Brian Jenner: Finding a 'New' Tory Idealism
Brian runs a blog on the subject of speechwriting.
I was reading a book by Alan Ayckbourn the other day and he said he was interested in the question, ‘Why do some people in society conclude they are fit to govern? Some are born with the conviction they are natural leaders. While others it never enters their head.’
Why do Conservatives feel it’s up to them? Jeffrey Archer used to talk about ‘public service’, and Boris Johnson blusters stuff about ‘serving your country’. What both characters have in common is a keen sense of ‘number one’. Not the kind of attitude that inspires confidence in the Tories.
Jeremy Paxman’s book, The Political Animal, gives a very bleak analysis of the politician’s lot. You finish it thinking, why go through all the toadying, the stupidity and the lies? One of the tasks of the Cameroons must be to provide a post-Thatcherite motivation for going into politics. What is the ‘higher purpose’? The noble goal?
In the 80s the Conservative Party had the powerful idea of nation. It was a spiritual notion conjured up by the monarchy and the military, Evelyn Waugh fantasies of England, the benevolent freedoms of capitalism and the opportunity to own your own home. It was quite simple to define these ideas in contrast to some real monsters: Leonid Brezhnev, General Galtieri and Arthur Scargill. There was a motivation.
But globalisation, Sunday trading, the car culture, the expansion of the universities, the disintegration of towns and villages as distinct entities: these phenomena mean that most of us now adopt a rootless, urban style of living. The public is more ambivalent about the virtues of the monarchy and the military. The Evelyn Waugh fantasy was ridiculous. The big villains have left the stage. A new 21st Century generation may never own their home outright because of the unexpected consequences of Thatcherite freedoms. Problems change. The rituals, structures and values which made the Conservative Party powerful have ebbed away. But some of us think differently from the Labour Party and feel moved to oppose it.
The Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks sums it up rather well:
There was a time when people lived in close, ongoing contact with neighbours, creating networks of shared meaning and reciprocal duty. Nowadays we live anonymously among strangers whose religious, cultural and moral codes are different from ours. By what duty or right do we share their fate?
Rabbi Sacks says we live in a fractured society. But the religious imperative is to take the initiative. Don’t wait. Do something. You’re going to make mistakes. He quotes Rabbi Tarfon: ‘It is not for you to complete the work, but nor are you free to desist from it.’
Human affairs are a mess, but individuals have to rise up and make them better. The facts about public life are pretty grim.
If you are involved at a local level, you will have little status or reward. If you rise, you will be burdened by having to deal with vain and difficult people. Much of it will seem pointless. Reach the very top, and stay there, and you will go mad, making decisions which may have grave consequences for future generations.
But the message of Rabbi Tarfon and Sir Jonathan Sacks is, that doesn’t matter. If you feel you can do something for your community, do it. In fact you have no choice.
Politics is like parenthood. It requires a huge commitment of time and energy. The pressures mean your weaknesses and failings are exposed for all to see. You will almost certainly make bad mistakes. Your term of office is soon over. The judgement of many children is that their parents failed. Some children find it hard to ever forgive them. For Sacks, we all have to do our messy best regardless, and ‘God’ straightens it all out.
The alternative is to settle for the quiet life, which is rather contemptible. You refuse to stand up and be counted. You risk letting the losers, nutcases, bigots and extremists run the show.
Should we be worried about our own tendencies towards megalomania, greed or stupidity? It seems not. The message is: whatever your personality disorders, unconventional business ethics or unusual sexual proclivities, your community and, more especially, political parties, need you. Do something. Rebuild our fragmented society.
One day you will probably be exposed. Your political career will end in failure and maybe even disgrace. But it’s always been like that, hasn’t it? It’s the things you achieve along the way that matter. So don’t hesitate, send in your forms to join the Conservative Party today…