“The most prestigious and substantial figure thrown up by Unionism since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1921.” Dean Godson’s address at the funeral of David Trimble.

5 Aug

Lord Godson is Director of Policy Exchange, and wrote a biography of Lord Trimble, Himself Alone.

“Lord Lieutenant, Mr President, Prime Minister, Taoiseach, my Lord Speaker, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Trimble family, and above all, Daphne Trimble; certainly a wife and helpmeet, but also his greatest advisor in the public realm, whom we also come to pay tribute to today.

David Trimble, whose earthly remains lie before us today, was the most prestigious and substantial figure thrown up by Unionism since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1921. The first to enjoy a global reputation. The distinguished congregation gathered here today in this Kirk at short notice in August is proof positive of one thing – that the title of David’s biography, Himself Alone, is in some urgent need of revision.

For David has never been less alone. In death he is finally being accorded the respect and love from all polities and communities in these islands; the respect and love in death which he deserves – but which he did not always receive in life when he was at the height of his powers – and operating, as he so very often did, in most adverse circumstances.

Those adverse circumstances obtained within his own party and community, within all wings of Northern nationalism, and within three governments in London, Dublin, and Washington, which did not always have Unionist interests at heart. David might have possessed the moral high ground, but it was armed republicans who often enjoyed the inside track. No other leader who played a key part in forging the Belfast Agreement had to contend with his range of challenges.

When I started composing this address, I sought the advice of a number of people, pre-eminently Daphne and she replied to me “speak as if David was here and speak with the candour and honesty of the man.” I will follow her advice and I will start with this question. So what were the qualities in David Trimble the man that made him a great politician and a great statesman?

As a man, he presents a complex picture. Everyone here knows that he was not an easy man in the conventional sense. But if he had been an easy man and an easygoing man, he could not have achieved what he did. If one looks back at his professional and public life, nothing came easily to him. Even to speak about him now is not an easy task. To the very end, there was nothing “politically correct” about David. He was never co-opted into the easy ideology of conflict resolution – as are so many peacemakers across the world when they go into retirement. He was thran, even spiky.

But the flip side was an unmatched tenacity, a resilience which stood him in excellent stead throughout the terrorist violence of the Troubles which took the lives of a number of colleagues and students at Queen’s University. That toughness made him resolute in the face of physical threats after the Belfast Agreement from Loyalists and Republicans, and also made him undaunted by a range of accusations from detractors within his own community, from within pan-Nationalism, and from a range of outside commentators. These included the idea that he was a “Lundy” or a traitor to his own folk; that he “didn’t want a Fenian about the place” – that he would not share power with Catholics; and that he had not “sold” the Belfast Agreement hard enough to his own community and party.

When he became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1995, David McKittrick wrote in The Independent that “25 years in politics have left no real indication that he has a vision beyond Unionism and Orangeism”. Ruth Dudley Edwards, David’s greatest defender, put this question to him – and David replied, “all will soon become clear.”

All soon did become clear. He proved his critics wrong. But he had to do so at his own pace and in his own style. Like the former law lecturer that he was, he let his students to infer the meaning of his lessons, rather than ram it down their throats. Although at times he could be irritable, even ill-tempered, on the big strategic questions of the day he was cool as a cucumber.

So cool that he didn’t even let moments of triumph turn his head. I remember that on the day that he and Seamus Mallon were elected First and Deputy First Ministers, a Channel 4 film crew asked him “how do you feel about this historic day, Mr Trimble?” “Fed up with hearing it’s a historic day”, replied David.

His detractors dismissed such a sides as ungracious, but it was just a sign of his modesty. There was a job to do. He wasn’t there to blow his own trumpet. When once I asked him what his triumph in winning the Nobel Peace Prize with John Hume of the SDLP, he played it down mordantly, saying “it’s just the statesman’s equivalent of an appearance in Hello! Magazine”.

His wit marked his greatest possession, his intellect. This made him an object of suspicion for some colleagues, who dismissed his vast range of reading as mere “boffinry”, and he you believed he could learn anything from a book. As a teenager, he learned to drive his Rover 90 from the manufacturers’ manual, and promptly crashed it on its first outing. He did not drive again until well into his 40s.

But that intellect was the making of him. It gave him the fluency and plausibility to be the first leader of Unionism to make a sustained case for that cause to the wider world, and to argue the case for a New Unionism to the Unionists of Northern Ireland. Most important of all, that intellectual self-confidence enabled him to work out why he himself could sign up for the Belfast Agreement in 1998. He was the only Unionist leader to have a serious interest in Republican history, and to have considered the effects of his actions on the internal balance of forces within the Republican movement.

His legal and political intellect also meant that he saw the irredentist Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Republic’s 1937 constitution as a violation of international norms. For him, a key building block of peace was the emergence of a modernising Fianna Fail Taoiseach in Bertie Ahern, who respected international norms and revised the Irish Constitution as part of a balanced accommodation on the island of Ireland. He would be delighted that Bertie Ahern is here today – and I know he would wish to acknowledge his salient part in the key constitutional provisions of the Belfast Agreement.

Certainly, David loved the law. But his greatest public love was for our Westminster Parliament, its highways and its byways. Until very recently, he would take friends onto the roof of the Palace of Westminster, between Big Ben and the Victoria Tower, and would declare as if you were on his first visit, “isn’t this marvellous?”

Unlike Sir James Craig, the founding Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and the predecessor as leader of Unionism who David most admired, David could never say that he was an Orangeman first and a Member of Parliament second. In his Nobel Prize speech, drafted by his friend, Eoghan Harris, he spoke of Edmund Burke, the Irishman for whom immersion in the larger forum of the British Parliament allowed his full genius to flourish. David might well have been speaking of himself.

For a loner, he was a great believer in institutions and processes. After the triumph of the Belfast Agreement, however, he had two further great bits of unfinished business. The first was the integration of Northern Ireland’s politics into the wider United Kingdom system. One of the main reasons why he opted to take the Conservative Whip after entering the Lords in 2006 as a Crossbencher was precisely for that purpose.

