On Saturday, there were two interesting articles, by two of the most original Conservative politicians of the past generation. Although neither man is a devotee of the party line, they came to the same conclusion, Both of them were wrong.
Matthew Parris (Times (£)) and Michael Portillo (FT (£)) would have us believe that David Cameron should ignore most of his own party members, who are reactionary bigots, obsessed with Europe and wholly out of touch with public opinion. Mr Parris, the gentlest of men in private life, would go further. He compared members of Tory associations to troublesome insects. It would not be unfair to say that both pieces exude intellectual complacency. The writers share a weary disdain for anyone unsophisticated enough to challenge their own de haut en bas conclusions. That is not necessarily a fault. None of us is obliged to tolerate noisy nonsense. But in each case, the writers should be obliged to earn the right to be so scornful, by explaining the evolution of their own views.
In Mr Portillo's case, he is objecting to the very opinions that he expressed with force and eloquence during the Major government, of which he was an uncomfortable member. In the Seventies and Eighties, he spent time in Enoch Powell's company, and would have been honoured if anyone had described him as one of Enoch's disciples. Many of today's Europhobes were also disciples once. They started off as Portillistas. Before he treats them with contempt, Mr Portillo ought to appear before a truth and reconciliation commission.
There is a paradox. On homosexual marriage, David Cameron's theology may be better than his politics. That might seem an extraordinary claim. For nearly 2000 years, Christians professed to believe that the sins of Sodom were punishable by Hell fire: that those in authority who sought to encourage them would certainly experience to the full the horrors of damnation. But how many Christians still believe that today? If Hell is virtually decommissioned, what beliefs are still compulsory? A hundred years ago, the Anglican and Catholic Churches both rested on doctrine and dogma. Is that still true?
As a reverent non-Christian, I would have thought that the literal truth of the Resurrection was at the core, along with the Incarnation. These miraculous occurrences are the foundation stones of Christian belief. The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin: that might be gilding the lily. The other two: if you believed in them, you were a Christian; if not, not. The new Archbishop of Canterbury has said that if Christ's bones were discovered tomorrow, he would resign his post. Yet I know a fair few people who profess themselves to be serious Christians, and disagree. Although they would not follow that sometime Bishop of Durham and ineffable ass, David Jenkins, who described the Resurrection as a conjuring trick with bones, nor do they believe that Christ rose from the dead. I suspect that even if they would never imitate Bishop Jenkins's frivolous blasphemies, some current Bishops might echo his unbelief.
So what is left? Homosexual marriage has been condemned for 2000 years, but if all the rest of the Church's teachings are now adrift, why take a stand on that? It should be possible for a current Christian to argue that Christ's teachings could be reduced to one word, love, and that the Churches should organise their mission to mankind on that basis, proclaiming His love and His sacrifice. If that were the case, why should homosexual love be excluded from Christian compassion, and from Sacramental redemption?
There is a case to be made. Suppose the Prime Minister had identified a Bishop or equivalent figure who had been willing to argue it: to claim that after agonising and soul-searching, after hours on his knees in prayer, he had changed his mind and concluded that the Church should extend its blessings to homosexuals. He did not wish to force his views on anyone else. Christians who held by their traditions should also be blessed. But let there be discussion, debate, dialogue.
If anyone told David Cameron that a centuries-old coral reef was about to be destroyed, the PM would rush into action. Yet institutions are the social equivalent of coral reefs, and the PM shows little interest in preserving them. Who would have dreamed that a Tory-led government would propose the effective abolition of the House of Lords, plus a change in the order of succession to the Throne, plus a radical redefinition of the nature of marriage?
These are startling developments. One might have expected them to be preceded by a century of debate and evolution, not scrambled through in a couple of Parliamentary sessions. That said, and however dramatic the innovation, Mr Cameron was almost certainly right about the order of succession. If the Cambridges' first-born were a daughter, I think that there would be a widespread feeling that she should eventually become Queen. Many Tories will be uneasy about any mere man-made interference with the Royal lineage, which they would regard as an almost divine ordination. But it has already been altered, by the Act of Settlement. It is now the right moment to make a further move. That is a successful example of the doctrine of ripe time: of recognising that there has been a realignment in national sentiment, so that a change which would have seemed inconceivable a generation ago has become a mere matter of common-sense.
