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Westlake Legal Group > Conservatism

Tom Colsey and Jake Scott: Introducing the Orthodox Conservatives – at a time when our ideas are recovering and reviving

Tom Colsy is a director and founder of the Orthodox Conservatives group. Jake Scott is editor of the online Conservative publication The Mallard. He is Head of Philosophy and Ideology at the Orthodox Conservatives think tank.

All worthwhile legacies must be continued. Built upon. During the campaign that preceded his emphatic win last December, the Prime Minister certainly demonstrated that he believed the legacy of the 2016 referendum was worth building on. In voting to leave the EU, the British public stated their belief that the legacies of the United Kingdom, as an independent and sovereign nation, were worth continuing.

These reverberating events placed social conservatives in a curious place that nobody expected them to be – they’re on the brink of relevancy again. The new Conservative voter has little time for supranational rule, gender-free toilets, mass-migration and market deregulation.

Yet these two victories are soured by the fact one of the greatest Anglo-thinkers of all time also passed away during this period. A philosopher, as gentle and considered as he was serious. Roger Scruton was vilified by journalists and Conservative politicians alike during his penultimate year on this Earth, but perhaps Brexit’s conclusion gave him some respite. It’s a comforting thought.

With the passing of Sir Roger, and a Tory majority held in place by a culturally-conservative alliance of working-class towns and rural shires, there has never been greater demand for an old-fashioned, grounded sort of conservatism. One in tune with common people’s concern for one another, their family, and traditions, their love of country, and rejection of forces that try to overcome these bonds.

Orthodox Conservatives is a group that hopes to make room for such people, in a world and political landscape that increasingly refuses to. We believe that the late Sir Roger’s message that Britain’s institutions, cultural inheritance and communities are worth preserving, and not discarding, is a legacy worth continuing and also building upon. We know that there are millions of conservatives who feel similarly, even if their representatives don’t.

As a newly set-up think tank, we will allocate time in order to identify considered, realistic government solutions to areas such as family breakdown, collapsing spirituality, declining social capital, soulless architecture in our cities and suburbs, and crises in education and policing. Our fundamental mission is, as it were, to support the pillars that have always sustained our civility, belief and harmony as a people – and that are weakening each day.

The new Tory base is bound by values, not by class or race. This is the most positive and universal kind of bond – one we should want for our country. But in order to consolidate that union, we must mobilise. We must actively participate in the current political debates of our time, not be mere contrarian onlookers, tutting at all that takes place. Most importantly, we must be constructive and serious.

Nothing about this is impossible and we, like many traditional conservatives out there, believe it is time to move.

What is absolutely clear though, is that if conservatives do not take this opportunity to do so now there will be fewer and fewer of us to ever possibly take up the mission of doing so again. Fewer people are getting married today than ever before, only two per cent of young people in the UK now identify as Anglicans – the state religion. We know marriage and religious belief (particularly Christian) have a significant effect on people adopting conservative sentiment. Their demise, in turn, likely spells the gradual demise of conservatism.

This is unprecedented, and it is yet to be seen if it will be for the better.

We, at Orthodox Conservatives, recognise this urgency and seek to make change to steer us back on course. To make improvements to British society that will universally benefit all, as well as breathing life into our broken, low-trust communities.

There is a feeling amongst our members that the Conservative Party has fallen away from its roots; indeed, we feel that this sentiment is shared beyond our membership, in the country at large. Not only has the Party embraced unreservedly the tenets of neoliberalism, and believes only in the market, but it has capitulated to the Left on so many issues that it no longer represents the vast majority of people in this country.

By playing the political game on the Left’s terms, the Conservatives have accepted defeat at the outset; only by making the case for the principles of traditional British values – the values that made this country into the great nation it is – can the Conservatives (and conservatives) begin to win the political argument.

For one thing, free-market fundamentalism (commonly called capitalism) has exposed the traditional communities and societies that are the root and source of all identity to the ravages of uncaring global capitalism, where all that matters is money, and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people depend on the capricious sentiments of absent business-people.

Of course, we are not ignorant of the benefits of capitalism where they exist – the improvement in living standards being the most obvious – but neither are we ignorant of the dangers and losses of capitalism, that have led us to a world where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Conservatives should not sacrifice British culture – the nation of small business owners – on the altar of nothing but quick cash.

But neither should the Conservatives think that the British people are as taken with this “woke” guff that the Labour Party keeps shouting about, and keep being led up the garden path. For most people, the most pressing concerns in their lives are finding someone to love and marry, start a family with, buy a home with, and work in a solid job that they know will be there when they wake up in the morning – and they want a government that will ensure this.

Ensure, not provide. To be obsessed with gender norms, the diversity of television casts, and whether a zebra crossing should be a rainbow is actually a dereliction of the duty of good government, in ignoring the real worries of the vast majority of people.

Our aim is to show that conservatism is alive and well outside of the walls of Parliament, even if it is on life-support in the Conservative Party. The Party may have forgotten its roots, but we would like to help it find its way back.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Tom Colsey and Jack Scott: Introducing the Orthodox Conservatives – at a time when our ideas are recovering and reviving

Tom Colsy is a director and founder of the Orthodox Conservatives group. Jake Scott is editor of the online Conservative publication The Mallard. He is Head of Philosophy and Ideology at the Orthodox Conservatives think tank.