The second, referred to today by the Very Reverend Dr. Charles McMullen, is of course the Northern Ireland Protocol. David viewed the Protocol as fundamentally subversive of the key provisions of the Belfast Agreement, the Consent Principle. To be clear, he did not envisage the Consent Principle as a minimalistic concept applying only to the final stage of the transfer of sovereignty arising out of any future Border Poll, but as applying to all major changes in the structure of that Agreement. For him, a border for goods in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland fell squarely into that category.

Right up to the last days of his life, 20 years after leaving office, David’s opinion still mattered very much to others – including long-time opponents who had broken with him over the Belfast Agreement. Like WT Cosgrave in the Irish Free State, David’s stayed in office long enough to force his anti-Treaty opponents to play the political game within the revised rules that he himself had set.

He thought long and hard about this — and would have noted, with interest, that one of the first messages I received after the news of his death came from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson: “David was undoubtedly a most courageous, determined and passionate Unionist who wanted the best for Northern Ireland. Quite rightly, history will look kindly on him and it now falls on us who remain to take forward his work and to secure the Union that he loved”.

Loved. Loved is the right word. As a public man in the arena, David was not cold and uncaring. He cared more, loved more, than any politician I have ever known, but critically, like his religious faith, he rarely showed it. The Psalms of King David and the sayings of the Prophets, which was so much part of his faith and culture, have had been read beautifully today by his children and others. He also knew the Book of Proverbs, and these timeless words are a fitting end for William David Trimble: “a good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” David leaves this world with the blessing of a good name here on earth.”

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Book review: Murray tries and fails to stir up panic about a “war on the West”

27 May

The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason  by Douglas Murray

This author makes, in his introduction, a number of preposterous claims. Here is his opening paragraph:

“In recent years it has become clear that there is a war going on: a war on the West. This is not like earlier wars, where armies clash and victors are declared. It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the Western tradition and against everything good that the Western tradition has produced.”

How can Douglas Murray suggest that this “war”, as he terms it, has only “in recent years” become apparent?

At pretty much any time one cares to name in recent centuries, conservatives have feared that tradition is in danger both from barbarian invaders, and from reformers within the gates who wish to sweep away all we have built, and erect a glittering new edifice in which their reign of virtue can begin.

The French Revolutionaries promised this. Various varieties of Communist promised it. In the 1960s, rebellious students and satirists set out to subvert every traditional source of authority.

In order to justify his hysterical tone, Murray goes in search of enemies who today pose a mortal threat. By page four he has found the Communist Party of China, and complains:

“almost nobody speaks of China with an iota of the rage and disgust poured out daily against the West from inside the West.”

That is true, and this reviewer would not wish for one moment to downplay the horrors perpetrated by China. But the same double standard was applied by many in the West to the Soviet Union.

The problem is not new, and working out what to do about it, or how to contain it, is the work of decades, perhaps of centuries.

But Murray’s fiercest argument is with those inside the West who wish to debilitate the West. In 2017, he recalls, he brought out The Strange Death of Europe, in which (as he says in the volume under review) he asked why the Europeans have allowed mass migration, “and why they were expected to abolish themselves in order to survive”.

According to Murray, only Western countries “were told constantly that in order to have any legitimacy at all…they should swiftly and fundamentally alter their demographic makeup”.

That is a gross over-simplification. In pretty much every Western country, there have been big arguments about immigration. In Australia, the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, pretty much anywhere one cares to name, politicians have come to realise they will only possess legitimacy if they avert unrestricted immigration.

Africans are at this moment suffering in abominable camps in Libya because the European Union has devised ways to stop them crossing the Mediterranean.

A further paradox, untouched on by Murray, is that many British politicians of immigrant descent – one thinks of such figures as Kwasi Kwarteng, Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Priti Patel and Kemi Badenoch – express conservative opinions with wonderful gusto.

If Enoch Powell were still alive, he would perhaps concede that the British nation and British political tradition have proved more adaptable, and durable, than he had feared.

Where does Brexit fit in Murray’s narrative of a war on the West? He ignores that question and is instead indignant that “we have been pushed into racial hyper-awareness”:

“In recent years, I have come to think of racial issues in the West as being like a pendulum that has swung past the point of correction and into overcorrection.”

He continues:

“Racism is not the sole lens through which our societies can be understood, and yet it is increasingly the only lens used. Everything in the past is seen as racist, and so everything in the past is tainted.”

Is this really true, or is the pendulum already swinging back against such a simplistic reading of history? On one of my regular walks I pass a house, on a leafy slope on the Highgate side of Hampstead Heath, in the window of which for some months I was faintly irritated to see a hand-written sign which said “SILENCE IS VIOLENCE”.

The sign has now been taken down. I accept that this does not amount to conclusive proof that the moral panic which swept at hurricane force across Britain as well as America after the murder of George Floyd has blown itself out.

But things have died down a bit. No more statues have been thrown into Bristol harbour. Churchill still stands in Parliament Square, his plinth at present unsullied by accusations that he was a racist.

On page 126 of his book, Murray alludes to a Policy Exchange pamphlet in which Andrew Roberts and Zewditu Gebreyohanes rebutted the slurs cast at Churchill in February 2021 during a panel discussion at Churchill College, Cambridge.

So the pendulum does still swing, and contentions which for a short time have held sway are exposed to criticism, and cease to be quite so fashionable. It turns out to be possible to disapprove in the strongest terms of racism, without supposing it offers a complete interpretation of the past.

Gebreyohanes has just become Director of Restore Trust, an organisation set up, as she explained in a piece for The Times, to return the National Trust to its founding values and objectives.

Murray is in grave need of opponents, and inclined to magnify their importance. Many of those he finds are in the United States. He digs up Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, both of whom used to be more influential than they are now, and various other figures who may or may not become influential.

