Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Disraeli's heirs

My conscience troubles me that I spoke in haste to pass judgement on the MP for Beaconsfield without ascertaining whether he is indeed "muddled" and a true heir to Disraeli.

So I have studied the writings of the shadow attorney general, Mr Grieve, using this new technology, which, I must say, offers little of the comfort of sitting under a haystack in a bright autumn day reading a leather-bound tome.

He is clearly not an heir to Disraeli, a man who was incapable of extended thought and substituted bright wit and insult for genuine argument. Indeed for a moment I thought that here was a worthy debating adversary, a Tory who can extend an argument, drawing on learned sources and bringing together threads to a natural conclusion.

I looked forward to a Tory exposition of the integral place of religion in our national life and a condemnation of the secularisation overseen by the sons of the manse who pass for socialist politicians.

Instead I am reminded of the poet Horace who wrote comically, referring to a contemporary statesman, of the mountain that heaved in the pain of childbirth and out came a "ridiculus mus" a ridiculous mouse.

Mr Grieve's main conclusion, with which I cannot disagree although it is but a small conclusion, is that religion has a role in public life. But consider his preceding paragraphs in which he describes, very briefly, how his faith influences his politics "in two ways". It motivates him to "good works", Mr Grieve says, and it tempers the "worldly appeal" of the "exercise of power". Well, I cannot disagree, hard as I may try.

What are these good works? We are not told. There is an implication that they are described in the scriptures or perhaps in the Book of Common Prayer. In a more recent forum, the same speaker suggested that the state and politicians cannot engender "neighbourliness". And yet neighbourliness surely lies at the heart of the gospel view of goodness - and a neighbourliness that is not restrained by geography, culture or language, according to the story of the Good Samaritan. Yet in that more recent forum, Mr Grieve specifically foreswore using politics to create neighbourliness. I do understand that modern parliamentarians undertake a wider range of good works than was usual in my time. Indeed they spend considerable periods of time in their constituency providing aid and succour to distressed or vexatious individuals. And I hear my own party has adopted this as a principle. I do not wish to rush judgement on this but this surely cannot be the kind of works to which Mr Grieve refers. Indeed as a churchman like me I would hope he lives by faith not works. For if that is the only works that a statesman could undertake, he might as well work for the Salvation Army or one of those excellent new institutions such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or the Samaritans.

Mr Grieve appears to be genuine in wishing to restrain the Leviathan of the state. He separates himself from those misguided heirs of radicalism who would use the state to dictate goodness - which indeed must come from the human heart. But he must therefore answer the question: how can the statesman do good works whilst restraining the power of the over-mighty state?

Perhaps the answers were easier in my time. Our state had a need to learn morality and to restrain the brutal exercise of power. No, Mr Grieve may not be an heir of Disraeli. He is clearly a man of principle but he and his party need to consider more what those principles are. For too often under the window-dressing of principle, we hear the old Toryism of false patriotism, opportunism and protection of vested interests, as I so often described it to our beloved young Queen.

My conscience continues to prick me on this matter as the gentleman is a fellow churchman and I may do him an injustice. So I perused a second oration, entitled Liberty and Community. At last, I inwardly whispered, a student of JS Mill. I was not long illusioned. His intention is to claim Toryism as the champion of liberty and the evidence is scant indeed. Burke, yes, an honourable champion of democracy but also too subservient to Royalty. Then to cite that scoundrel Disraeli in defence of liberty is an act of rhetorical daring of unbelievable proportions. This was the same Disraeli who connived in the oppression of peoples around the world and inveigled our own dear Queen to follow the path of Caesar and declare herself Empress.

I see he mentions young Churchill, a young fellow I always thought had a brilliant career ahead of him. This young man apparently, during a time of war with Prussia, released from detention an individual who advocated support for Prussia, a fellow aristocrat it seems. I always feared the young man had Whiggish tendencies. If this was Winston's finest hour, I fear I may have been mistaken in my hopes for his distinguished future.

On this fragile base, Mr Grieve attempts a defence of liberty but I fear remains haunted by the ghost of Disraeli. He identifies considerable state oppression that has been enforced in the spirit of that mountebank Marx. But where is the peroration, the sound of liberty crying for justice? Instead he returns to narrow concerns about nationhood and weasel references to the "host community". His history is profoundly mistaken also in tracing our island story merely back to the Anglo-Saxons. What of Boadica, Arthur, the great kings of Wales, Ireland and Scotland - Celts all - and indeed those citizens of the Roman Empire who made our land their home and gave us so much? Toryism has always dressed itself in convenient clothes but its true nature will always out. So little has changed since my time.

Our dear Queen was never constrained by such narrow considerations, as I was delighted to remind her so often. She could not be, as so much of her heritage lay in the Germanic lands and her vision was to help bind a family of nations, a vision so sadly lost by the mad Wilhelm.

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