All worthwhile legacies must be continued. Built upon. During the campaign that preceded his emphatic win last December, the Prime Minister certainly demonstrated that he believed the legacy of the 2016 referendum was worth building on. In voting to leave the EU, the British public stated their belief that the legacies of the United Kingdom, as an independent and sovereign nation, were worth continuing.

These reverberating events placed social conservatives in a curious place that nobody expected them to be – they’re on the brink of relevancy again. The new Conservative voter has little time for supranational rule, gender-free toilets, mass-migration and market deregulation.

Yet these two victories are soured by the fact one of the greatest Anglo-thinkers of all time also passed away during this period. A philosopher, as gentle and considered as he was serious. Roger Scruton was vilified by journalists and Conservative politicians alike during his penultimate year on this Earth, but perhaps Brexit’s conclusion gave him some respite. It’s a comforting thought.

With the passing of Sir Roger, and a Tory majority held in place by a culturally-conservative alliance of working-class towns and rural shires, there has never been greater demand for an old-fashioned, grounded sort of conservatism. One in tune with common people’s concern for one another, their family, and traditions, their love of country, and rejection of forces that try to overcome these bonds.

Orthodox Conservatives is a group that hopes to make room for such people, in a world and political landscape that increasingly refuses to. We believe that the late Sir Roger’s message that Britain’s institutions, cultural inheritance and communities are worth preserving, and not discarding, is a legacy worth continuing and also building upon. We know that there are millions of conservatives who feel similarly, even if their representatives don’t.

As a newly set-up think tank, we will allocate time in order to identify considered, realistic government solutions to areas such as family breakdown, collapsing spirituality, declining social capital, soulless architecture in our cities and suburbs, and crises in education and policing. Our fundamental mission is, as it were, to support the pillars that have always sustained our civility, belief and harmony as a people – and that are weakening each day.

The new Tory base is bound by values, not by class or race. This is the most positive and universal kind of bond – one we should want for our country. But in order to consolidate that union, we must mobilise. We must actively participate in the current political debates of our time, not be mere contrarian onlookers, tutting at all that takes place. Most importantly, we must be constructive and serious.

Nothing about this is impossible and we, like many traditional conservatives out there, believe it is time to move.

What is absolutely clear though, is that if conservatives do not take this opportunity to do so now there will be fewer and fewer of us to ever possibly take up the mission of doing so again. Fewer people are getting married today than ever before, only two per cent of young people in the UK now identify as Anglicans – the state religion. We know marriage and religious belief (particularly Christian) have a significant effect on people adopting conservative sentiment. Their demise, in turn, likely spells the gradual demise of conservatism.

This is unprecedented, and it is yet to be seen if it will be for the better.

We, at Orthodox Conservatives, recognise this urgency and seek to make change to steer us back on course. To make improvements to British society that will universally benefit all, as well as breathing life into our broken, low-trust communities.

There is a feeling amongst our members that the Conservative Party has fallen away from its roots; indeed, we feel that this sentiment is shared beyond our membership, in the country at large. Not only has the Party embraced unreservedly the tenets of neoliberalism, and believes only in the market, but it has capitulated to the Left on so many issues that it no longer represents the vast majority of people in this country.

By playing the political game on the Left’s terms, the Conservatives have accepted defeat at the outset; only by making the case for the principles of traditional British values – the values that made this country into the great nation it is – can the Conservatives (and conservatives) begin to win the political argument.

For one thing, free-market fundamentalism (commonly called capitalism) has exposed the traditional communities and societies that are the root and source of all identity to the ravages of uncaring global capitalism, where all that matters is money, and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people depend on the capricious sentiments of absent business-people.

Of course, we are not ignorant of the benefits of capitalism where they exist – the improvement in living standards being the most obvious – but neither are we ignorant of the dangers and losses of capitalism, that have led us to a world where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Conservatives should not sacrifice British culture – the nation of small business owners – on the altar of nothing but quick cash.

But neither should the Conservatives think that the British people are as taken with this “woke” guff that the Labour Party keeps shouting about, and keep being led up the garden path. For most people, the most pressing concerns in their lives are finding someone to love and marry, start a family with, buy a home with, and work in a solid job that they know will be there when they wake up in the morning – and they want a government that will ensure this.

Ensure, not provide. To be obsessed with gender norms, the diversity of television casts, and whether a zebra crossing should be a rainbow is actually a dereliction of the duty of good government, in ignoring the real worries of the vast majority of people.

Our aim is to show that conservatism is alive and well outside of the walls of Parliament, even if it is on life-support in the Conservative Party. The Party may have forgotten its roots, but we would like to help it find its way back.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Johnson’s philosophy owes far more to Oakeshott than to Scruton

“Why are you a conservative?” Many of us are somehow sure we are conservative, but find the answer to that question (which itself sounds unconservative) hard to put into words, and tend to defer any attempt to do so.