Karl Marx is dug up too, and we are reminded of some of that thinker’s today unacceptable views on race. Murray remarks ruefully that although the bust of Marx in Highgate Cemetery has from time to time been daubed in red paint, there have been “no online petitions or crowd efforts to pull it down and kick it into a nearby river”.

There is actually no river nearby, and to kick this colossal bust anywhere would be a difficult task, liable to end in many stubbed toes.

Marx, however, suffers what is in some ways a greater humiliation. He is ridiculed, or treated as a mere curiosity. If one does not wish to pay to enter the cemetery, one can see him through the railings on the southern edge of Waterlow Park, at a distance which reduces the bust to an acceptable size.

That is how the British public has long been inclined to deal with intellectuals who take themselves too seriously: it peers through the railings and laughs at them.

It seldom occurs to Murray that the best way to deal with fashionable absurdities is to laugh at them, and to trust to the good sense and conservatism of the wider public. Edmund Burke (absent from this book) put the point with genius in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.”

Murray has flattered the loud and troublesome insects of the hour by writing a whole book about them.

Since this ill-titled volume went to press, Vladimir Putin has ordered the invasion of Ukraine. There the true war on the West is being waged. The Ukrainians’ fight for freedom reminds us how trivial most of the pseudo-war recounted in this book really is.

Jonny Thomson: Good manners aren’t a nice-to-have, but are central to democratic life

4 Jun

Jonny Thomson teaches philosophy in Oxford.His first book is Mini Philosophy: A Small Book of Big Ideas.

Civility is an underused word, these days. In a post-Freud world, we live with the idea that it’s much better to vent our emotions, than being cool or polite. If there’s an issue to be discussed, we must be as passionate or as furious as possible.

Anything less than red-faced rage is to imply we don’t care about it or that we’re not treating it seriously enough.

But what’s lost when we behave like this? If we scream and shout, what voices do we drown out? What does it do to our politics?

It’s all to do with the importance of manners. Manners are so humdrum and dull that they rarely make for discussion. Why should anyone care if you say, ‘Thank you.’, or if you let an old lady take your seat, or if you don’t swear in front of children? They’re behaviours as boringly commonplace as tying your shoes or scratching an itch.

Not so for the eighteenth-century Irish statesman, philosopher and father of modern Conservativism, Edmund Burke. He viewed manners as one of the most important aspects of society and as an essential check to governments and legalistic tyrants.

Burke argued that: ‘Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them… the laws depend’. Manners are the unwritten expectations that allow society to function, and they are the rules by which we cooperate with one another. They’re everywhere; from how we eat in public to how we choose the family film at the weekend.

For Burke, manners were crucial because they handed responsibility to us, as individuals, and they told law makers ‘what belongs to laws, and what manners alone can regulate’.

We don’t have to hold a door open for someone, or help a stranger with their luggage, or swap seats so a mother can be with her child, but we do them anyway from our own values. If these were laws, they would strip away the responsibility that makes them moral  and unique. When any government makes a law, and when any police force interprets or enacts it, the question ought to be whether that law is needed – or whether people can be trusted to make the right, the polite, decision.

Manners vs the law

Of course, the issue surrounds what is, and is not, considered to be the remit of the law, and what is just everyday civility and manners. One area of contention surrounds ‘hate speech’ and, especially, social media. It’s clearly rude to insult someone, but at what point ought that be made illegal?

A video on Twitter caught people’s attention when Gordon Larmour, a Christian Evangelist, was charged by the police for his ‘threatening or abusive manner aggravated by prejudice relating to sexual orientation’. He was reading from the Bible (the Book of Genesis) in which certain passages are undeniably homophobic and offensive. But did this make it a crime?

From the scandal that erupted, and the subsequent acquittal by the judge, it seems not. Larmour was rude and offensive, and no matter his motivations, he was definitely antagonising people. But this does not make it a crime.

A more complicated example surrounds how governments have approached Covid-19 regulations. Much has been made of Sweden as a paragon of minimal state intervention. Rather than implement laws Stefan Lofven, the Swedish Prime Minister, called on people to demonstrate a sense of “folkvett”, which is a combination of common-sense and good manners – Burkean to the core. The Swedes, it seems, just needed to be reminded about the need to be sensible, and the need to be polite.

In a similar vein, Japan has been an odd outlier in how easily it has managed under coronavirus, without the need for the more all-encompassing measures of the rest of the developed world. This is because Japan has a long history of civility and respect. Face masks are commonplace, and cleanliness is a prized virtue.

The importance of manners in government

Burke believed that our manners are those values and norms that we place above our governments. They are what keep our political authorities in check. But, more than this, manners reflect the virtues that political institutions need in order to function. They’re the oil that makes state machinery work.

Democracies today are vast and complex leviathans. They involve armies of people, from all aspects of life, coming together to work to make the country a better place, or, at the very least, prevent it from ruin. As such, parliamentarians across all political divides need to work together. All members of the various committees, as well as those involved in the complex business of drafting laws, need to put aside their differences, and just get down to work. This would be impossible without manners.

This theme is picked up recently by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky in their book, How Democracies Die. They argue that certain ‘norms’ (the same as Burkean ‘manners’) of liberal democracy are what allow it to work. One of the main examples they give is in the need to tolerate political oppositions.

This means not dehumanising, demeaning or demonising those with different views. It means not calling Brexiteers ‘racist, little-Englanders’, but it also means that Remainers are not ‘enemies of the people’. Holding a right-wing view does not make you a Nazi, any more than holding a left-wing one makes you a Stalinist.

When we vilify the opposition in this way, it does two things.

Firstly, it weakens the fundamental principle of democracy: that legitimate opposition is healthy. The swing of the pendulum between governments of different orders is what gives energy and dynamism to government. If we delegitimise rival pollical ideologies, we’re also wounding democracy.

Secondly, manners are the necessary requirement for any bureaucracy. In the same way that we are all expected to work with people we might not get on with, or with whom we disagree, politicians need to work with their rivals to get things done.

