I cannot deny that my grasp of public affairs is not as sure as it might be since, for reasons that readers of this publication will understand, I am presently incapable of taking my seat in the House of Lords. I must also confess that my mastery of the means of communication on which this modern age depends is, alas, incomplete (the mysteries of the telegraph remain a wonder to me). None the less, Mary Anne, being returned yesterday afternoon to Hughenden from her duties, has read to me a transcript of the speech of the Labour Party leader to his conference, and I am dictating this article to her by way of response.
I wish to make it clear at the outset that I am by no means ill-disposed to Edward Miliband. As I say, my grasp of present events is a little tentative, but I understand from Mary Anne that my party is now in coalition with Mr Gladstone. Readers will comprehend that I find this deeply disturbing, and I see from the opinion polls that my view is widely shared: as I once said, England does not love coalitions. So I am prepared to give Mr Miliband a fair hearing. As I once told the Commons, the cause of labour is the cause of England. This is why the Conservative Party is – or should be – the party of labour, as well as the party of capital.
This sentiment leads me to inquire why this is no longer so. Perhaps the answer lies in the yielding by my party to Mr Miliband's of the trade union movement in the period that followed my retirement from active politics. Perhaps the interests of labour and capital have become misaligned, given the increasingly international character of the latter. Perhaps such a clash is demonstrated by what my Buckinghamshire neighbours tell me has been the enormous flux of immigration into the country as a whole. (Readers will understand why my own view of migrants is benign: I question not the principle of immigration, but its scale).
But at any rate, the Conservative Party has clearly lost the support of the working classes, which the Primrose League and Conservative trade union enterprises once strove so hard to maintain. So it is not impossible for me to imagine that a labour party might in some sense be conservative, and realise the ideals to which I have sought to give expression. My critics claim that I changed my mind with regard to these, and thus accuse me of inconstancy. To which I reply that in a progressive country change is constant, but that I have never wavered in my belief in the glory of England, expessed in its institutions – the altar, the throne, and the cottage.
For the cottage, one can perhaps substitute the council house, as sold to its owner by what I gather is one of the most distinguished of my successors. But whether or not this is so, the principle remains: individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation – One Nation, as Mr Miliband put it yesterday. He was incorrect in asserting that I am the originator of the phrase; I am happy none the less to take any payment for copyright. Speaking of payment, my lawyer, Sir Philip Rose, will be in communication with Mr Miliband with regard to his outrageous suggestion that I was drunk when speaking at Manchester myself in 1872.
I am perhaps fortunate in that Mr Miliband did not repeat the canard that I was similarly afflicted in the Commons while responding to criticisms of my 1852 budget. But be that as it may, I am sorry to say that his slur set the tone for what followed in the remainder of his speech. He claimed, on the one hand, that he wished to unite the whole country, but made, on the other, a series of verbal assaults on parts of it. Like the Milibands, the Disraelis have not "sat under the same oak tree for the last 500 years", as Mr Miliband put it, but I see no reason to abuse those who have, whether or not they have attended Eton College.
These oral attacks would clearly be succeeded by real ones, on capital and labour alike, were Mr Miliband to enter Downing Street as Prime Minister. Like him, I support apprenticeships for the "'angels in marble"; Mr Miliband
said that public contracts will go only to firms offering them. But
how is government to measure whether those being offered by businesses
are of real value? Like him, I oppose the practices of modern banking, which have clearly declined since Lord Rothschild financed my purchase of shares in the Suez Canal. But again, how is government to separate retail and investment banking as this one is not, and the last Labour Government did not?
Again, I understand that workers want higher wages. But how is government to force employers to pay them, as Mr Miliband seemed to suggest, without risking those employers going out of business? Mary Anne has read and re-read Mr Miliband's words to me and, since they contain no pledge to control immigration even at present levels, one must assume that his policy is first to have no effective limit on entry and then force employers to pay higher wages – to the immigrants as well as to native workers. Furthermore, Mr Miliband made no reference whatsoever to the continental combination which, I am told, now governs the country, at least in part.
His policy therefore seems to me to favour allowing almost unlimited immigration into Britain while simultaneously permitting it to be governed from abroad by this European Union. On reflection, therefore, Mr Miliband is not only the foe of the upper
classes, an emnity which he is happy to declare in public, but also of
the working classes, a hostility about which he is less forthcoming, but
which is demonstrated by his approach to immigration and governance. This leaves the middle classes. But they are clearly the object of the
same malignancy, since only they have sufficient resources to fund Mr
Miliband's various schemes.
I once said that to tax the community for
the advantage of a class is not protection: it is plunder. I am not
known, I believe, for a lack of felicity with language, but how taxing
the community for the advantage of no class at all – other than a
parasatical bureaucracy – can be described is beyond even my powers. At any rate, it is clear that Mr Miliband's party is an international, not a national one, since the essence of a national party is to seek to preserve or recover the self-goverment that makes nationhood possible. It follows that his claim that Labour is the party of One Nation is the opposite of the truth. It is the party of no nation at all.
The upper classes should balance wealth with responsibiity. For a member of that class to connive in the destruction of the country – I understand that Mr Miliband is part of a property-owning family – is an act of hedonism as well as hypocrisy. He ended his speech by saying that he wants to "rebuild Britan". But why should he be trusted to do so, given his part in knocking it down over 13 years? There is a moral for the Conservative Party in all this. I feel moved to share it not only with you, my dear people, but with Mr Lidington, our member of Parliament, and with Mr Baker, his neighbour, who succeeded that person whose name persistently escapes me…
As told to Paul Goodman. Follow Paul on Twitter.