Roger Scruton never seemed to have the slightest difficulty expounding the conservative case, and often did so in such a way as to cause maximum offence to those who disagreed with him. He was a man of astounding eloquence, happy, as he himself once put it,

“to write rude and disgraceful things about the intellectual establishment… I was free to say some really enjoyable and unpleasant things and thereby give pleasure to others.”

Many eminent figures have paid tribute to him since his death earlier this month, and some have suggested he leaves an irreplaceable gap, with conservatives in this country deprived of their last philosopher.

This is ridiculous. There is a kind of conservative journalist who revels in thinking of himself (most of them are male) as a victim, struggling to gain a hearing in a world dominated by authoritarian liberals who brook no dissent and impose their stifling orthodoxy through the universities, the BBC and the rest of the media.

One may note in passing that many of these Tory pessimists somehow contrive to pour forth, despite their persecution by the liberals, a constant stream of articles and other forms of comment.

For them, it is natural to regard the death of Scruton, champion of high culture and of foxhunting, as confirmation that his pessimistic rural conservatism, which in their eyes is the only conservatism, is now pretty much extinct.

This kind of thinking is centuries old. Nor is it without truth. The Dissolution of the Monasteries, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution are among the events which have filled conservatives with an understandable sense of doom.

Pessimistic conservatives are never without evidence for their beliefs. When the country is prospering, an ignoble triumphalism becomes apparent, as old customs are carried away by a tide of new money splashed about by new men who have no reverence for the past and no idea how to behave.

When things are going badly, the pessimist sees his belief that the world is going to hell in a handcart confirmed.

But such pessimism is not the only form of conservatism. Michael Oakeshott, the greatest conservative philosopher of modern times, leaves one feeling bucked and amused, not despondent, even when he is exposing, as in his great essay Rationalism in Politics (1947), the predicament of that fashionable figure, the Rationalist:

“Like a man whose only language is Esperanto, he has no means of knowing that the world did not begin in the 20th century.”

Oakeshott does not give answers, but what conservative expects answers? We do not want to be told what to do, or to pretend, with insufferable omniscience, that we have developed a system of ideas – an ideology – which is equal to every eventuality, and will enable us to know in every circumstance what in logic is the correct thing to do.

Instead we immerse ourselves in a tradition of behaviour. As Oakeshott says,

“the Rationalist never understands that it takes about two generations of practice to learn a profession; indeed, he does everything he can to destroy the possibility of such an education, believing it to be mischievous.”

Against that dictum can be quoted isolated examples of people who came from unprofessional backgrounds yet reached the top. But even they learned much from colleagues steeped in the profession in question. Oakeshott describes life as it is actually lived, rather than life as it might be lived if it conformed to abstract principles.

The present Prime Minister is the son of a politician, from whom he learned much, and was educated at colleges – Eton and Balliol – which have long prepared their pupils for public life, and which have sought continually, as great institutions do, to modernise themselves, so as to remain at the centre of national life.

Johnson is a good debater in part because from an early age he took pleasure in debating, often in an intensely competitive spirit, against his contemporaries. Already he was practising politics, on minor stages where mistakes did not matter, could indeed provoke gales of laughter which swept him to victory.

He had the grave fault of being unwilling to prepare himself for these contests anything like as thoroughly as he should have done. In vain his teachers tried to correct this fault.

Johnson instead developed, to an unusual degree, a capacity to think on his feet, and to use what information he had managed to scrape together at the last moment.

He grew prepared for being unprepared, and this lent his performances an ease and spontaneity which delighted audiences, while annoying those who thought everything could and should have been worked out in advance.

The most dangerous moments for a Prime Minister are generally those when something unexpected happens, and he or she has to decide very quickly how to react.

Johnson will undoubtedly get some of these decisions wrong, but at least he will not be frightened of having to make up his mind in a hurry, on the basis of inadequate information.

Rationalists, as defined by Oakeshott, detest him. They think he has no right to have done as well as he has done, for he has refused to work everything out from first principles to which he clings with rigid correctness through thick and thin, but has instead allowed the flexible development of a strategy founded on experience, circumstance, instinct and intuition.

He has put himself in a position where he can change his mind, because he does not suffer from the delusion that he has discovered the one true path.

At this point the pessimist retorts that all Prime Ministers, and all governments, let you down in the end. And that is quite true. But consider this remark by David Hume (1711-1776), quoted by Ian Gilmour in his admirable work The Body Politic, published in 1969:

“The Tories have been so long obliged to talk in the republican style, that they seem to have made converts of themselves by their hypocrisy, and to have embraced the sentiments, as well as language, of their adversaries.”

The determination of the Johnson Conservatives to steal Labour’s clothes, to talk in the Labour style about the importance of equality, could also end in their making “converts of themselves by their hypocrisy”.

And that will annoy the Rationalists even more. It will seem so unfair that the hypocrite Johnson should somehow turn out to be more truly on the side of Labour voters than Jeremy Corbyn ever was.

Johnson did not, as editor of The Spectator, publish more than a handful of pieces by Scruton, and is neither a foxhunter nor a pessimist.

He is a Conservative who has won both a referendum and a general election, and if he can avoid degenerating into a technocrat, could turn out to be the most Oakeshottian Prime Minister this country has known.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Scruton and the Conservatives. “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country.”

