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Edmund Burke

What a demeaning exercise, to go round telling people why one is the best person to lead the Conservative Party. Quite soon, one might find oneself wondering whether one could make something of one’s family.

Andrea Leadsom tried to do so in her interview with the Times, and got the tone all wrong. She sounded as if she was striking a low and cruel blow at her rival, Theresa May, for not having children, and by extension at all those of us who do not have children:

“I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”

This is open to the obvious and fatal objection that many childless people care deeply about the future of our country, while some who do have children live only for the moment.

One may note in passing that Leadsom expresses, perhaps by accident, a form of support for the hereditary principle: she suggests it is natural to care most about what happens to our direct descendants.

But that is not the position she wishes to defend. For she later corrected herself, appearing outside her house to read a statement in which she said:

“I want to be crystal clear that everyone has an equal stake in our society and in the future of our country.”

That is the kind of dull, egalitarian formula to which candidates so often find themselves resorting, in a bid not to upset anyone.

Leadsom was, by the way, entirely wrong to accuse Rachel Sylvester, who conducted the interview, of “gutter journalism”. Sylvester is a most reputable journalist.

But it is easy to criticise, more difficult to make constructive suggestions. How is Leadsom to reply, when next she is questioned about her idea of our society, our state, our community? Here is what she could say:

“It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

Don’t the words have a certain ring about them, elevating them above a candidate’s usual platitudes? They certainly do, for they are borrowed from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Tory candidates of limited rhetorical gifts used often to adorn their pedestrian offerings with a sentence or two from Burke, and Leadsom could do worse than follow their example. Her team should send out for the recent Everyman edition of his works.

Some clever columnist would no doubt point out that Burke would have been horrified by the referendum. But since we are seeking to re-establish, continue and preserve our constitution in the admirable though constantly evolving form in which it has existed since 1688, he is still a writer who can be read with profit, and quoted with pleasure.

236 comments for: How Leadsom can do better next time

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