A pernicious spirit of intolerance can be detected in some recent attacks on people for being posh, or for having gone to a supposedly posh school. One expects the Labour Party to engage in class war: to attack people in a mean and envious spirit, for having started out in life with advantages, or simply for having become rich.
Tories should adopt a more generous attitude to these things. We do not aim, as socialists often appear to do, at a world in which everyone is identical. Instead of prating about diversity, we delight in it. We are pleased to have a hereditary monarchy, which possesses a number of magnificent houses and is buttressed by a hereditary aristocracy. We see the making and inheriting of private fortunes, great and small, as an enlargement of freedom. We know, without generally having to spell it out, that to possess independent means is a good thing, for it reduces the danger of an over-mighty state.
We value institutions such as independent schools which thorough-going egalitarians yearn to abolish. We were horrified when those same egalitarians, inspired by a malicious and ignorant desire to destroy what appeared to them like a symbol of indefensible privilege, passed a law against fox-hunting.
When Boris Johnson stands up for bankers, we know he is doing the right thing: not just because banking is one of London’s greatest trades, but because freedom itself is endangered when a whole class of people are condemned simply because of the way in which they earn their living.
The Conservative Party cannot, of course, afford to be seen only as a party of the rich. It needs to dramatise the measures it is taking to spread opportunity much more widely, and to improve the lot of the working poor. The sale of council houses demonstrated what Margaret Thatcher was trying to do, namely to give new vigour to the long-held Tory aim of creating a property-owning democracy.
To rename the party “the Workers’ Party”, as Robert Halfon has proposed, would be a ridiculous gesture. By all means stand up for workers: but this is not done by adopting Soviet terminology. Conservatives never sound in the slightest bit convincing when they appear to be ashamed of their own history and origins. When the Financial Times publishes a mischievous article pointing out that the Prime Minister and some of his staff went to Eton, the correct response (if one considers any response to be required) is to point out that Eton is a very good school, which has renewed itself by adapting with exemplary resourcefulness to modern conditions.
John Stuart Mill is not a thinker to whom Tories very often refer. But Mill understood that one of the greatest dangers in a democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or of those who purport to represent the majority. As he wrote in 1840, in his review of de Tocqueville’s great work “Democracy in America”:
“The daily actions of every peer and peeress are falling more and more under the yoke of bourgeois opinion, they feel every day a stronger necessity of showing an immaculate front to the world. When they do venture to disregard common opinion, it is in a body, and when supported by one another; whereas formerly every nobleman acted on his own notions, and dared be as eccentric as he pleased. No rank in society is now exempt from the fear of being peculiar, the unwillingness to be, or to be thought, in any respect original. Hardly any thing now depends upon individuals, but all upon classes, and among classes mainly upon the middle class. That class is now the power in society, the arbiter of fortune and success.”
The tyranny of the majority, or of the majority’s representatives, is all the more insidious for being so often unselfconscious. Conservatives must identify the danger, and be bold enough to defy it. To be posh, or even to have been to Eton, is not a criminal offence, and should not be treated as if it were.