Pragmatism is the idea that a party does what is practical and what works. For example during a boom economic period the government may decide to raise taxes – because its practical and during a bust it may choose to reduce them. It is essentially, a flexible approach to politics: an understanding of what is best for people, what is acceptable to them and what will preserve a stable society. It is also a rejection of the politics of strongly held ideology and of a dogmatic approach to decision-making.
Conservatism is a belief system which is reactionary and anti-change. It seeks to conserve, i.e. maintain, the status quo. This value-system has survived when challenged by more radical/progressive ideologies because it has been prepared to adapt to new situations/challenges. In other words, it has been pragmatic; it did and (arguably) still does seek practical and flexible responses to concrete, changing circumstances, avoiding what it perceives to be politically abstract/utopian. It is not an ideology in the sense of a comprehensive package of principles and doctrines which provide blueprints for structures and actions.
Many would argue that Conservatism isn’t an ideology but rather does what is pragmatic. It has over the years gone from very paternalistic values to classical liberal beliefs. For example paternalistic conservatives advocated against child labour and a long working week whereas new right liberalism (Thatcher era) advanced for individualism and very little state intervention in the economy. Thus illustrating that rather than being in an ideology it has always done what was practical at the time; it is pragmatic not ideological.
The Conservative Party policy has varied a lot over the years. For example in 2005 David Cameron and the Conservative Party advocated that they wanted to cut tuition fee’s completely, however in 2011 they decided to rise the cap of fees to £9000. Clearly demonstrating that the party does what is pragmatic rather than have a set ideology of what they believe. Many could argue that the Conservative party chose not to raise tuition fees in 2005 because it would have attracted young floating voters to vote for them. Thus illustrating it was a practical move to gain a higher percentage of votes rather than ideological. Therefore Conservatism as an ideology has endured because of pragmatism.
The Conservative Party went from supporting and advocating for an Aristocracy to ‘One Nation’ conservatism. Traditional Conservatism was based on protecting hierarchy; the idea that everyone should know their place. However as more people became entitled to the vote, the conservatives began to make up only a small minority of the electorate, and thus they changed their policies to ‘one nation’ conservatism. Advanced by Benjamin Disraeli it was the idea that those better off in society should help the lower types of people. Therefore demonstrating that the conservative ideology has endured because of pragmatism. Although many could argue that the Conservatives don’t have an ideology, it’s all pragmatism.
Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron’s policies have also clashed in many ways, illustrating the party’s pragmatism. For example Margaret Thatcher advocated for tax cuts ‘people should spend their money as they wish’. Cutting tax is very conservative ideology because it advances for little state intervention in the economy. However in 2012 David Cameron’s conference speech stated that he wanted the ‘rich to pay a greater share of tax’. Therefore demonstrating that overtime conservatives change policy, showing their pragmatism. Thus it is clear to say that Conservatism as an ideology has endured because of pragmatism.
During the Thatcher administration Section 28 was brought in. A policy that would stop local councils and schools from positively promoting homosexuality. However in 2009 David Cameron publicly apologised stating that the party had 'got it wrong' when it introduced Section 28 in the late 1980s. Many have argued that David Cameron's apology was simply a reaction to 'focus group findings'. Therefore demonstrating that the party does what is pragmatic rather than ideological.
In 1979 Heath advanced the ‘Selsdon Programme’ which was the idea of a free market economy. Many argued that the selsdon programme helped win the election for the Conservative Party. However when Edward Heath got into government he took a U turn and abandoned the programme due to Trade Union opposition. Thus demonstrating that the conservative ideology is pragmatic and adapts to what works at the time.
The Butskellite era also demonstrated pragmatism within the conservative ideology. The Conservative and Labour chancellor exchequers favoured a mixed economy; with a welfare state and Keynesian management of the economy. Clearly illustrating how the Conservative ideology does what is practical rather than ideological.
During the Thatcher era many right wing extreme think tanks were advanced; such as a centre for policy studies advocated by Keith Joseph. However such ideas were not taken on board because Thatcher believed that in practise they wouldn't work. Therefore showing that the conservative party does what is pragmatic rather than ideological as it shows that the party rejected right wing ideas that would have been hard to pursue.
William Hague also democratised the party’s organisational structures to make it less elitist. This idea demonstrates pragmatism because traditional Conservatism advanced for aristocracy and to protect the upper classes.