Conservatism is in trouble and David Cameron is to blame. We are now confronted by a crisis in cultural Conservatism.
David Cameron would be surprised by that assessment, because he takes his own small 'c' Conservatism for granted. One can understand why. He is rooted in England and in the countryside. When he was first interviewed for his Witney seat, he was asked about blood sports. On that question, most candidates reply with well-rehearsed cliches, which have all the resonance of the hunting-scene table-mats in a new gastro-pub. Not Mr Cameron. He told the audience about the packs he had hunted with. He proclaimed his enjoyment of shooting – shotgun and rifle – with examples. On fishing, he cried off, saying that he lacked the patience. Although he had other qualities which won him the seat and carried him onwards, I do not believe that any Tory candidate has ever been more convincing on field sports.
But shooting is not enough. Although it may satisfy Mr Cameron personally, more is needed to embed modern Conservatism in deep England. Yet this should not be a problem. The Tory party is the true British national party. Whatever else Tories may disagree about, they must be united on one essential theme. They love their country. When they uplift their eyes to the Union Flag, their hearts should flutter. When they hear the National Anthem, their eyes should mist with emotion and pride.
Readers may demand some clarification on the difference between Conservatism and Toryism. 'Conservative' refers to the inevitable heavy-llifting aspects of a Conservative government; the disciplines of the counting-house, the double-entry book-keeping: all the wire-spectacled, pin-striped exigencies of Treasury politics. 'Toryism' means romance, from the Cavaliers who squandered their fortunes and their lives to vindicate a Monarch who was always the author of his own misfortunes but who was also their King – to the young men with good degrees from serious universities who, even now, could find affluent jobs as bankers or lawyers, but who make the joyous choice to subject themselves to the rigours of Sandhurst: to follow the colours and vindicate the very Britishness of us all. Conservatism keeps the show on the road. Toryism makes it worthwhile to keep the show on the road.
So when did David Cameron last say anything which made you understand why he wants to keep the show on the road? He has been guilty of reticence and shallowness. He has not been willing to expound his own Tory philosophy. That ought not to be a hard task; any educated Tory can draw on a formidable tradition. In their belief that they alone can harmonise tough-mindedness and patriotism, Tories ought to relish intellectual contest and creative tension. A Tory knows that his party is uniquely qualified to respond to the latest challenges of modernity, because its reverence for ancient institutions will create a context in which the shock of the new can be evaluated. Falkland, one of the earlest and the greatest of Tories, wrote that when it was not necessary to change, it was necessary not to change. Burke said that a society without the means of change is a society without the means of self-preservation. So when is it necessary to change? That is a question on which no-one should be trusted unless he is steeped in the sinewy, pragmatic, respectful and reverential intellect of the Tory tradition.
The 'reverential' is not just a matter of superstition or antique piety. Without being slaves of the past, Tories respect prejudice, which they regard as inherited wisdom. They are wary of tampering with ancient institutions, which would not have survived to earn the patina of antiquity unless they were also useful. Tories distrust innovation. They prefer it it take an evolutionary form so that its claims can be evaluated; its weaknesses, exposed.
No institution is more ancient than the family, which is the bed-rock of civilisation. It is a Hobbesian institution, whose members sacrifice the illusory freedoms of savagery in order to attain security. It is also a gentle nursery, in which human beings attain the vitues of altruism in the pursuit of the common good. Family life ought to be the politics of love. David Cameron understands this, while Nick Clegg refuses to acknowledge it. Everything one knows about the Clegg household suggests that it exemplifies traditional family values. Yet Mr Clegg is unwilling to proclaim those private values as universal virtues. It is a hypocrisy worthy of a Soviet Commissar: privilege for his family, equality for other people's families.
The family is social penicillin: the super drug which can cure so many social diseases. Equally, the decline of the British family since the early sixties has lead directly to the rise of every social problem, most notably madness and crime. If ever there were a fit subject for reverence, it is the family. So is this the moment for a Tory leader to be calling for homosexual marriage? There is no obvious reason for believing that this would lead to a further erosion of family life. But for millenia, a family has been an institution formed by a marriage between a man and a woman, for the procreation of children. This is no moment for a shallow, trendy, thoughtless incursion into the sacred places of human experience: the sacred legacies: the sacred lights, needed more than ever to guide us along the dark pathways of an embattled future.
The House of Lords may seem a long way from the family, but it has endured the conflicts of the centuries. It has also been the beneficiary of successful evolution. The introduction of Life Peers in the late Fifties was a supreme example of a change which worked. The opposite is true of Tony Blair's changes. Now, Nick Clegg is seeking a further thoughtless experiment. Mr Clegg wanted to destroy our currency. Fortunately, he was prevented. He then turned his destructiveness on the electoral system: No joy there either. But his is now behaving like an over-tired spoiled child, set on mayhem before bedtime. He has been kept out of the crockery cupboard. He has not been allowed to trash the drawing room. But he is still determined to wreck something, so what about the House of Lords? An elected House of Lords would be a second-rate House of Commons. Does anyone believe that this country now needs a second-rate House of Commons? If David Cameron is weak enough to allow Mr Clegg to vent his childish destructiveness on the Lords, the Tory party must rise up and prevent him.
Apropos rising up, it is time for the Prime Minister himself to do exactly that, in defence of the Union. I believe that David Cameron has deep music in his soul. He also has the voice and the command to turn his convictions into oratory and inspiration. Yet he is failing do do so. What profiteth a Tory leader if he negotiates his way through a few economic difficulties, while losing Scotland and turning the House of Lords into a county council? Would history forgive him, even if he were able to claim that amidst the further disintegration of the family, the further rise in the divorce rate, the further increase in the illegimacy rate – this was the Tory leader who introduced homosexual marriage? In most respects, this is a good government which could become an outstanding one. Welfare, eduction, the deficit: fighting Toryism in confident mode. But more is needed, in defence of the ancient and the sacred. The Tory party must assist its Leader to recover his Tory intellectual self-confidence – while insisting that nothing less will do.