Likewise, politicians are ultimately just people who want to help run the country. When we turn them into punch bags or objectify them as venal and corrupt, we make collaboration and cooperation all the much harder. And, without these, very little gets done.

Manners maketh the State

Manners are of huge importance because they reveal our values and hand responsibility back to us as individuals. Today, we too often assume legislation or contracts are king, but, for Burke, these are rigid, often flawed and far inferior to the everyday common sense we all possess.

But, most importantly, manners are what allow society and any complex organisation to function at all. So long as politics goes down the route of aggressive polarisation, so long as political rivals are called any manner of names, and so long as cooperation is seen as “collaboration”, democracy will stagnate and creak to a halt.

Government needs change, it needs new blood and it needs energy. If we lose our manners, then it’s hard to see how liberal democracy can survive.

Maybe the world is not going to hell in a handcart after all

3 Jun

It is always tempting for a conservative to believe the world is going to hell in a handcart, but are things just now as bad as all that?

On my last visit to Oxford, I took the trouble to stop outside the University Church, on the north side of the High Street, and gaze up at the statue of Cecil Rhodes.

My hosts assured me that Oriel College was about to remove the statue of its benefactor, so this would be my last chance to see it.

Instead of which, the statue is to remain in place, and the college is going to promote “educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort”.

The announcement was made in the most tactful possible terms. Oriel’s governing body insists it still wishes to remove the statue, but has discovered that “the regulatory and financial challenges” which stand in the way of doing so are too great.

In plainer language, the college authorities have realised the whole thing would a grotesque waste of money.

Over at Jesus College, Cambridge, it seems a similar realisation may be dawning.

As Charles Moore reports in The SpectatorJesus wants to remove Grinling Gibbons’s bust of its 17th-century benefactor, Tobias Rustat, from the college chapel, because of his connections to the slave trade.

Here too, the likely costs of removal turn out to be considerable, and hard to reconcile with the college’s “charitable aims of education, learning, research and religion”.

Moore chronicles, in the cover piece of this week’s Spectator, how the National Trust’s charitable purposes were subverted after those running the organisation allowed Black Lives Matter to set a different agenda.

A body called Restore Trust has launched a campaign to get the NT “to return to its original principles”, and the NT’s Chairman, Tim Parker, has resigned.

In all three cases, the leaders of a long-established institution succumbed to an outburst of moral panic, and gave a hasty yet unconditional assent to changes which had not been thought through, and which turned out to be incompatible with the institution’s purposes.

Only the most bone-headed conservative would contend that institutions do not need to change, in order to adapt themselves to new conditions.

The problem here is the bone-headedness not of conservatives, but of certain glib and irresponsible progressives who convince themselves, with ineffable self-righteousness, that after a short period of study, or indeed after no study at all, they have arrived at the one true view of history, and are entitled to impose it on everyone else.

No institution should allow itself to be imposed upon in this way. If the history which is being urged is true, prolonged and careful study will confirm this.

When a statue has stood for a century without anyone making a serious case against it – indeed without most people noticing its existence – it should not be torn down in a momentary ebullition of moral funk, so those responsible for it can be thought of by others, and think of themselves, as fine fellows.

In the words of Edmund Burke,

“Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years.”

That can be found in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a sublime work which reminds us that conservatives have often feared with better reason than we now have that the world is going to hell in a handcart.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Johnson’s former adviser gives us politics as a disaster movie

26 May

“We’re heading for total and utter catastrophe,” Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, told his colleagues on the evening of Thursday 12th March 2020.

Or as Helen MacNamara, the Deputy Cabinet Secretary, put it when she burst into the meeting he was holding with two of his scientific advisers: “I think we are absolutely fucked.”

This is politics as a disaster movie. In his evidence today to MPs, Cummings made Downing Street sound like the control room of a space ship which is hurtling towards oblivion while most of the senior people on board go on convincing themselves, thanks to the operation of almost irresistible groupthink, that no course correction is required.

The captain, Boris Johnson, is “about one thousand times too obsessed with the media to do his job”, and has only become Prime Minister because the other candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, was even worse.

“A choice between two people like that,” Cummings said, “is obviously a system that’s gone extremely badly wrong.”

And as MacNamara has just announced: “There is no plan.”

Cummings proceeds to “press the panic button”, but will it be too late? For a long time it seems that it will be. Today’s dialogue, though often riveting, will have to be cut before this picture makes its way to a big screen near you.

The Department of Health pretended it had prepared for the pandemic, but instead collapsed under the strain, unable even to obtain sufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment.

By Cummings’ account, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, lied that “everything is fine on PPE,” and then lied again, blaming the shortages of PPE on Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of the NHS.

How would he rate Hancock’s performance, Rosie Cooper (Lab, West Lancashire) wondered, somewhat superfluously.

Cummings: “I think the Secretary of State for Health should have been fired for at least 15 or 20 things.”

And Cummings did what he could to get this message across: “I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister he should be fired. So did the Cabinet Secretary. So did many other people.”

Meanwhile a small number of brilliant people wrestled to regain control of the stricken space ship. Cummings wishes he had been quicker to understand how bad things were: “If I’d acted earlier lots of people might still be alive.”

At the start of this long session, and several times during it, he said how sorry he was for his own mistakes.

But he also described the rescue mission which he and a few others mounted, once they realised “all the claims about brilliant preparations…were basically completely hollow.”

The behavioural scientists who advised the Government insisted the British public would not accept a lockdown, which is one reason why that essential measure was not introduced sooner.

Unfortunately, Cummings pointed out, “in the field of behavioural science there are a lot of charlatans”.

That is no doubt true, but as Edmund Burke once wrote, “The temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought…to be the first study of a statesman.”

It is the responsibility of ministers to judge what the people of this country will accept: whether in this instance we would accept being prisoners in our own homes, forbidden even to go to the pub, let alone to watch the races at Cheltenham or the football at Anfield.

