The Tories are suffering from a terrible affliction. They are no longer the stupid party, as John Stuart Mill described them. On the contrary: Tory politics is full of intellectuals, a contumacious and disruptive species. This is one reason why it has become much harder to lead the Tory party.
Mill's dismissive comment was never literally true, although it came closest to truth after the departure of the Peelites, when Toryism appeared to be at the mercy of Disraeli's mountebankery. But there were always plenty of clever Tories and a fair few intellectual ones.
That said, there was a crucial difference between thoughtful Tories and intellectual Lefties. Tories believed in hard thinking. They also believed in reasoning from the particular to the general. They were suspicious of grand theories, whose implementation seemed to require the remodelling of human nature. They were also suspicious of intellectuals, who are often easily seduced by such theories: Marxism, apartheid, European federalism. Margaret Thatcher, who is not an intellectual, was the first Tory leader to use the term as an unalloyed compliment. That was a symptom of a significant change.
By the early Eighties, the Tory party was winning a lot of intellectual adherents. Many of them had moved across because they had become disillusioned with socialism. Even so, they brought their intellectual habits with them. At the same time, the Labour party was facing a crisis. There had always been a large number of Labour supporters who were more interested in ideas than in power, a preference which came naturally to socialists. By definition, socialism was an intellectual grand project, which involved a reshaping of human nature. As such, it had little appeal to most voters. For many years, Labour remained in touch with electability because the leadership, as it were, played down Marxism in favour of Methodism. Then came the Bennite coup and the rise of the SDP, which threatened Labour's very existence. The leadership responded by retreating from thought.
Although this was most pronounced under Tony Blair, it began under his predecessors. Neil Kinnock was a man to whom thoughtlessness came easily. John Smith, albeit highly intelligent, was not an intellectual. In Mr Blair's case, shallowness came easily. He decided that debate led to dissent and disruption: policy-making, to punch-ups. Instead of socialism, we had sound-bites; instead of theory, text messages from Alastair Campbell.
It might be thought odd that Mr Blair's party accepted all that. Labour is full of clever people who like reading books and discussing ideas. By 1994, however, there had been a number of developments favourable to the creation of an intellectual vacuum. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is not to say that the Labour party was full of Soviet agents, though there were some (In retrospect, they were probably less dangerous than the EU agents in the Tory party). But as long as a great chunk of the world was trying to implement socialism, even in a flawed form, it was possible for English Lefties to believe that history was on their side and that socialism was inevitable.
Even if the Soviet empire had not disintegrated, those certainties would have come under attack in the early Nineties, because of the second factor. Labour had lost four successive elections. Some commentators wondered whether it could ever win again. It was clear that those seeking a route back to electability would have to begin by chucking a lot of their cherished intellectual heritage into the nearest skip. In the early Eighties, "no compromise with the voters" had been a semi-jokey phrase among Lefties who were trying hard to avoid one. Ten years later, it was no longer a joke – more a matter of "compromise, or else".
That leads us to the third factor, which eased the Left's transition from crowing to eating crow: tribalism. Labour people were desperate to win, on almost any terms. To understand their psychology, it would probably be useful to study those other tribal obsessives, football fans. The Lefties' fan-aticism had three elements. First, team loyalty: second, the belief that whatever its record in office, Labour was always entitled to the moral high ground; third and related, a dislike of the Tories – the belief that whatever their record was in office, they were fundamentally immoral. In many cases, this was exacerbated by a social chip, which has grown no less pronounced in recent years.
Government is centripetal: opposition, centrifugal. One would have assumed that once out of power, Labour would have rediscovered its appetite for ideas. Not so. The Labour party is still a thought-free zone. Today, despite the number of high IQs in its ranks, it is the stupid party.
Before rejoicing in the implied compliment, wise Tories should consider the consequences. Out of thoughtlessness and stupidity, it is easy to breed discipline and unity. The Labour party is still desperate to gain power and will do nothing to impede its leadership. Compare and contrast that with the Tory Parliamentary party. Many Tories still have to learn how to think in public without risking a political crisis. So here are a couple of suggested rules.
First, thinking means what it says and is not to be confused with an impatient gesture or an emotional spasm. Airports are difficult. Every possible London-area scheme has disadvantages. All the options ought to be weighed and costed. There is no alternative to detailed consideration, which Howard Davies is good at, unlike Boris Johnson. Never in his life has Boris spent as much as five minutes thinking anything through. He has seized on his grand project, with all the sophistication of a child in Hamley's clamouring for a vastly expensive toy. If his airport is such a good idea, let him put his case. If he will not do that, two conclusions could be drawn. First, that there is no case; second, that he knows himself to be too inarticulate to make it. His entire behaviour over the airport is a study in irresponsibilty and insensate ambition.
Let us turn from the Mayor's charming foibles to the grievance of grievances. You are an MP who is so fed up with the EU that you are ready to consider withdrawal. That is not an illegitimate position: merely a temerarious one. The withdrawers are at risk of stumbling into a contradiction. On the one hand, these Europeans are so impossible that we have to leave. On the other hand, once we have left, they will be happy to do so much of their banking via London and to preserve free trade (I know; it is in their interests to maintain free trade. If the EU could be trusted to act in its own interests, it would not be in the current mess).
Equally, those who want to quit the EU are looking to the wide oceans, the Brics and indeed the Commonwealth. They argue – rightly – that the UK has always made much of its living on the high seas. Obviously, we must continue to do so. But has anyone consulted our overseas partners about their reaction to British withdrawal? To what extent is their interest in trade links with us stimulated by our role as a conduit to Europe? That would probably apply a fortiori to inward investment. I am not claiming that pessimism is inevitable: merely that hard thinking is indispensable, as it ought always to be for Tories.
That brings us to the leadership. Hard thinking about Europe means an endless struggle with complexity and unpredictability. Ten Downing Street is the best place to assess all the variables and conduct that struggle. David Cameron agrees with at least 80% of his party. Like them, he would prefer to stay in the EU, on a basis of free trade and political co-operation between sovereign states. Like them, he does not have a federast molecule in his body. Like them, he wants a renegotiation. But like most of them, he knows that this cannot be done by buying a magic wand in Hamley's.
The second suggestion, therefore, is that the party should trust him. There is no sane alternative. This does not mean that Tory MPs should remain quiescent. There is any amount of scope for hard thinking on a range of policy questions. For a start, there ought to be far more pressure over the European Convention on Human Rights, which could provide a relatively easy victory in the battle to reassert our national sovereignty.
"An intellectual hatred is the worst" wrote Yeats in the Prayer for My Daughter. "So let her think opinions are accursed". No chance of the Tory party taking that advice, but he had a point about intellectual hatred. So let the Tory party strive to find a way of holding opinions and arguing about them, without succumbing to hatred and disunity.