Common sense may now leave the room. It certainly played no part in the discussions on Lords reform. Nick Clegg has never displayed the slightest affection for this country, or reverence for its history and traditions. Why should he? He would like to see them all swept up into a federal Europe. He wanted the British people to abandon their currency. Thwarted in that, he decided to wreck the electoral system. When that too was denied him, he tried to console himself by destroying the House of Lords. Fortunately, enough Tory MPs were prepared to defy their leadership and thus prevent him. But it is alarming that Mr Cameron was even prepared to entertain such violence to the constitution.
There is one conclusion to be drawn from the Autumn Statement. Maggie was right; there is no alternative. No-one has set out a plausible alternative strategy: a quicker and less painful route back to economic growth. George Osborne did not only sound authoritative on Wednesday because he had learned the lessons of the Budget degringolade. He was impressive because he was telling the House about the facts of economic life. Ed Balls was not only bad because he tripped over his own feet, which he now blames on a childhood stammer (he is not good at self-pity). He was poor because he was incapable of outlining a deficit strategy. He did not even sound as if he was convincing himself. He also sounded as if he should be covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act, but anger is not a policy.
There is a further, self-evident point. If there were an alternative, the Chancellor would already be implementing it. If there were an alternative and for some bizarre reason the Chancellor and the PM were refusing to adopt it, the Liberals would have left the coalition. They are all Thatcherites now; all seeing reason. Growth needs demand, and in the UK, that is a problem. There are four major potential components of increased demand. The first is consumer spending, which is held back by indebtedness. The second is government spending, ditto. Third comes investment by business. Plenty of companies have healthy balance sheets, but if they spend the money, where will they find customers? That leads to the fourth, exports.
Boris Johnson is not always wrong. I suspect that a lot of us were surprised to learn that in India, the top rate of tax is only 30%. Ours will still be half as high again, in spite of a controversial cut. It is also unsettling that even when we have a Conservative Prime Minister, the impression is given that the better-off are nothing more than a cash-cow, whose assets are constantly available for plunder. If it is impossible to hit at their houses, grab their pensions. Yesterday, Michael Spencer was right to warn of the dangers of anti-City rhetoric. If politicians keep on implying that bankers are not welcome here, they will move to a jurisdiction where they are made welcome, and will pay less tax. The golden goose is a migratory bird.
All that is a further reason for welcoming the appointment of Mark Carney. Although erring bankers will not find him sympathetic - nor should they - it will be easier for him to defend the City as a whole, because he was not involved in any of the policy failures which led us into this mess. Other candidates could say the same, but they would all have met a fellow who knew someone whose cousin Horace will come out of the Libor imbroglio badly. Guilt by association is frequently unfair. In febrile times, fairness is easily overridden. Governor Carney will not have that problem. Few, if any, central bankers have ever taken office buoyed up by such high expectations while beset by such difficulties. Let us hope that the optimists are right.
Optimism is unlikely to be exuding from the Autumn Statement. As any wise Chancellor should in these times, George Osborne is stressing that we are still in the valley of the shadow of recession and deficit. There is no alternative to holding to the line of march. He will almost certainly have to announce that it will take longer to meet the deficit reduction target, which will come as no surprise to the markets. Ed Balls will pretend to be shocked. That said, the anger that snarls out of him will be genuine. He cannot bear the fact that George Osborne enjoys hitting back.
There are two obvious and immediate responses to the Leveson Report. The first is congratulations. It is awesomely long and formidably argued: a remarkable achievement in such a short time. The second follows from the first. The report requires close reading and serious thought. I have not had time to do either as yet. That will be true of most commentators. As there is no need for a rush to judgment, it would be folly to indulge in one. If major changes are proposed in the relationship between the press and the law, it is crucial that we get it right: far less important that we do it fast. David Cameron had longer than most people to read the document, as was apparent in his cautious, lucid and thoughtful response.
