Saturday, October 27, 2007

With regret

It has been suggested to me, in view of the parlous state of my own party, that I might consider seeking a fifth ministry. I have never turned away from duty, although on occasions it was only the encouragement of our graceful sovereign that pushed me to undertake such burdensome tasks. It was always indeed a matter of astonishment that a party of such modernity as ours should achieve so much greatness under my titular leadership.

On this occasion I have had to decline in advance of any call from the palace. Apart from the question of my corporeal state, I understand that certain things are done differently in this age and that it would not be the custom for the leader to be elected without a seat in the Commons nor indeed that there would be volunteers to take the Chiltern Hundreds to allow such a leader to resume his place by means of by-election. Indeed so desperate is the state of the party, I have been advised there is no guarantee that a leader would win such an election, even with the aid of a certain Fox, that fine species the Reynard that in recent years returned to the aid of the movement.

A large part of me regrets such a decision. I have been idle for too long and there are great issues to debate. For myself, I am confident that the electors of Lothian or Lancashire would again respond to the clarion of justice as so often in the past. It seems the socialists have succumbed to the lure of imperialism as so sadly did my friend and colleague Jo Chamberlain. So many men and so many lives have been sacrificed so often in ill-thought out wars in nations of which we do indeed know little. Why cannot the Anglo-saxons (for I understand our cousins across the ocean are equally seduced) recognise that other peoples will, of course, and are entitled by right to aspire to the greatness our nations have attained? Even recent events appear not to have taught the so-called leaders - statesmen they are not - that peace and liberty are not attained by the reckless deployment of threats and weaponry. Justice must be sought and it is gratifying to see that international Councils now exist, merely a matter of shame they are not used well. This was a concept I so often explained to HM and felt contributed to her own simple desire to create families of nations.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mr Campbell

Now I fear I must turn my attention to the sorry state of my own party, a great institution that I forged from progressive Whigs and Tories and the rising movement of radicals, all inspired by the legacy of freedom envisioned by Wycliffe, Cromwell and the authors of the Glorious Revolution.

Its leader was I understand a man a little older than I was at the time I started my first ministry when I was in my 59th year. At the time I had already passed the average age at death of the ordinary Briton but this was no barrier to advancement. Mr Campbell I believe had many years to come before he reached such an age for now it is the case that, thanks to prosperity and advances in medicine, males can hope to reach their 80th year. For his crime of being at the age of great statesmanship, Mr Campbell I hear was pilloried by low hacks of the printed press and betrayed by his own colleagues.

O tempora, o mores.

To hear the party has barely 60 MPs is grievous indeed although I gather this is regarded as some sort of achievement. Indeed there seem to have been occasions when it was on the verge of extinction. It is no wonder that the flame of liberty burns so low in this country. I can only recall that 60 is a very uncomfortable number to have within a party, too small to govern or aspire to govern or even to spawn great leaders, too large to lead. This was certainly the experience of our Irish allies, who also experienced frequent problems of leadership.

There are I understand two pretenders for the office once occupied by Mr Campbell. I shall be studying their utterances in the hope of hearing elegant exposition of the place of liberty and morality in this God-forsaken century.

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.

Good citizenship

A stroll down to Millbank last night for a discussion with learned theologians, journalists and fellow parliamentarians about citizenship. An odd mixture creating an odd debate.

I like nothing better than to engage in theology and it distresses me to hear theologians uttering banal comment about the political realm or politicians posing as preachers without a profound thought in their heads.

The proposition put forward by the admirable thinktank Theos was that neighbourliness is what makes good citizens. The alternative it is argued is to base citizenship on the nation state and patriotism. I can only concur that such a view, which the Prime Minister too often seems to take, is dangerous.

A confusing pseudo-intellectual address from the self-styled shadow attorney-general Dominic Grieve, a true heir of Disreali both in his constituency, Beaconsfield, and in the muddle in his brain. Mr Grieve appeared to believe that people lose a sense of citizenship and neighbourliness if their streets are unsafe or if immigrants move into their road. So in appearing to accept the Theos proposition he was unable to develop it. Indeed he took the admirable view that politicians can do little to foster neighbourliness except to stay out of the way. Such minimalism did not apply however to keeping the streets safe or keeping immigrants out. So typical a Tory view.

Elegant, light-hearted and light contributions from radio lady Libby Purves in the chair and from the admirable writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Ms Purves' chairing did little to create a structured debate but that is entirely to be expected from someone whose primary occupation is show-business.

It seems little has changed in 150 years. Politicians and other powerful people use patriotism to boost themselves whilst denying the aspirations of the people.

For a theological debate it was curious that noone quoted the words of St Paul "civis Romanus sum" - I am a Roman citizen. The apostle was proud of his citizen status but felt no obligation to worship the emperor in return. Indeed he gave his head in support of his ideas - and although modernists like to depict him as a reactionary, he it was who crystallised the ideas of equality that stem from the gospels.

In my day too people were proud to be citizens, even those of us who cringed at the excesses of the empire, too often performed in the name of an innocent Queen. People were proud to vote and those who were denied it clamoured for this right. We may have been called subjects but regarded ourselves as citizens.

Now people are told they are citizens but believe they are subjects, oppressed by an over mighty state. What was also not mentioned last night was that to have the vote is to be a citizen. Thankfully also there was little talk of the Blairism of "rights and responsibility" but it is true - voting is both a right and a responsibility. When as few as 20 per cent of people vote, that indicates they no longer regard themselves as citizens.

The discussion was also very much about London. After all even Beaconsfield is little more than a suburb of the capital. I must be in London because that is where debate takes place - but you cannot build a library there. There are many neighbourhoods around the country where people act as citizens and elect parish councillors. In my walks across England I find these are also places of good neighbourliness, ready to discuss the weather or the latest news as I pass. There are also many industrial cities where the abolition of rotten boroughs and creation of municipalities has still failed to recreate the vibrancy of the parish. These people do not believe themselves to be citizens because their vote seems to change very little. And now the Empire is contained within our one country, we have failed - as we failed in my time - to create the assemblies which can speak for different cultures and religions.

My dear wife has advised me to keep these utterances short. Apparently a sermon of 20 minutes is now long and only the Chancellor of the Exchequer is allowed to speak for more than 30 minutes. I shall endeavour to learn these new disciplines, hard as they are for me. I so well remember the Queen stifling the merest tiny yawn when my exposition of affairs of state extended beyond the length of her cup of tea as she politely indicated the time of departure. So until tomorrow..