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DISRAELI  Portrait

The leadership has betrayed us. It has sold us out over the causes we hold most dear. For the sake of the baubles of office, it has abandoned high principle and entered into tawdry compromises with our enemies.

This is not the kind of language Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, employed when I interviewed him for this site earlier this week. Mr Brady represented the views of Conservative backbenchers with admirable restraint. He emphasised that he hopes the party will win an overall majority in 2015.

But he also revealed that in the event of a hung parliament, in which David Cameron wishes once more to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Tory backbenchers will be given “a definitive consultation with a vote”, in order to decide whether they consent to such an arrangement.

In Mr Brady’s view, it was a mistake to go in to coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010: as he said at the time, he would have preferred the Tories to form a minority government. So in 2015, it will not be possible to take for granted the consent of Tory backbenchers to a coalition with the Lib Dems, as happened in 2010. The parliamentary party will not allow itself to be bounced for a second time.

This might suit the leadership: it needs backbenchers to be bound into whatever arrangement is reached. But it struck me as I talked to Mr Brady that although a written “protocol”, setting out the means by which backbenchers will be consulted and will vote, is a good idea, it will not remove the suspicion of Tory backbenchers and members that they are being sold out by a leadership which wishes to do deals with the party’s enemies.

For this suspicion occurs again and again in politics. In 1867, when Walter Bagehot published The English Constitution, he described an instance that was then within living memory:

“Years ago Mr Disraeli called Sir Robert Peel’s Ministry – the last Conservative Ministry that had real power – ‘an organised hypocrisy’, so much did the ideas of its ‘head’ differ from the sensations of its ‘tail’. Probably he now comprehends – if he did not always – that the air of Downing Street brings certain ideas to those who live there, and that the hard, compact prejudices of opposition are soon melted and mitigated in the great gulf stream of affairs.”

So Disraeli – who was himself to learn as Prime Minister of the compromises, or indeed betrayals, which the exercise of power may require – in his younger days used more intemperate language than Mr Brady has done to assail the Tory leadership.

But the term “an organised hypocrisy” expresses quite accurately what many disaffected Tories think of the present Government. It also expresses the view which has led a substantial contingent of Tory activists to leave the party and join UKIP. Nigel Farage plays with skill on this sense that Mr Cameron is a traitor who will sell our country out to Brussels.

It is true that Mr Cameron is by temperament an insider: a man who recognises that the exercise of power entails what Winston Churchill described (in his brilliant essay on Lord Rosebery, published in Great Contemporaries) as “the inevitable acquiescence in inferior solutions”.

Margaret Thatcher was not by temperament an insider, but she too found herself obliged to acquiesce in inferior solutions: she did this in Ulster, in the European Union, and even, as Charles Moore brings out in his marvellously penetrating biography of her, in the fraught negotiations on the future of the Falklands which took place before our forces recaptured the islands.

This is part of the very essence of politics: that if you wish to exercise power, you have to be prepared to make compromises. Were Mr Farage ever to find himself in power, he too would make compromises, and would be condemned by his followers for doing so. Fortunately for the Conservative party, Mr Brady is grown up enough to understand this.

 

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