A popular image of a philosopher is a solitary man in an ivory tower hunched up in the pose of Rodin’s thinker.  Were it true, Roger Scruton would not have been a philosopher – titan polymath that he was: academic, barrister, rider to hounds, farmer, novelist, composer of operas, pianist, wine critic, and much else…including, of course, philosopher.  And journalist.

For Scruton had an activist temperament, of which we offer two examples, drawn from our own experience.  The first involves this site.  In 2013, he set up a new section within it called “Thinker’s Corner“.  The aim was to provide a platform for Tory intellectuals and an opportunity for new writers.  It failed comprehensively.  This was as much the fault of the Editor as that of Scruton, if not much more so.

The second was a reworking of an older idea.   Scruton was one of the original founders of the Conservative Philosophy Group, one of the symptoms of the Thatcher revival of the 1970s and 1980s.  He revived is more recently.  If his aim was to recreate that ethos, he did not succeed.  It was not well attended by Tory MPs.  One might conclude that Scruton was ineffective as an actor rather than a thinker.  This would be mistaken.

For his energy got results in what was Czechoslovakia, where he set up an underground university to offer education from those expelled from the state system – and more broadly to teach them in the western tradition.  Thirty years on from the Velvet Revolution, he was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour.  This work was heroic.

ConservativeHome wrote that Scruton deserved a peerage (though we also said later that “doubtless he would not accept one unless it were hereditary”).  We were delighted when he was knighted, describing the honour as “a knighthood for the movement”.  This was an attempt to capture his sense of commitment.  Which brings us to the Conservative Party and Scruton himself.

He never quite gave up on it – treating it with the derisive affection that one reserves for some impossibly errant relative.  Like this site, he was supportive of it while also remaining independent, recognising that for all its faults the only practicable vehicle for the realisation of conservative ideas is the Conservative Party.  His interest was not reciprocated.

This leads us to ask why it has engaged so little, over so many years, in the small but lively domestic network of Conservative intellectuals.  Margaret Thatcher was the exception that proves the rule.  It is impossible to imagine John Major turning up to one of the meetings of the original Conservative Philosophy Group.  We can only think of one Tory leader who would have done so with enthusiasm: Iain Duncan Smith.

One answer to the question is that the Conservatives remain, over 40 years on from the Thatcher experiment, “the Stupid Party” at heart – suspicious of ideas and those familiar with them.  (Even when those concerned are reacting against bad ones, which was part of what Scruton did.)  Those intellectuals with whom it comes to terms must be functioning politicians, such as David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Jesse Norman, Chris Skidmore and Danny Kruger.

Another is that to the Cameron leadership – the most successful electorally since Thatcher’s, at least until Boris Johnson came along – Scruton was an embarrassment, with his commitment to fox hunting, opposition to multiculturalism as Editor of the Salisbury Review, hostility to same-sex marriage (later rescinded) and general dispostion to take ideas seriously.

That knighthood took a very long time to come.  At least two Cabinet Ministers claim credit for it, and it may be worth adding that Michael Gove has said that Green Philosophy, Scruton’s magnificently balanced book about ecology and the environment, helped to inspire his work at Defra.  He is a bit of an exception to the rule that we are writing about.

At any rate, Scruton had come in from the cold by the time of his knighthood – having been appointed to an advisory post on housing.  The Cameron Government had come round to recognising his value.  Our readers will be familiar with what happened next.  Scruton was fired as Chairman of the Government’s “Building Better, Building Beautiful” Commission after a New Statesman interview before eventually being reinstated.

We thought that he had shown a lack of comradely discipline by giving the interview at all (though noting from the start that his words had been twisted).  The Commission has published an interim report.  Its final one will be part of Scruton’s legacy.  Its purpose is “to tackle the challenge of poor-quality design and build of homes and places, across the country and help ensure as we build for the future, we do so with popular consent”.

ConservativeHome looks forward to the publication of the final report.  And to the Johnson leadership engaging more actively with Tory intellectuals than its predecessors have done.  Whether it will do so or not is open to question.  Johnson has an interest in ideas – consider The Dream of Rome – but dislikes being bound by them: he sees politics as a practical business.  Dominic Cummings has ideas of his own.

We close by looking back on that list of names we suggested for peerages in 2015: Eamonn Butler, Paul Johnson, Ruth Lea and Charles Moore, as well as Scruton himself.  Others whose talents might be utilised by this new Government include: Noel Malcolm, Sheila Lawlor, Michael Clarke, Philippa Stroud, Niall Ferguson, Patrick Minford, Andrew Roberts, David Goodhart, Richard Ekins.

There is also a fledgling network of Conservative academics – the furthering of which has been slowed by the recent chaos at the top of the Party.  Scruton would have approved.  He would also have known that it wasn’t the Tory Party alone that under-recognised what he had to offer.  It is safe to say that his views been less blue, and less colourfully expressed, his academic career would have been more successful.

