I’ve been thinking a lot in last two days about Ronald Reagan’s farewell address which he delivered on January 11th 1989. I was only 1 year old when he sat behind the desk in the oval office and spoke, for the last time as president, to his country and the world.
Despite the years that have passed and the many changes, for good and ill we have seen since that day, his words, his hope, vision and optimism, still inspires me today.
“I've spoken of the shining city all my political life…in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that...she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.”
In the west, or rather in Europe and America, we, the politicians, the leaders, the activists of the centre right, have become complacent, lazy or possibly even embarrassed to explain to people what we stand for- what we believe in. We have allowed others to define us and our beliefs, to misrepresent what we stand for. We have become reactive, not proactive.
For far too long we have ceded the ‘vision’ stuff to the left. We have vacated the battle field and given them a monopoly on the hopey changey stuff.
It might partly be down to the nature of conservatives- not for us the soaring rhetoric of Obama or passion of Corbyn. But we in the west are facing an existential crisis. A crisis of confidence in our establishments, a crisis in the very belief in capitalism itself. Why is it that, according to a Harvard Study, 51% of millennials don’t believe capitalism is a force for good?
Despite the overwhelming evidence that freedom through trade around the world has lifted more people out of poverty than communism ever could? Despite the fact that capitalism has allowed us to develop thoughts, ideas and become richer than ever before, not only monetarily but culturally?
It’s simple- we’ve stopped communicating.
I’ve been lucky to spend a few days this summer in Hoduras attending a conference of young political leaders in Latin America. It was truly inspirational. In a part of the world where the threat of communism, dictatorship and destructive socialist policies are all too real, these young leaders, aged from 18-30 shamed me and I think would shame many of our leaders in the west with their passion, their enthusiasm, their confidence in what they know to be right. They know that we, liberal conservatives, have the right ideals…that we have won that battle (the transformation of the Honduran economy and country in general under the leadership of the National Party these last four years is testament to that) but they also know that we have to win the battle of communication; that requires passion and excitement, hope and belief.
Now, many might question whether it is possible to get excited about liberal conservatism. I would say it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to get excited about freedom, liberty and democracy.
We, the centre right, in the liberal Conservative tradition, know that only by setting people free to realise their full potential will they ever realise the potential of their communities and their countries. We know that with personal responsibility comes pride in oneself, in ones work, in ones home and ones country. We know that free trade breaks down barriers between countries and cultures, spreads wealth and creates opportunities for all.
Freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. These are exciting ideas. If we, the leaders of Centre right politics in the west can’t get passionate about them, then we are truly lost.
Let us never forget those on the front line of this battle in Central America. To them this is more than rhetoric, it is far from boring. To them, fighting day in and day out to preserve this precious thing called democracy and these radical ideas of freedom and liberty, it is a battle they know they cannot lose.
So let us get to work.
Let us strengthen our own shining city. Let us buttress her walls against the combined threats of socialism, separatism and apathy and let us ensure that its warm glow grows in strength and reach so that we can truly shine like a beacon of hope to the oppressed and disenfranchised peoples of our world.