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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: Tory belief starts with Britain and ends with champagne

The Tories were never "the stupid party", as John Stuart Mill described them. But at some periods in their history, they did try to live down to Mill's resonant insult. Not these days. Over the past three or four decades, there has been a remarkable transformation. Today, the Tories are much the most intellectual of the three major parties. This was brought home to me during a bantering holiday-lunch-table argument with a bright undergraduate. "I know," he said: "you Righties seem to have all the ideas. I still think they're the wrong ones".

Our recent conversion to intellectualism has risks. A generation ago that wonderful fellow and great Editor, Peregrine Worsthorne, warned the Tories against being seduced into intellectuality. Perry wrote that the Tories used to be a dull party, which was very good at winning elections. Labour was far more fun: lots of bright people and lively debates. But they rarely won an election. This was prescient. Admittedly, no-one could accuse Tony Blair of being dull, but he did purge his party of intellectualism, before winning and carrying on winning. While New Labour was swapping brains for sound-bites, the Tories were destroying themselves in arguments over Europe.

To borrow a phrase from a pressure-group, there is no turning back: the Tories are condemned to argue with each other. So they should. It is only through argument that we can arrive at truth. In a difficult world, beset by dangers, there is no alternative to vigorous debate, shaped by relentless hard thinking. Here, the Tory tradition of unillusioned realism is of immense value. But that raises an obvious question: what is a Tory? There follows a penny catechism.

First, foremost, always, world without end, Tories stand for Britain. Every Tory ought to feel that being born British was an inestimable privilege and to insist that he belongs to the real British national party. Nation is inextricably intertwined with monarchy. Over the years, I have met a couple of Tories who described themselves as republican. I shook my head in incomprehension. Tory republicanism: that would be like turning down a first-growth claret in favour of a glass of coca-cola.

In view of British nationalism, it follows that no Tory could support a federal Europe. During the post-war years, a number of otherwise good men did become federasts, mostly because they despaired of the British economy and thought that owing to its chronic weakness, socialism might prove irresistible. Better a European Union than a domestic version of the Soviet Union. O they of little faith.

That said, the triumph of Thatcherism was a damned near-run thing. But its key elements are now irreversible: one reason why Tory Europhilia is almost extinct. Even so, there is still a battle to be fought over the European Convention on Human Rights. In some countries, the ECHR may be necessary to ensure freedom under the rule of law. In Britain, it is an obstacle to our ability to use our laws to protect our liberties.

In many cases, though not in the Tory party, Europhilia was merely a disguise for Brit-ophobia. The same is true of constitutional reform. The casual violence with which the Blairites set about ancient insitutions appalled all decent Tories (Nick Clegg has many Blairite tendencies). Our institutional inheritance is the product of centuries of relative stability, and peaceful evolution. That is especially true of the English Common Law, a further reason for objecting to the ECHR.

So on constitutional and national matters, Tories should start from a rock of ages: Britain. On economics, there is more scope for pragmatism. But there is one over-arching principle: private property. It follows that taxation is a necessary evil, only justified when the government has to raise money for desirable purposes, and not as a means of reconstructing society. Tories should also preach a doctrine of recent experience: that low tax rates tend to produce buoyant tax receipts. Anticipating Professor Laffer, Gladstone declared that money is best left to fructify in the pockets of the people. Liberals were not always wrong.

As to economic theory, Tories should eschew dogmatism and just search for something that works. After all, supply-side and demand-side have much more in common than the partisans would accept. Far from being incompatible alternatives, they are often no more than different emphases, in search for solutions to similar problems in different circumstances.

When it comes to government in general, Tories should also be pragmatic, with one general guideline. Where government is needed, it should be strong: where it is not needed, it should be absent. Toryism is more than anarchy plus the constable, but Tory politicians have the duty of constant vigilance, to curb the intrusiveness of the over-mighty modern state. Not everything is the government's business.

This short and wholly uncontroversial account of Tory belief will conclude with one final injunction. However pessimistic they may at times feel about the human condition, Tories should try to be eupeptic pessimists. In the words of a Russian Grand Duke, "Between the revolution and the firing squad, there is always time for a bottle of champagne".  Such good cheer is always advisable, especially in view of the political battles to come.


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