Then again, there was a part of Scruton that seemed to relish confrontation.  His fighting spirit was very like his father’s – a lifelong socialist of a very English kind still remembered, in High Wycombe where Scruton himself was raised, for helping to save the Rye, a park near the centre of the town, from development during the 1960s.  Jack Scruton was agent for a petition of protest presented to a joint committee of the Commons and Lords.

Roger Scruton himself, though a practising Anglican, may not have been a Christian – not throughout his adult life as Conservative, at any rate.  But he would ruefully have recognised the force of the verse: “a prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” – even if that prophet dies, as in his case, not without honours.  We mourn his passing.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alistair Lexden: The origins of One Nation – now in fashion once again within the Conservative Party

Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here

]On 4 December 1924, Stanley Baldwin spoke at the Royal Albert Hall, with members of his Party filling every seat. The Tories had just achieved a great election victory, winning 419 seats and gaining an overall Commons majority of 223. The Liberal vote had collapsed and Labour had lost ground in its heartlands. Baldwin knew that his Party’s approach to policy had to be redefined if it was to retain its unexpected ascendancy.

Baldwin told his audience that the Party must show that “ we stand for the union of those two nations of which Disraeli spoke two generations ago: union among our own people to make one nation of our own people at home which, if secured, nothing else matters in the world.”

That was the first time that the phrase that was to become so famous had been heard. During the five years that followed, Neville Chamberlain, the most remarkable social reformer the Tories have ever had, gave substance to Baldwin’s vision. The social services became the largest item of public spending for the first time; contributory pensions were introduced for most working people; the framework of a national health service, Chamberlain’s greatest passion, began to take shape; a massive house-building programme began which, in the 1930s, rose to an all-time record level.

Conservatives today would be proclaiming proudly that they were Baldwinian One Nation Tories if the founding father’s reputation had not been so gravely damaged, very unfairly in my view, by the widespread belief after 1939 that he had not rearmed in the face of the Nazi menace. The high unemployment which blighted the inter-war years also cast a shadow over his achievements.

Churchill, who reversed his once high opinion of Baldwin, was disinclined to use his trademark term. He referred to Tory democracy as his guiding inspiration, a vague phrase coined by Lord Randolph Churchill, the father he adored. Asked what it meant, Lord Randolph replied, “mainly opportunism.”

Nothing more might have been heard of One Nation if a number of able, ambitious younger Conservatives, elected for the first time in 1950, had not adopted it as the name of a group they formed to win attention for themselves as advocates of moderate ideas suited to the post-war world of consensus politics.

It was Angus Maude, the possessor of a powerful political mind, who came up with One Nation. The name adorned a pamphlet—in effect the group’s manifesto—which set Party members talking excitedly at the 1950 Party Conference.

It contained sentiments suited to the time. “Socialists believe that the State should provide an average standard for those in need. We believe it should provide a minimum standard, above which people should be free to rise.”

It was the kind of language the Tories needed to distinguish themselves from Labour without threatening major political change. There has been a One Nation group of MPs almost constantly since then, formulating no more than mildly controversial policies to help counter “ the almost traditional anti-intellectualism of the Tory Party”, as The Economist put it in 1954.

Tory Central Office decided that this badge of moderate Toryism would be much more effective if a great name from the past could be attached to it. Since it denoted a commitment to healing a great social divide that Disraeli had famously dramatised in the 1840s in his novel Sybil: or The Two Nations, he was obviously their man.

He had also given the vote to a limited number of working men in urban areas in 1867 and introduced a few mild measures of social reform in 1875. They could be hailed as the starting-point of One Nation Conservatism, giving it a most useful venerable veneer.

In two famous speeches on public platforms (where he rarely appeared) in 1872, Disraeli had spoken of “ elevating the condition of the people.” The speeches were now reprinted for the Party faithful, and quotation from them appeared frequently in the utterances of Party leaders from Anthony Eden onwards.

Disraeli’s One Nation Conservatism was born as a convenient historical fiction.

Margaret Thatcher subscribed to it until the mid-1980s. She stopped referring to One Nation when her “ wet” critics began to claim it as exclusively their property, on the grounds that Disraeli would never had contemplated any reduction in public spending, something which had no basis whatsoever in fact.

If Boris Johnson now gives real political substance to what has become an overused catch-phrase, he will recreate the Tories in the image of “ Honest Stan” Baldwin. But will the ghost of Disraeli ever be laid to rest after its most useful service since 1945?

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Daniel Hannan: Where would we now find another Norman Stone?

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

One good thing – only one – came out of Oliver Letwin’s wrecking amendment earlier this month. It meant that I was able to come back from Strasbourg for Norman Stone’s memorial service.

Had the Withdrawal Bill been approved by the Commons as scheduled, we MEPs would have been voting on it last week, Britain would be leaving tomorrow – and I would have missed my chance to bid a final farewell to perhaps the most capacious, restless, inspiring mind I have encountered.

As it was, I was able to take my place in St Martin-in-the-Fields among hundreds of (for want of a better shorthand) conservative intellectuals. There were dozens of Tory peers and MPs, scores of distinguished writers and academics and a good number of those anti-communist Mittel-European thinkers who, in many ways, made up Norman’s hinterland.

