Benedict Rogers is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. He is a journalist, author and human rights activist, and was Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham in 2005. He responds to last night’s Platform from Ali Miraj.
Ali Miraj’s outburst is the latest in a season of stupidity by Conservatives. I have seen feverish insanity capture the minds of Tories before, but usually there has been some logical explanation. Margaret Thatcher, no matter how much we may love her, provoked rebellion as a result of Poll Tax riots and Europe. Iain Duncan Smith made his party despair because, although he was shaping the right agenda, his ability to communicate it effectively was lacking. While even in those circumstances the sight of frenzied foaming-at-the-mouth Tories throwing their toys out of the pram was unpleasant, it was just about comprehensible. But the behaviour of Tories in the past month or two has been insanity beyond description. The lunatics have broken out of their cells and, if we are not careful, they may recapture control of the asylum.
I agree that the Brown Bounce has been bigger than expected. I agree the grammar schools row was a fiasco. I agree that in Ealing Southall, it was a mistake to raise expectations too much, it was a mistake to list the candidate as coming from David Camerons Conservatives, and it was a mistake to force Tony Lit on the local association. I watched Lit being interviewed at 3am when the result was declared, and on camera he was desperately unimpressive. His answers were incoherent and banal. But I did not leap onto the airwaves to say so. I kept quiet.
We are having a rough few weeks. But that does not give everyone the excuse to throw a mega-tantrum and start talking in ludicrous terms about a change of leadership. Yes, our lead in the opinion polls has been overturned and we are now trailing Labour. But the situation is only irredeemable if we continue behaving in the way some Tories have in recent weeks.
We would do well to hear the words of Field Marshal Viscount Slim, in
his book Defeat into Victory. Slim led the British troops, pushed out
of Burma by the Japanese in the Second World War, into the most
extraordinary military expedition to overturn the Japanese occupation
of Burma. Morale is a state of mind, Slim writes. It is that
intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their
last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to
themselves; that makes them feel they are part of something greater
A modern, compassionate conservatism based on social justice is, for me
at least, an inspiring cause. David Cameron has made me feel good about
being a Conservative again in a way that few other Tories and
certainly not those currently sniping could ever do. Slim believes
that for an army to be successful, there must be a great and noble
object. In Burma against the Japanese, Slim says, we fought for the
clean, the decent, the free things of life, for the right to live our
lives in our own way, as others could live theirs to be free in body
and mind If ever an army fought in a just cause we did.
In fighting Gordon Brown and Labour, we are not fighting the Japanese.
There are - and let us not be stupid enough to deny this - some good
things Labour has done. But there are many things in this country
which, despite ten years of Labour spending and legislating, are badly,
badly wrong. We do have a broken society. Crime, especially teenage
crime, is frightening. Inner-city deprivation and family breakdown is
alarming. Our public services are crumbling. And our taxes are
rocketing. A modern, compassionate conservatism that combines the
values of social justice with the principles and practices of
conservatism is absolutely what we should fight for.
In addition, there are some great challenges facing our generation.
Climate change, terrorism and the rise of Islamism, global poverty and
human rights. For the first time in my experience as a Tory, the
Conservative Party is shaping the agenda on all these issues. Thanks to
Cameron, we’ve led the green debate. Thanks to Cameron, we have put
forward ideas for national security and challenged the Government for
its failure to ban extremist groups like Hizb-ut-Tehrir which foster
jihad on our streets. Thanks to Cameron, William Hague and Liam Fox,
and my colleagues on the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, we
are developing a foreign policy agenda which puts human rights at its
very heart. This is an exciting time to be a Conservative. Miraj may
think it is all PR I profoundly disagree. If he thinks Rwanda has
nothing to do with Watford, then hes got much to learn.
But as Slim would agree, morale - and indeed the effectiveness of an
army - is destroyed by disunity. I am staggered by the ill-discipline
of Tories when the going gets a little bit rough. We have in David
Cameron a person who for the first time in a decade has given us a
realistic chance of victory yet when his team make a few errors and
the Brown Bounce is a bit bigger than we expected, my fellow Tories go
beserk. Surely this is precisely the time when we should be closing
ranks, uniting, strengthening our arms for the battle ahead.
There is fault on all sides. As much of a fan of Cameron as I am, I am
not a sycophant. Mistakes have been made. But, our duty when mistakes
are made is if necessary to express our opinions to the leadership
privately, not on the BBC or in the Daily Telegraph. Not even, dare I
say it, on ConservativeHome. I am only writing this because the
parakeets have already broken out of the cage and so I want to add some
balance to their shrieking calls for blood. But my message to the
leadership and to the party, for the future, is to back D.A.V.E:
Discipline, and determination
Action, and allegiance
Values, and vision
Energy, and enthusiasm
Let us be disciplined. According to Slim, discipline means that every
man, when things pass beyond his own authority or initiative, knows to
whom to turn for further direction. If it is the right kind of
discipline he turns in the confidence that he will get sensible and
effective direction. Every step must be taken to build up this
confidence of the soldier in his leaders It is not enough to be
efficient; the organisation must look efficient. Let us all, at every
level of the party, work to be more disciplined. Let us be determined
to win. If we have that discipline and determination, we will be able
to stop running to the airwaves and blogs every time we have a gripe
about the leadership.
Let us show more action of the kind displayed by those who have
engaged in various social action projects over the past 18 months,
which put our beliefs into practice. The project in Rwanda was a superb
initiative, and David Cameron was absolutely right to go ahead with his
visit. Those who are carping at him for it display the kind of narrow,
ignorant and bigoted attitudes I had hoped would have been buried by
And allegiance – let us be clear that our loyalty is not to any
particular fringe grouping, but to the cause of a modern, compassionate
Let us know, embody and articulate our values and vision a desire to
help those less fortunate than ourselves, a belief in smaller
government, a belief in freedom, a belief that government does not have
all the answers but that together government, the voluntary sector,
business, community organisations, families and individuals have a
And let us work for these values and this vision with energy and
enthusiasm. Bob Dylans song Blowing in the Wind has some relevance
here. How many times, to paraphrase Dylan, must a party lose an
election to know that internal rows laid out on the media washing line
do not win elections?
I have written in this vein once before. I seriously hope I never have
to again. Cameron is not perfect, but he is by far and away the best
hope we have and if we persist with our outbreak of Mad Tory Disease,
then we deserve electoral oblivion.