A big call, but the buck stops with Johnson, not with his advisers, no matter how gifted they may be, and Cummings is clearly very gifted.

Spoiler alert. At the end of the movie, the space ship is saved, though only after an horrifically high number of those on board have died.

We have taken heavy casualties and had one hell of a fright, but as the credits roll, and the feel-good music plays, we are not, perhaps, quite as censorious as Cummings, played as usual by Dominic Cumberbatch, is about the manifold deficiencies of those who were supposed to be running the show.

Profile: Danny Kruger, defender of Christian conservatism and traditional ideas of virtue

31 Mar

Who now dares to talk about the virtues? Danny Kruger, MP since December 2019 for Devizes, is one of the few parliamentarians who ventures to do so.

In his latest declaration, jointly launched with Miriam Cates, who in 2019 took Penistone and Stocksbridge from Labour, Kruger begins by denouncing the facile assumption that we are all born good:

“What is the job of society? There is a modern delusion that we are born pure, and then corrupted by an unfair world. But surely the plain truth is that we are born greedy, narcissistic and violent. That’s why laissez-faire doesn’t work any more than big government. Left entirely to ourselves, individuals will exploit, slack off, rent-seek, and cheat.”

So we need to be educated:

“The job of society is to teach us to temper these impulses and to train us in a different set of habits. What habits are these? The old times called them the virtues: the practices that human beings are uniquely good at, like courage, temperance, fortitude, creativity, compassion and shrewdness. The virtues make us happy and great, and make life better for everyone else.”

Kruger calls for “a New Social Covenant”, under which “the family, the community and the nation” become our “schools of virtue”, and goes on to enunciate 12 propositions, including:

“The state should safeguard the customs of the country.”

“We need a new ‘economics of place’ instead of the failed doctrine of economic mobility.”

“Marriage is a public institution and essential to society.”

He proceeds to defend these propositions in a reasonable and erudite tone, for he has been working on this for a long time. Kruger was the author of David Cameron’s “Hug a Hoodie” speech, delivered in July 2006 to the Centre for Social Justice.

Cameron had become Leader of the Opposition in December 2005, and needed to show that after three general election defeats, the Conservatives were at last undertaking the fundamental changes that were required.

In April 2006 Cameron signalled the modernisation of environment policy by going to Norway to hug a husky, and three months later he proclaimed, at the Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, his commitment to understanding rather than condemning young people who wore hoodies, an item of clothing which had recently been banned, with Tony Blair’s approval, by the Bluewater Shopping Centre.

Not everyone was impressed by this exercise in compassionate conservatism. According to Kruger, reminiscing in The Spectator in June 2008:

“The day of Boris’s election [as Mayor of London on 1st May 2008] was also the day I stopped work as David Cameron’s speechwriter to go full-time at the charity my wife and I founded two years ago to work with prisoners and ex-offenders. My main claim to distinction in my old job was drafting the speech in which David said something capable of the construction (though not the words, not the words themselves) that the public should all get out there and hug hoodies.

“This speech has gone down in Tory lore as a terrible blunder, but I am still rather proud of it. The nub of it was, that while we should certainly punish people who cross the line into criminality, on this side of the line we need ‘to show a lot more love’.

“Love is a neglected crime-fighting device. But the need for it is powerfully proved in Felicity de Zulueta’s important book From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. She argues that violence and hatred are not motive forces of their own: they are the terrible expression of wrecked relationships, of thwarted love.

“Men and women seem to have a yearning for agency, for the ability to affect things. As de Zulueta puts it, the sense of helplessness is ‘a state tantamount to annihilation’; we will do anything to avoid it. Hence self-harm, and what youth workers call ‘self-sabotage’ — the apparently wilful screwing-up of opportunities, the no-show, the walking-away at the moment before achievement. People who feel incapable, feel the need to prove it: failure, at least, is something they can author.”

One sees that for Kruger, all this really matters. Cameron spoke about it as if he too cared deeply about it. But somehow the Big Society, as this strand in his programme became known (Steve Hilton is credited with inventing the name), never quite achieved lift-off.

There are, after all, serious difficulties in proclaiming a manifesto derived from Christian teaching. Fewer and fewer voters regard themselves as Christians.

Nor does any politician with half an ear for public sensitivities wish to adopt a holier-than-thou tone of voice. Piety would be insufferable. The present Prime Minister makes every effort, in his daily proclamations about the pandemic, to avoid sounding preachy.

And the Big Society, with its support for voluntary work in support of civil society, seemed to lack ideological content. Surely a socialist could believe as devoutly in it as a Conservative? Kruger himself suggested as much in an essay which appeared on ConservativeHome in October 2014, lamenting the dropping by Cameron of the idea:

“The Big Society elevated the national conversation to something approaching a moral discourse: what sort of society do we want? What are our own responsibilities, what are others’? What is the condition of my community, and what can we do about it?

“If these weren’t two ridiculous words for a Conservative leader to adopt I would have advised David Cameron to call himself a ‘new socialist’. Old socialism was about using the power of the state to advance the interests and wellbeing of the working class. New socialism is about using the power of society to protect minorities, defend and promote local communities, and create opportunities.”

Essay question for aspiring Conservative candidates: “Is Boris Johnson a new socialist? Discuss.”

Kruger is not a socialist. He is a politician with the moral courage to think for himself.

This he inherits from his father, Rayne Kruger, who rather than do the conventional thing, liked to back his own judgment, as the admirable and admiring obituary of him in The Times made clear.

The elder Kruger, who was born in South Africa and moved while still a young man to London, married first an actress 16 years older than himself – in Pygmalion she had played Eliza to his Professor Higgins – and secondly a young South African woman who had arrived in London intending to make her way as a Cordon Bleu cook.

She was called Prue Leith, and their son, Danny, was born in October 1975, three days after they married. She has since achieved fame and fortune as a restaurateur, with her husband running the business side of things; and is now yet better known as a presenter of The Great British Bake Off.