Arriving just in time from the European Parliament, I found myself between Peter Lilley and Alan Sked, the LSE historian who founded the Anti-Federalist League in 1991, changing its name to UKIP in 1993. Dominic Cummings ambled in a little late wearing what looked like a black gilet for the occasion. Michael Gove and Andrew Roberts were among those who gave readings. You get the picture: here was the tribe massing to mourn one of its own.

Not just the tribe, though. Norman was generous and eclectic in his friendships. Also giving readings were Tim Garton Ash, the historian whose enthusiasm for European integration recently won him the Charlemagne Prize, and Robert Harris, the brilliant Blairite novelist who turned Norman into “Fluke” Kelso, the alcoholic Scottish hero of Archangel – portrayed, to Norman’s amused delight, by Daniel Craig in the film version.

We sometimes toss out the word “influential” too easily, but Norman was a man who truly shaped the thinking of a whole generation of historians. He taught his students to look with fresh eyes, to notice what others had missed. He amassed what must be the greatest trove of historical asides collected by a single human being. His histories, like his gravelly-voiced soliloquys, fizzed with facts that were at once pertinent and astonishing: Nikita Khruschev bought his maths lessons from a starving professor for a sack of potatoes; serfdom was formally abolished in England only in 1922. Those gems are picked more or less randomly from the hundreds that stud Norman’s last work, Hungary: A Short History, published earlier this year. To read that book, or any in his oeuvre, is like sitting spellbound as the master raconteur poured whisky in and anecdotes out.

Could Norman happen today? What I mean is, could a professor with his personality and his opinions achieve an equivalent position in our national conversation? One has only to put the question.

Norman’s critics held that his lifestyle disqualified him as a serious academic. They wrote him off as a flâneur, an adventurer, a journalist. He certainly had a colourful romantic life, and showed scant respect for the usual pieties of his caste.

But there is no doubting his scholarship. When he was 43, he left Cambridge to become Professor of Modern History at Oxford, arguably the supreme accolade for an academic historian. His books were not frequent, but they won prizes. His knack for languages bordered on the miraculous. He spoke French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croat and Spanish. More impressively, he mastered both Hungarian and Turkish, becoming convinced in the process that they were more closely connected than linguists usually allow. When I say “mastered”, I don’t mean, as historians sometimes do, that he could get through source material with the aid of a dictionary. I mean that he could deliver a speech or conduct a TV interview in that tongue.

While he was at Cambridge, his fellow dons wondered whether anyone could be quite as linguistically capable as he appeared, and would seat him at dinner next to any visiting Eastern European scholar, hoping to show him up. The two would chat away animatedly. Afterwards, the other fellows would ask the visitor whether Stone was as fluent as he claimed. “Oh, yes,” the answer would come, “he has a quite extraordinary idiomatic grasp of my language – but he appears to have learned it from a pimp”.

In an age when many tutors put in office hours before returning to family homes, Norman was a constant presence, always the centre of attention, the aperçus flowing. (“There is nothing inevitable in history, so good historians should never use the word ‘inevitable’ – except for ‘German counter-attack.’”) He was more interested in teaching than in writing. He liked students, taking an unfeigned interest in their development, remembering every detail of what they had written.

Had he been on the Left, he would have been regarded as one of our towering public intellectuals. His bohemianism and affairs of the heart would have been seen as natural, indeed laudable, embellishments. But Norman committed the ultimate sin: he was a Thatcherite. Anarchic and irreverent, he never liked governments telling people what to do. In the end, his disdain for the pettiness and provincialism of the British academy drove him to give up Oxford’s top job for a larger budget and a higher salary in Ankara.

When Norman first started teaching, around one in three British academics identified as Right-of-Centre. Today, that number is one in eight – and far lower in the humanities. To be a conservative academic is to be a class traitor. Norman’s death was marked by a poisonous attack by the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, masquerading as a Guardian obituary. Norman had committed the sin, apparently, of being a Right-wing journalist instead of a serious academic. (That professor’s next article likened Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament to the Nazi seizure of power. Any amount of journalistic bombast is fine in an academic, it seems, provided he is on the Left.)

Heterodoxy and free thinking are being snuffed out in the institutions that exist to defend them. A modern Norman Stone, finding the doors of higher education barred, would go elsewhere. He would doubtless be better off financially, but the rest of us would be impoverished.

I did not grieve for my old friend as I left the church: he lived and died on his own terms, God rest his soul. But I grieved for the state of higher education in Britain. I grieve still.

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Skelton on One Nation, and how Tories must take the lead in reviving towns which have been left to rot

Little Platoons: How a Revived One Nation Can Empower England’s Forgotten Towns and Redraw the Political Map by David Skelton

The rhetorical star of this book is Benjamin Disraeli. He did not invent the term “One Nation” – that distinction belongs, as Lord Lexden never tires of reminding us, to Stanley Baldwin.

But Disraeli is by far the most enjoyable and inspiring Tory for One Nation Conservatives to quote, and Skelton uses him very well. He reminds us that Disraeli rebuked the Whigs, after the Great Reform Act, for trying to establish “a utopia composed purely of wealth and toil”, based on a “spirit of rapacious covetousness”.

