'Making a ‘New Conservatism’: The Tory Reform Committee and Design for Freedom, 1942–1949'
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionEnglish Historical Review. 2020, 135 (574), 605-641. 10.1093/ehr/ceaa193
This article offers the first analytical overview of the political thinking and organisational history of the Tory Reform Committee (TRC). It is also a contribution to wider scholarly debates about the making of a ‘New Conservatism’ in the 1940s and the development of Conservative thought in the twentieth century. The TRC’s leading members drew on the party’s Disraelian one-nation tradition to free them from adopting doctrinaire positions. They wanted to emphasise the merits of either state intervention, planning and social reform, or private enterprise, individualism and freedom, depending on the country’s economic and social position—and the party’s electoral position. Most Tory Reformers imposed limits on the malleability of their Conservatism by rejecting laissez-faire individualism, socialism, and the earliest signs of neoliberalism. Although the group was replaced by the Design for Freedom Movement, which adopted a similar political outlook on a non-party basis between 1947 and 1949, its broader significance relates to how its support for the principles of ‘design’ and ‘freedom’ influenced Conservative debates about economic and social policy at a pivotal moment in the party’s history. Continuities of thought suggest that we should be wary of interpretations which impose an ‘origins of neoliberalism’ or proto-Thatcherite framework on the 1940s. The TRC’s ‘New Conservatism’ was meant to be adaptable, practical and Keynesian. It was a pitch for the centre ground and it was integral to the political thought of Conservative governments between 1951 and 1974.