A friend says of Danny:

“He’s more like his mother than he thinks he is. She just gets stuff done by energy and determination. He’s turning out like that.”

He was educated at Eton, read history at Edinburgh, at Oxford wrote a doctorate about Edmund Burke, and was more inclined to lie in the bath thinking great thoughts than to do the washing up.

He was liberated from this perhaps rather stuffy, old-fashioned mode of life by falling in love with his future wife, Emma, a teacher. She was an evangelical Christian and prayed that he would be converted, which he was. For a time they lived on a council estate. They have three children.

Kruger became the guy who would do the washing up, and in 2005 (after early stints as director of studies at the Centre for Policy Studies, Conservative policy adviser, and chief leader writer on The Daily Telegraph) he and Emma set up Only Connect, a prison charity which they ran for ten years, and which concentrates on helping offenders not to reoffend.

Also in 2005, Kruger was obliged to stand down as the Conservative candidate in Sedgefield (Tony Blair’s old seat) after The Guardian reported that he had declared: “We plan to introduce a period of creative destruction in the public services.”

He is a good friend of Dominic Cummings, and backed Vote Leave.

In the summer of 2019, Cummings brought Kruger to Downing Street as Johnson’s Political Secretary, charged with maintaining relations with Tory backbenchers during the exceptionally turbulent months when the new Prime Minister was striving to get Brexit through.

When I met Kruger in the Palace of Westminster on one night of high drama, he seemed in his imperturbable way to be enjoying himself.

In November 2019, Kruger won selection for the safe Conservative seat of Devizes, after CCHQ had intervened to cut the short list from six to only three candidates.

At the end of his maiden speech, delivered on 29 January 2020, he returned to the Christian roots of our politics:

“I finish on a more abstract issue, but it is one that we will find ourselves debating in many different forms in this Parliament. It is the issue of identity, of who we are both as individuals and in relation to each other. We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed. Capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.

“Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences.

“I state this as neutrally as I can, because I know that good people are trying hard to make a better world and that Christianity and the western past are badly stained by violence and injustice, but I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture.”

On the morning of Saturday 23rd May, just after the story had broken of the visit during the first lockdown to County Durham by Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield, Kruger leapt to their defence on Twitter:

“Dom and Mary’s journey was necessary and therefore within rules. What’s also necessary is not attacking a man and his family for decisions taken at a time of great stress and worry, the fear of death and concern for a child. This isn’t a story for the normal political shitkickery.”

In the days that followed, Kruger stuck to his guns, telling other newly elected MPs:

“No 10 won’t budge, so calling for DC to go is basically declaring no confidence in PM.”

To make this stand amid such a storm of protest showed fortitude. One of the advantages of believing in a moral tradition is that it may render one less liable to be swept hither and thither by one moral panic after another. Here is Kruger speaking a few days ago in a debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:

“Our culture historically taught men that they had a duty to honour and protect women. It is a difficult thing to say, because it may appear that I want to turn back the clock to a time when men chivalrously protected the weaker sex, but of course, as I have said, that is not how it always was in the old days, and even if it had been, we do not accept the idea that women need protection by men; they just need men to behave themselves. So let me say emphatically that I do not want to turn back the clock; however, we do need to face the fact that our modern culture has not delivered all the progress it was supposed to. I wonder whether that is because our modern culture has a problem with telling people how to behave—it has a problem with society having a moral framework at all.”

Many voters, not all of them Conservative, will agree with that. Kruger’s arguments are sometimes described as communitarian, but that pallid label does not convey the force of the challenge he poses to an intellectual establishment which supposes it can dispense with traditional ideas of virtue.

Alec Cadzow: Global Britain must be prepared to intervene in the Middle East

15 Jan

Alec Cadzow is Researcher to ex-FCDO Middle East & North Africa Minister Dr Andrew Murrison MP. He previously worked for a consultancy in Jordan and specialised in Middle Eastern history at St Andrews University before that.

Parliament has returned from recess (third time lucky), now a fully sovereign entity and ready to forge a new future as a “Global Britain” – a subject which was aptly debated on Monday.

A catchy slogan, but what does it mean? Remainers have often assumed Brexit would usher in a foreign policy of not-so-splendid isolationism, at least in practice.

Conservatives must ensure the contrary, and while Monday’s debate was understandably trade-centric, a mixture of realpolitik and principle will demand that Britain does not neglect the Middle East – which has been conspicuously absent from our foreign policy discourse.

In terms of realpolitik, we have seen how 21st century military actions (or lack thereof) can have blowback on the UK’s influence.

This is particularly the case in Syria, where a pass has been granted to malign powers in our absence.

The failed 2013 vote to approve military action in the wake of Assad’s chemical weapons attack was largely down to mistrust on Middle Eastern intervention caused by the Iraq war, as Philip Hammond then Defence Secretary noted.

This event caused Obama to hesitate before outsourcing the dismantling of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile to Russia, despite such an attack infamously representing a “red line”. Obama (and the imminently incumbent Biden) was haunted by Iraq – having been elected on a pledge to bring troops home from “endless wars.”

Now, a looming pyrrhic military victory for Assad will bring a pax Russica (with the Iranian theocrats and neo-Ottoman Turks fighting for scraps). Putin sees himself as the Tsar-like protector of the Orthodox Christians and he used the war to eliminate the domestic blight of Chechen Islamists – doing so by opening up the Caucuses (a textbook authoritarian move which both Assad and Saddam employed).

So, Britain, as a result of its inertia – itself largely attributable to a hangover from Iraq – now finds itself without leverage (except for within the superficial – in this case – diplomatic channels of the UN) which has only empowered our enemies.

Indeed, such avoidance has not been atypical, as Tom Tugendhat MP chastised Britain’s abstention from an important UN vote on Iran – itself a symptom of our uneasy relationship with the EU. We can now diverge.