That tone ought to prevail, and may eventually do so, though no-one should count on it. It would be desirable for any changes to be made on as consensual a basis as possible. Today, the press is chastened. Crimes were committed, There was am atmosphere of cynicism and corruption. Because of the electronic media, the press is in economic jeopardy. Because of some journalists' misdemeanours, it is also in moral jeopardy. Even so, free newspapers have a vital role in a free society. Although some of the victims of the excesses might be tempted, it would not be wise to exploit the press's weakness in order to punish it. Much better to invite cooperation to create a system of self-regulation that would work.
There is a further problem about the statutory route. Fraser Nelson of the Spectator has already said that he and his magazine would defy any such law, and devil take the consequences. Free the Old Queen Street One. Fraser would make a formidable martyr. Although he might seem to have little in common with John Wilkes, he would be a good choice to raise the standard of his heroic exemplar. Others would be emboldened to follow. No-one would wish to see a system of statutory regulation which began by imprisoning the Editor of the Spectator. After a fast read of the relevant section, I was unclear as to exactly what form the proposed statutory regulation would take, or how it would work. If the press as a body refused to comply, I do not see how it could work.
There is a place for crude, raucous populism and poujadism and there are newspapers which provide it. You will enjoy them, if that is the sort of thing you enjoy. But there is no place for insincere pretend poujadism in newspapers which ought to know better. Yet last Friday, the Independent worked itself into a wholly unconvincing fit of indignation - because a lot of MPs have been visiting foreign countries. The Independent, for goodness' sake: if ever a newspaper should have argued for the beneficial effects of foreign travel and the necessity for MPs to broaden their perspectives, it ought to have been the Indie. As Kipling almost wrote, "What do they know of Britain who only Britain know?" On that point at least, the Independent should have applauded him.
The paper would have had a point, if the MPs in question had been flying off to the tropical island of Luxuria (capital: Sybaris) as guests of the Ministry of Tourism, to sample Luxuria's efforts to create an absolutely top-of-the-range beach resort for squillionaires. Most of the MPs were indeed going to capitals, but not to Sybaris. I have observed a number of these trips and they are hard work. There will be lots of meetings, and lots of speeches. Banalities and platitudes will chunter on for hours. There will be lots of visits to factories, schools and other worthy places. MPs who go on those sort of trips usually come back with an enhanced respect for members of the Royal Family.
None of this should be confused with Nadine Dorries' visit to Australia, though that too was productive. After reviewing the progress of her political career, she seems to have concluded that she is unlikely to become leader of the Conservative party, but would be happy to act as Boris Johnson's campaign manager. Their slogan: "Common sense and moral depth; vote Boris/Dorries to restore dignity to public life". They are hoping to recruit Sally Bercow.
Anyone who believed a lot of the press comment about Lynton Crosby would find the man himself gravely disappointing. To judge by the cuttings, you might think that he was a cross between Ned Kelly, a Barry Humphries character and Crocodile Dundee. That is an entire distortion. I am now about to libel him, because any court in Australia would agree that calling someone "charming and sophisticated" is highly defamatory: virtually a synonym for pommie poofter, itself a tautology. But Lynton is charming, sophisticated, shrewd and thoughtful, just like his former boss, John Howard, who is one of the greatest men of our time.
Like Mr Howard, Lynton is tough. No-one would want to be up in front of him on a charge. But he leads by clarity and natural authority, not by shouting and bawling. Election campaigns are stressful affairs, especially when there is little hope of winning, as with the Tories in 2005. Under Lynton's direction, Central Office was a happy ship as well as a taut one. He won affection as well as respect.
Lynton is not an ideologue. He will not arrive with his own agenda. He will ask the existing team what they want to do and then show them how to turn that into an election campaign. With Boris Johnson in 2008, there was one difference. The candidate seemed to have no idea what he wanted to do. So Messrs Cameron and Osborne sent for Lynton, to turn a bumble of amiable incoherence into a successful mayoral candidate. (Not even Lynton could make him a grateful one.)
