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Ben Rogers: Like an army, let us learn some discipline, unite and fight for our vision

Rogers_ben_2 Benedict Rogers is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. He is a journalist, author and human rights activist, and was Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham in 2005.  He responds to last night's Platform from Ali Miraj.

Ali Miraj's outburst is the latest in a season of stupidity by Conservatives. I have seen feverish insanity capture the minds of Tories before, but usually there has been some logical explanation. Margaret Thatcher, no matter how much we may love her, provoked rebellion as a result of Poll Tax riots and Europe. Iain Duncan Smith made his party despair because, although he was shaping the right agenda, his ability to communicate it effectively was lacking. While even in those circumstances the sight of frenzied foaming-at-the-mouth Tories throwing their toys out of the pram was unpleasant, it was just about comprehensible. But the behaviour of Tories in the past month or two has been insanity beyond description. The lunatics have broken out of their cells and, if we are not careful, they may recapture control of the asylum.

I agree that the Brown Bounce has been bigger than expected. I agree the grammar schools row was a fiasco. I agree that in Ealing Southall, it was a mistake to raise expectations too much, it was a mistake to list the candidate as coming from “David Cameron’s Conservatives”, and it was a mistake to force Tony Lit on the local association. I watched Lit being interviewed at 3am when the result was declared, and on camera he was desperately unimpressive. His answers were incoherent and banal. But I did not leap onto the airwaves to say so. I kept quiet.

We are having a rough few weeks. But that does not give everyone the excuse to throw a mega-tantrum and start talking in ludicrous terms about a change of leadership. Yes, our lead in the opinion polls has been overturned and we are now trailing Labour. But the situation is only irredeemable if we continue behaving in the way some Tories have in recent weeks.

We would do well to hear the words of Field Marshal Viscount Slim, in his book Defeat into Victory. Slim led the British troops, pushed out of Burma by the Japanese in the Second World War, into the most extraordinary military expedition to overturn the Japanese occupation of Burma. “Morale is a state of mind,” Slim writes. “It is that intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to themselves; that makes them feel they are part of something greater than themselves.”

A modern, compassionate conservatism based on social justice is, for me at least, an inspiring cause. David Cameron has made me feel good about being a Conservative again in a way that few other Tories – and certainly not those currently sniping – could ever do. Slim believes that for an army to be successful, “there must be a great and noble object”. In Burma against the Japanese, Slim says, “we fought for the clean, the decent, the free things of life, for the right to live our lives in our own way, as others could live theirs … to be free in body and mind … If ever an army fought in a just cause we did.”

In fighting Gordon Brown and Labour, we are not fighting the Japanese. There are –- and let us not be stupid enough to deny this -– some good things Labour has done. But there are many things in this country which, despite ten years of Labour spending and legislating, are badly, badly wrong. We do have a broken society. Crime, especially teenage crime, is frightening. Inner-city deprivation and family breakdown is alarming. Our public services are crumbling. And our taxes are rocketing. A modern, compassionate conservatism that combines the values of social justice with the principles and practices of conservatism is absolutely what we should fight for.

In addition, there are some great challenges facing our generation. Climate change, terrorism and the rise of Islamism, global poverty and human rights. For the first time in my experience as a Tory, the Conservative Party is shaping the agenda on all these issues. Thanks to Cameron, we’'ve led the green debate. Thanks to Cameron, we have put forward ideas for national security – and challenged the Government for its failure to ban extremist groups like Hizb-ut-Tehrir which foster jihad on our streets. Thanks to Cameron, William Hague and Liam Fox, and my colleagues on the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, we are developing a foreign policy agenda which puts human rights at its very heart. This is an exciting time to be a Conservative. Miraj may think it is all PR – I profoundly disagree. If he thinks Rwanda has nothing to do with Watford, then he’s got much to learn.

But as Slim would agree, morale -– and indeed the effectiveness of an army -– is destroyed by disunity. I am staggered by the ill-discipline of Tories when the going gets a little bit rough. We have in David Cameron a person who for the first time in a decade has given us a realistic chance of victory – yet when his team make a few errors and the Brown Bounce is a bit bigger than we expected, my fellow Tories go beserk. Surely this is precisely the time when we should be closing ranks, uniting, strengthening our arms for the battle ahead.

There is fault on all sides. As much of a fan of Cameron as I am, I am not a sycophant. Mistakes have been made. But, our duty when mistakes are made is – if necessary – to express our opinions to the leadership privately, not on the BBC or in the Daily Telegraph. Not even, dare I say it, on ConservativeHome. I am only writing this because the parakeets have already broken out of the cage and so I want to add some balance to their shrieking calls for blood. But my message to the leadership and to the party, for the future, is to back D.A.V.E:

Discipline, and determination

Action, and allegiance

Values, and vision

Energy, and enthusiasm

Let us be disciplined. According to Slim, “discipline means that every man, when things pass beyond his own authority or initiative, knows to whom to turn for further direction. If it is the right kind of discipline he turns in the confidence that he will get sensible and effective direction. Every step must be taken to build up this confidence of the soldier in his leaders… It is not enough to be efficient; the organisation must look efficient.” Let us all, at every level of the party, work to be more disciplined. Let us be determined to win. If we have that discipline and determination, we will be able to stop running to the airwaves and blogs every time we have a gripe about the leadership.

Let us show more action –of the kind displayed by those who have engaged in various social action projects over the past 18 months, which put our beliefs into practice. The project in Rwanda was a superb initiative, and David Cameron was absolutely right to go ahead with his visit. Those who are carping at him for it display the kind of narrow, ignorant and bigoted attitudes I had hoped would have been buried by now.

And allegiance - let us be clear that our loyalty is not to any particular fringe grouping, but to the cause of a modern, compassionate conservatism.

Let us know, embody and articulate our values and vision – a desire to help those less fortunate than ourselves, a belief in smaller government, a belief in freedom, a belief that government does not have all the answers but that together government, the voluntary sector, business, community organisations, families and individuals have a shared responsibility.

And let us work for these values and this vision with energy and enthusiasm. Bob Dylan’s song “Blowing in the Wind” has some relevance here. How many times, to paraphrase Dylan, must a party lose an election to know that internal rows laid out on the media washing line do not win elections?

I have written in this vein once before. I seriously hope I never have to again. Cameron is not perfect, but he is by far and away the best hope we have – and if we persist with our outbreak of Mad Tory Disease, then we deserve electoral oblivion.


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