Realpolitik dictates that we must always be asking “if not us, then who?” As well as Russia, Iran and Turkey, there’s the threat from illiberal China extending its Middle Eastern nexus through Belt and Road. This is a power whose facilitators include the EU, and who many Conservatives – including my MP – want to restrain. Unshackled from the EU, one way to ensure we don’t facilitate Chinese hegemony is through not abstaining from the Middle East.

It’s also pragmatic to pay attention to the Middle East because of our security interconnectedness.

Destabilisation abroad, the proliferation of refugees, and extremism at home are interrelated. The statistic that more British Muslims fought for Da’esh than were in the British Army’s ranks at the peak of the former’s power hints at our problems with integrating – particularly Muslim – immigrants.

The 2015 vote to approve military action in Syria came directly after the Paris attacks, as we belatedly realised that non-intervention had empowered terrorists who brought the fight to us.

France understands these consequences, which is why they lead in the Sahel. Current Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP says he sees them too. However, if it really matters, we can do more than to deploy 250 reconnaissance troops to the UN’s Mali peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA).

There are also principles – intangible values and a complex, interwoven history – which interlock Conservatives with the Middle East.

Edmund Burke, the oft-quoted “father of modern conservatism”, was a popular figure among key Iranian reformers during the 1905 Constitutional Revolution, out of which constitutional limits were applied to the despotic Qajar monarchy. Reformers preferred the stability of gradual change – aspiring to the inherent conservatism which had created British political systems and values – rather than the destructive nature of a French-style overhaul of the Ancien Régime.

At a time when American democracy looks fragile – something which has been made fun of by antithetical regional and global leaders – Britain’s stable constitutional monarchy can provide a blueprint to reformers, many of whom live in absolute monarchies.

We are, however, compelled to remember Britain’s legacy from another perspective.

We often failed to live up to our political principles through our actions. In the case of Iran, two years after the Revolution, the Anglo-Russia Pact divided the country into spheres of influence, granting Russia the revolutionary north where political gains were quickly reversed. We would later contrive a new dynasty – the Pahlavi – and engineer two coups to keep it in power.

Another case is the Levant. The multiple promises we made to Arabs, our French allies, and Zionists during World War One were mutually exclusive and we were unable to appease every party during the Paris peace process. Having lived in Jordan – where it’s estimated 60 per cent of the population is Palestinian – I experienced first-hand some of the animosity held towards Britain borne out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Balfour Declaration which reneged on promises to create an autonomous Greater Syria governed by an Arab monarch. Our actions famously tormented T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia” in his post-war years too.

This is not to say policy makers should be drawn to the region out of imperial guilt. Instead, Global Britain provides an opportunity to align our values with our actions, and due to our history with the Middle East, where better to demonstrate this?

Some might argue a manifestation of this policy means we must cut ties with Saudi Arabia, after human rights abuses at home and abroad. Others reply that they provide us with valuable intelligence, and fill Treasury coffers through defence spending. Nuance would be leveraging the latter to positively affect the former, an argument Crispin Blunt MP has convincingly made.

It’s clear that we are obliged by too many pragmatic factors and historical-ideological principles to retreat to isolationism regarding the Middle East. Backbenchers and policy-makers alike ought to realise this as the new era of a Global Britain begins.

Jonathan Werran: To build back, we need strong and empowered communities

17 Nov

Jonathan Werran is the chief executive of Localis.

At the outset of this crisis, on March 20th, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

“We want to look back on this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency.”

Eight months on, the cumulative impact of the countless acts of local kindness made by myriad groups of individuals and communities who have risen to the challenges of the coronavirus year, simply can’t be overstated.

Showing a degree of courage, wisdom, and compassion for the people they love in the places they live, community groups have sprung into action and continued to exert themselves bravely and vigorously to serve the needs of others. The range of bottom-up initiatives has been truly inspiring in breadth of scope, innovation, and dedication. In this, we see the strong beating heart of genuine local self-government.

This should come as little or no surprise to ConHome readers. “To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections,” wrote Edmund Burke. “It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love of country and mankind.”

Not wishing to dwell too much on the courtier battles being played out in SW1, but we have surely now reached peak centralism. And the example of our communities in action holds up a mirror to the kind of society we want to be. Independent, family-focused, and resilient, while acting with an awareness of responsibilities and duties to serving neighbours in our midst. Confident of place and proud of identity, yet outward-looking and associative.

If Johnson’s government is looking to reset and pivot to the kinder and greener, exalting the role of community and family as much as ‘grands projets’ and levelling up growth schemes, then we need to think about the social infrastructure that needs to be laid in parallel tracks alongside the billion pound big ticket items.

At Localis, we agree with the findings of Danny Kruger’s ‘Levelling Up Our Communities’ report. Maximising the role played by community groups in the COVID-19 recovery and the government’s levelling up agenda thereafter suggests a space in which hyperlocal organisations should be given freedom to operate. Communities need both powers and resources to step up with a stand alone spirit if they are to create public value. We need to allow communities to self-organise, take back control locally of assets, and deliver unique local services where they have desire and capability.

So, in our report which is published today “Renewing Neighbourhood Democracy – Creating Powerful Communities”, we think back to the pandemic when communities mobilised around local rugby clubs and arts projects as much as in any predefined emergency response committees. And looking forward, we think ahead to what are now the best opportunities for giving our communities the chance to cohere, flourish, and renew our society and economy from the ground up. Here’s how we see it at Localis.

Firstly, the forthcoming Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper offers an immediate point of departure for reform. It should codify the role of councils in a facilitative local state by beginning the process of creating clear, statutory pathways to community autonomy. For example, the white paper should identify areas of service delivery that could be co-designed, run in partnership, or devolved entirely to the neighbourhood-level, particularly if the size of local authorities is to increase with reforms.

In doubling down on devolution, a statutory role should be created in local authorities for managing the process of subsidiarity and community relations, serving as a single point of contact and information for community groups looking to establish forms of local control.