“Give us peace in our time, O Lord”. Does the English language contain a more moving, more heart-felt — more heart-rending — invocation? But when children are pulled out of the rubble and other children cower in bomb shelters, it is more a matter of “Give us original sin in all times”. Everyone is calling for peace, and there is a sub-text in the messages delivered to the Israelis: “What do you think that all this is achieving?”
The Israelis have an answer. Hamas is their implacable foe, committed to the destruction of Israel. Why should they wait to fight at their enemy’s convenience? They have a point, but so do their pro-Israeli Western critics. On the one hand, it does seem that a lot of the current Israeli strikes have hit their intended targets. The formidable success of Israel's high-tech industries is manifesting itself in an enhanced capacity for smart warfare. On the other hand, when the latest fighting ends, Gaza will still be there. Even if the Hamas leadership has been decapitated, there will be a reservoir of embitterment. Humiliation and defeat are potent recruiting sergeants. However often the Israelis win, there is no sign that they will ever deter.
In politics, fundamental changes occur far less often than exciteable headline writers would have us believe. Sometimes, however, there is a basic realignment. Often, the early stages are imperceptible. Then everyone realises that events have spun out of the politicians' control. The eventual outcome may not what be anyone would have wished, but nothing can be done. History has altered course. The list der vernunft has a new mistress.
A German phrase is appropriate, because of Angela Merkel - though if she thinks that she is the new mistress, she has many another think coming. A few days ago, she came to London to invite the British to be better Europeans. One only hopes that the German Embassy has given her an accurate account of her reception: as the current Ambassador is a purblind dullard, that may be unlikely. Frau Merkel's was the most counter-productive German intervention in British domestic politics since Lord Haw-Haw. She did move the debat -, from scepticism to hostility. Listening to her, a lot of Euro-sceps - I am not talkig of phobes - came to a conclusion. She was implying that Britain could be cutting itself off from the EU. She may well be right. So we had better start preparing and planning.
The Irish often find the right words. A few years ago, after a largely-forgotten political scandal, someone described the whole affair as grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. That was quickly abbreviated to Gubu. Last week, the BBC became the Gubu broadcasting corporation. It is all a little unfair on George Entwistle, who had only been in post for 54 days, and who departed with dignity. Nothing in his career became him like the leaving of it. But after the John Humphrys interview, there was no alternative. The DG had been interviewed live, and was now dead.
On the one hand, there is something admirable about a broadcasting company which allows one of its presenters to destroy its chief executive. On the other hand, no organisation of any kind can survive for long without a clear line of information and command. Last Christmas, one bit of the BBC was making a programme describing Jimmy Savile as a strong candidate for sainthood. Another branch was ready to expose him as a child molester. How was this possible? A friend of mine who used to work for the BBC explained why. The different directorates do not resemble the wings of a coherent corporate structure. They are more like early mediaeval baronies, used to running their own affairs, jealous of one another and reluctant to acknowledge anything but the most nominal central authority. If knowledge is power, why share it?
This is related to another of the BBC's basic weaknesses: an insufferable complacency, the only surviving element of the Reithian heritage. Try and tell anyone senior from the Beeb that it has lost its way, that it is no longer producing nearly enough serious programmes, that it is offering hardly anything which is not available from the commercial sector; that on present performance, there is no justification for the Licence Fee - and the response will be condescending incomprehension. The hierarchy often justifies the banality of most of the output by the need to reach out to new audiences. But how dare an organisation talk about outreach, after making such an almighty cock-up of the Royal river pageant, because it simply could not understand the British people's devotion to the Monarchy? The BBC needs an administrative revolution, and an intellectual one.
No-one could accuse Mr Obama of that. During the past four years, he has often given the impression that he neither understands his country nor likes it. There is one crucial unwritten item in the American Bill of Rights: "That each and every American shall have the right to work his or her butt off, and keep a goodly proportion of the proceeds". The current President does not seem to realise that America was built on work, not on welfare: on free enterprise, not on high taxes.