The Conservatives are today widely thought to be actuated by a “spirit of rapacious covetousness”, and to care only about the rich. The injustice of this claim does not make it any less damaging.

And the claim is in any case not totally unjust. Parts of the kingdom have been left behind, excluded from the prosperity enjoyed by the rest.

Labour is at least as to blame as the Conservatives for this sin of omission. That is one reason why Labour support in Scotland collapsed: for many decades it had taken its impoverished heartlands for granted.

And it is why Labour is now vulnerable in its English heartlands too.

Disraeli understood the alliance the Tories could make with the newly enfranchised working class. Skelton contends, convincingly, that the Tories can now connect with the patriotic working class which for decades has felt disenfranchised, but which in the 2016 referendum seized the chance to make its presence felt.

In his opening paragraph, Skelton reminds us that “of the 42 former coalfield areas, some 41…voted for Brexit”. He himself is from Consett, in the north-west corner of County Durham, which felt shut out from from politics since the closure in 1980 of the great steelworks on which for over a century the town’s fortunes had rested, and where men were proud to work:

“The steelworks was home to world-leading engineers, metallurgists and chemists and dozens of different types of craftsmen who passed these skills on to apprentices.”

One of Skelton’s grandfathers was a foreman fitter in the works, the other was a miner, or pitman as they preferred to be known, in the Durham and Northumberland coalfields.

There was immense local pride in the Consett works, and local control until nationalisation, which meant decisions about the future were taken hundreds of miles away, and essential investment in modernisation took second place to the need for public spending cuts.

A year after the closure of the works, a third of the men in Consett were unemployed. Low-paid, insecure jobs, for those who could get them, and low-quality training programmes whose chief purpose was to keep others off the dole, did not restore the dignity of labour to these craftsmen, but became a daily humiliation.

Nor did either of the main political parties have much to offer. Labour, a party created by the trade unions, ceased to take much interest in the fate of the working class once the power of those unions had been broken.

The unions could bring the country to a grinding halt: not an ideal state of affairs, but one which gave the working class, or its leaders, undeniable clout.

Here was a ladder of advancement for gifted trade union organisers who could get a political education, gain selection as Labour MPs and rise into the Cabinet. That stream of recruitment has pretty much dried up, and the party finds itself in the hands of an urban middle class which feels a greater affinity with Brussels, Berlin and Paris than with Consett.

Skelton’s chief purpose in this book is to trace the One Nation tradition in Conservative politics, and to argue that it needs to be rediscovered. He does it very well: again and again, one wonders if he has thought of, say, Iain Macleod, and up an apposite quotation pops.

Harold Macmillan is the hero of this account:

“He was probably the last Prime Minister with a genuine belief in ‘Toryism’ and the real importance of balancing economic efficiency with social justice. He had a burning desire that we must never again become ‘two nations’ and was convinced that government and private enterprise had an important role to play, together, in preventing that from happening. He believed in modernising industry and the country, but without the managerial indifference of Heathism or the retreat into liberal economic determinism. His One Nation was a profound belief in the common good and the fundamental national unity that makes us stronger.”

Under Margaret Thatcher, Macmillan’s spirit of pragmatic intellectual compromise started to sound a bit wet. Some of her Government’s successes – the Nissan works outside Sunderland, the start on regenerating Liverpool and the London docks – would not have happened without the state playing a leading role, but this was not the story she and her admirers told.

The Conservatives were gripped, in Skelton’s phrase, by “myopic economic liberalism”, the illusion that if only the Government got out of the way, recovery would occur of its own accord.

In Consett, this was not the case. It was a steel town which now produced no steel, and could not pull itself up by its bootstraps. Its most able and enterprising young people left: they went off to university and never came back.

Forty years on, Skelton reports, Consett is in large part a dormitory town for people who work in Newcastle or Durham:

“In contrast to the beauty of its surroundings, its town centre is still pockmarked by a collection of charity shops, bargain stores (including Consett’s enormous ‘Barry’s Bargain Store’, which has taken over the whole of the old indoor market), travel agents and bookmakers.”

Our country contains hundreds of towns like Consett. Often the handsome old buildings bear witness to former pride and prosperity, eclipsed in recent decades by demeaning and self-perpetuating shoddiness.

Few people with energy or talent want to settle here, or shop here, or set up new businesses. For about half a century many of these town centres have been left to rot, however prosperous and pretty the surrounding villages may be.

Skelton remarks that policy makers in London pride themselves on the regeneration of a dozen cities. He quotes with approval Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, who says

“this consensus that began under New Labour, and was embraced by George Osborne, sees cities as engines of economic growth with surrounding towns at best anchored to them and pulled along in their prosperous wake. This is a model that has neither provided nor defended the things that matter most in our towns: thriving local high streets, shared community institutions like libraries, post offices and community pubs, good public transport, work that gives dignity and meaning, green open spaces and time with families.”

Any Tory who wants to understand how a revived One Nation tradition can help to revive our towns should read Skelton’s book.

In a recent piece for ConHome, he itemised some of measures, including world-class infrastructure, the creation of “prosperity hubs” and a vocational education revolution, needed to transform our forgotten towns. This list, enlarged upon in the final chapter of the book, will not make every Tory heart beat faster.

