drags British conservatism out of its introspective, apologetic, New Labour Continued stupor.

But the conference is heavy on has-beens and light on rising stars. Instead of conservative thinkers like Andrew Sullivan, we get demagogues like Jonah Goldberg. Instead of rising political stars like Marco Rubio or Rand Paul, we will hear from elderly statesmen like former Australian prime minister John Howard. Instead of someone, anyone with a post-Snowden mindset on national security, we get former CIA director General David Petraeus.

That’s not to say that there will be no people of interest to watch – Michael Gove will be attending, along with Daniel Hannan, Estonian prime minister Taavi Rõivas and intellectual heavyweights such as Niall Ferguson. But nothing sums up the tightrope walked by the Centre for Policy Studies more starkly than the fact that Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore, is also a guest of honour at today’s conference.

British conservatism needs to look forward, but too much of the guest list suggests that the focus is on the past, not the future. Margaret Thatcher was right for her time and place – Britain in the eighties. But the next transformative British conservative leader will not look or sound like Thatcher; nor will he or she share the same priorities or advance the same policy goals. In the year 2014 Britain faces different challenges requiring different, bold solutions.

Tempting though it may be to sit back and reminisce about that day forty years ago when the Centre for Policy Studies was founded, there is too much work to be done in the present if British conservatism is to save itself.

And that work needs to start today.