Mitt Romney knows all that, but he could never articulate it. The man has a political tin ear and his tongue often clunked. There was a good example on his London visit, just before the Olympics. Everyone on the British side who was involved with the Games did not need to be told that it could all go wrong. They knew that. It had been giving them sleepless nights for weeks, if not months. When they did slip from exhaustion into sleep, it was often to nightmares. They wanted reassurance; they needed cheering up. Instead along comes this clutz to spread gloom: the most defeatist American in London since Ambassador Joseph Kennedy. What a dork.
I disagree with Andrew's analysis for a number of reasons. Although any compressed account of complex political history must involve over-simplifications, he goes too far. Above all, he seems to believe that there was a cadre of intellectuals who all agreed on the crucial issues of the day but were at odds with the party leadership. That simply is not so. For a start, intellectuals do not form cadres; they are not consensual characters.
He argues that by refusing to rule out any engagement with the Euro, the party ensured that it would lose the 1997 Election. A) John Major did negotiate an opt-out at Maastricht. B) If he had said "no, no, never", the split in the party would have been even worse. Remember, the big beasts of Europhilia were much more powerful then than now.
An explanation for the scale of the 1997 defeat would require a book, not an article. There is, however, a one-sentence summary: "everything that could go wrong did go wrong". To blame it all on a breakdown of relations with the intellectuals is absurd.
The Tories are suffering from a terrible affliction. They are no longer the stupid party, as John Stuart Mill described them. On the contrary: Tory politics is full of intellectuals, a contumacious and disruptive species. This is one reason why it has become much harder to lead the Tory party.
Mill's dismissive comment was never literally true, although it came closest to truth after the departure of the Peelites, when Toryism appeared to be at the mercy of Disraeli's mountebankery. But there were always plenty of clever Tories and a fair few intellectual ones.
That said, there was a crucial difference between thoughtful Tories and intellectual Lefties. Tories believed in hard thinking. They also believed in reasoning from the particular to the general. They were suspicious of grand theories, whose implementation seemed to require the remodelling of human nature. They were also suspicious of intellectuals, who are often easily seduced by such theories: Marxism, apartheid, European federalism. Margaret Thatcher, who is not an intellectual, was the first Tory leader to use the term as an unalloyed compliment. That was a symptom of a significant change.
By the early Eighties, the Tory party was winning a lot of intellectual adherents. Many of them had moved across because they had become disillusioned with socialism. Even so, they brought their intellectual habits with them. At the same time, the Labour party was facing a crisis. There had always been a large number of Labour supporters who were more interested in ideas than in power, a preference which came naturally to socialists. By definition, socialism was an intellectual grand project, which involved a reshaping of human nature. As such, it had little appeal to most voters. For many years, Labour remained in touch with electability because the leadership, as it were, played down Marxism in favour of Methodism. Then came the Bennite coup and the rise of the SDP, which threatened Labour's very existence. The leadership responded by retreating from thought.
Michael Heseltine has always been a less of a politician, more of a force of nature. As his eightieth birthday approaches, there is no sign that this is changing. Once, he was a young man in a hurry. Now, he is an...I was about to write "old", but that does not seem the appropriate word for Hezza. Let us compromise: an older man in a hurry. The pace is a constant. So are other factors. They include stubbornness, giganticism and preference for instinct over intellect.
On the two major questions which have dominated his political life, Lord Heseltine has never changed his mind. He has always believed in economic intervention, and in Europe. I remember a conversation with him in the early 1990s. Referring to his cabinet colleagues, he said: "None of them know anything about industry. So when some academic guru comes along and tells them that on no account should government intervene in industry, they are delighted. They don't have to do anything about a subject that they don't understand. They do know about land. A lot of them own land. As a result, we intervene like crazy and have a really efficient agricultural sector".
He is still pressing for a similar approach to industry, drawing on another of his core beliefs: localism. Here we come to the preference for instinct and his reluctance to use a formidable intellect to think problems through. When it comes to local government, the UK has a cultural weakness. The dominance of London has drained the regions of much of the vitality which would be needed to create strong, self-confident local authorities, buoyed up by local involvement and indeed local passion.