For many Conservatives, the Coalition government’s eagerness to sell off forests and to build on the green belt goes considerably against the grain. It is, as Peter Oborne wrote in the Telegraph last January, ‘contrary to all Conservative teaching and experience’.
Oborne and others have been quick to trace these destructive instincts back to the Thatcher governments. The Iron Lady’s rather ambiguous relationship to the national past gained a lot of attention, both at the time and since. Radical planning decisions, which consistently favoured commerce over heritage, sat alongside stirring invocations of ‘Victorian values’ and pleas to take inspiration from our great and glorious past.
The standard explanation of this is that Thatcher was not a Conservative at all; she was an old-fashioned Liberal. Thus the values of middle class capitalists replaced those of the landed upper-class. The ‘Victorian values’ Thatcher emphasised were those of progress and industry, not of sentimentalism or paternalism.
Yet, pro-commerce, anti-conservation Conservatism goes back much further than Thatcher, as this article in the Liberal Pall Mall Gazette on 4 December 1888 shows:
More to follow as I investigate this over the next few months!