There is, however, a Conservative with a remarkable command of language, and declared One Nation sympathies, who can take forward the revival of these neglected towns with a brio worthy of Disraeli and Macmillan.

Boris Johnson has recently been at pains to emphasise that we will remain a European nation: rhetoric with which he wishes to reassure Remainers that he does not intend to lead a retreat into barbarous isolation.

But in the forthcoming general election campaign, he will doubtless also seek to persuade working-class patriots who voted Leave, and who feel an intense love of country, that the regeneration of this nation must extend to its unloved towns.

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Iain Dale: Johnson is in a position to win an election – and may not get another chance to do so for quite some time

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, Boris Johnson has announced he will put a motion to Parliament for a general election to be called for December 12th. This would be the first December election since 1923, which produced a hung Parliament. Gulp.

If this is to be a Brexit election, the Conservative strategists need to devise a campaign which cannot be thrown off balance by Labour doing what they did in 2017, and campaign on anything other than Brexit. Admittedly, Theresa May gave them ample excuse to do that.

We keep hearing that the Prime Minister’s advisers were divided on the question of when to hold an election. The traditional Conservatives, led by Sir Eddie Lister, wanted to fight it after Brexit has been delivered whereas the Vote Leave gang, under Dominic Cummings want to make it a People v Parliament election – which by definition is rendered rather pointless if we have already left the EU during any extension which the EU grants.

The Lister argument is not persuasive to many people for the simple reason that no one ever thanks a government for what it has done, no matter how successful it is. They want to know what you’re going to do next.

Winston Churchill found out this political truth the hard way in July 1945. Attlee stormed to victory. I have little doubt that the Tories are currently in a good place to win an immediate election. That opportunity may not arise again for some time.

I have little doubt that many Labour MPs will vote against an election on the basis that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Jeremy Corbyn is in a very difficult position, since he keeps saying how much he wants an election, and would definitely vote for one once an extension to Article 50 is granted – which is presumably will be today (Friday).

The only possible reason he could surely give for not agreeing to an election is that a No Deal Brexit can’t be ruled out in December 2020, at the end of the Transition Period. I can’t believe that will wash with anyone apart from diehard Remainers.

– – – – – – – – – –

What is a true conservative? And note the small ‘c’. On this week’s Delingpod you’ll find a 75 minute chat between James Delingpole and myself in which he accuses me of not being a proper conservative and being a bit ‘squishy’. I am apparently not ‘sound’ enough on the key issues that matter to ‘proper’ conservatives, apparently.

Who knew? I don’t really like labels, and while I self-identify as a conservative, I also hold a lot of liberal views. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. You can be a fiscal conservative at the same time as being a social liberal.

– – – – – – – – – –

I really should know better. On Tuesday night, I was on a Newsnight panel which included the rather impressive Liam Thorp, political editor of the Liverpool Echo. Emily Maitlis threw him a question about Boris Johnson, and he immediately launched into a little spiel about how the city of Liverpool expects him to apologise for what he published (but didn’t write) about Liverpool 15 years ago.

I interjected. “He already has done; how many apologies would you like him to make?” Liam retorted that since he was now Prime Minister he should apologise again, this time from the Dispatch Box. I’m not sure the camera caught my eye-roll. Anyway, I thought little more of it until my Twitter timeline started to fill up with Outraged of Croxteth calling me all the names under the sun.

Calm down, calm down, I thought, channelling my inner Harry Enfield. (Bugger, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?). The next morning someone alerted me to a follow-up article Liam had written for his newspaper, which carried the headline…

“LBC radio host’s Newsnight jibe at Liverpool over Boris apology call – Iain Dale suggested the Prime Minister doesn’t need to say sorry, but here’s why we say he’s wrong”

Liam publicised it by tweeting: “No offence to Iain – but his comments about Boris Johnson and Liverpool show he doesn’t understand the hurt caused to this fine city.

And all because of one, brief interjection. Bloody hell, he came to a lot of conclusions based on that, didn’t he? I then rather stupidly responded: “Nothing Boris Johnson could ever say would satisfy you. He didn’t even write the editorial, yet you think he should wear sackcloth and ashes 15 years on. You’d do better to write about how a Labour council has consistently failed Liverpool. That’s the real scandal.”

I’ve experienced the wrath of the scouser on a couple of other occasions, so I don’t know why I should be surprised by the reaction. Yesterday morning I even get an email from the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson wanting to debate the whole issue on my radio show.

I politely declined, given what I knew would be the inevitable response. I have absolutely nothing against Liverpool as a city, or indeed its people. But I have the right to express the view that the Adelphi Hotel, when I stayed in it in 2011 was one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in. I have a right to say that I like Glasgow as a city better than  Liverpool.

People can disagree with me, but no one is going to shut me up. And, no, I don’t believe Johnson owes Liverpool a repeated apology. There are plenty in the queue for one ahead of Liverpool, I suspect!

I also suspect that my new book The Big Book of Boris – a collection of Borisisms – might not make it into the Liverpool branch of Waterstone’s.

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