How to glue this together? Firstly the ‘pop-up parish’ or Community Improvement District model should be extended as a statutory community right alongside the previous rights established in the Localism Act 2011. And pathways should be developed for communities to take control of non-core service spending at neighbourhood level through initiatives like the People’s Budget in Frome Town Council.

Secondly, to enshrine the principle of double devolution and expand upon the Localism Act’s establishment of Community Rights, the white paper should extend these rights to give the community greater power over local assets and social infrastructure.

In practical terms, all assets that qualify as having community value under the current system should be designated as social infrastructure. And if a community group decides to take on a community asset, they should be supported, both procedurally and financially, in their endeavours to do so.

The introduction of localised lockdowns has further emphasised the importance of front-line action from community groups. So thirdly, the government should urgently renew and extend financial support for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations to respond to the pandemic, particularly as the reintroduction of lockdown measures escalates.

To ensure a fast and targeted response, a fund could be distributed to community organisations by local councils in lockdown areas in a manner similar to the distribution of the pandemic-related Small Business Grant Fund. As with the Small Business Grant Fund, the focus should be on rescue at any cost for the sake of national resilience, and the overall fund should be matched to need rather than to a specific cash limit.

Fourthly and finally, in order to strengthen social infrastructure, and properly resource endeavours to empower communities in a manner that is participatory and gets results, central government should commit to establishing a Community Wealth Fund – along the lines called for in Danny Kruger’s idea of a ‘Levelling Up Communties Fund’.

The fund would specifically target the social and civic infrastructure of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across the country. It would be an independent endowment that would be distributed over the course of ten to 15 years, to include investment at the hyperlocal level, decision-making would be community-led, and, as part of the package, support would be provided to build and sustain the social capital of communities and their capacity to be involved.

In this way, we lay the foundations for strong and empowered communities and so build back and recover the right way up.

From Disraeli to Johnson, the Left has never understood the Right, and Fawcett shows us why

31 Oct

Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition by Edmund Fawcett

Edmund Fawcett, “a left-wing liberal” (his term), here performs, with grace, acuity and good humour, a signal service for conservatives. He introduces us to each other.

Reading his book is like being at a vast family party, where as one glances round the marquee one is struck by the affinities between people who have never met, but have much in common.

Here one encounters cousins of whom one may, perhaps, have heard, but about whom one knows next to nothing.

In one of the most delightful parts of his book, published as Appendix C, Fawcett in under 40 pages gives us brief lives of over 200 conservative politicians and thinkers, drawn from Britain, France, Germany and the United States, all of whom have attained some degree of eminence since the French Revolution.

This brevity is wonderful. It is not difficult to find a long book about any of these people. To find a dozen lines that are worth reading can be almost impossible.

And conservatism is itself an almost impossible subject. As Fawcett remarks in his preface, “A chaos of voices has often made it hard to say what, if anything, conservatives stand for.”

He notes a paradox:

“Puzzling as it sounds, conservatives have largely created and learned to dominate a liberal modern world in which they cannot feel at home.”

He remarks that he is not writing solely or even primarily for the benefit of conservatives:

“Readers on the Left will get a view of their opponent’s position, which they are prone, like rash chess players, to ignore.”

And he adds a pointed question for his companions on the Left:

“if we’re so smart, how come we’re not in charge?”

Part of the answer to that question is that the Left often fails to take the Right seriously. Moral condemnation forestalls understanding.

Another part of the answer is that the Right does take the Left seriously, is indeed terrified of the damage it can do. Fawcett begins with two conservative opponents of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre.

Burke is for British and American conservatives a marvellous source of wisdom, endlessly invigorating and enjoyable. Few of us have ever felt at ease with Maistre’s savagery, but Fawcett insists that although “Maistre was never going to sit well in conservatism’s front parlour”, he “belongs in the household as much as Burke”.

We are happier to be told that Friedrich von Gentz (1764-1832), a Prussian who studied under Kant, worked for the Austrians and took a retainer from the British, translated Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution into German, “teasing out Burke’s thought in long footnotes that tidied up the argument in rationalist spirit”.

Gentz, Fawcett suggests,

“was an early model of a familiar present-day figure, the clever policy intellectual with top degrees circulating between right-wing think tanks, conservative magazines, and political leaders’ private offices.”

And Gentz in his essay “On the Balance of Power”, published in 1806, developed the ideas which would guide the post-Napoleonic settlement, upholding peace between nations while retarding not just revolution but democracy.

Fawcett is excellent at giving us a feeling for his conservatives by quoting remarks which a less worldly Lefty would not find funny, and might therefore be inclined to censor.

So at a dinner at the Congress of Aix in 1818 we get Gentz telling Robert Owen, pioneer of utopian socialism and of the co-operative movement:

“We do not want the mass to become wealthy and independent of us. How could we govern them if they were?”

But Gentz was not some blinkered reactionary, who supposed the ruling classes could restore to themselves the privileges they had enjoyed before 1789:

“Revolution had to be fought, Gentz insisted, not with nostalgia but with modernity’s own weapons.”

Here is another part of the explanation for conservative incomprehensibility. Intelligent conservatives are at once more attached to the past than their opponents, and more anxious to understand what will work in the future.

This mixture of mixture of emotion and pragmatism cannot be reduced to an ideology – the very thing that leftish commentators consider it a mortal weakness not to possess.

Fawcett’s book is brilliantly organised, so one can without difficulty find what conservatives in Britain, France, Germany and the United States were saying and doing in any particular period.

He himself worked for The Economist as its chief correspondent in Washington, Paris, Berlin and Brussels, and also as its European and literary editor.

As in that magazine, his eye for what is happening overseas is very good, but the texture of British politics is sometimes smoothed away in order to make it fit some editorial analysis.

Fawcett does not get Benjamin Disraeli. Few historians of ideas do, for by the time the butterfly has been pinned to the page, he is dead.

Millions of voters did get Disraeli, loved his patriotism and felt exhilarated by his impudence. He is the only Prime Minister who has inspired the creation of a posthumous cult: the Primrose League.

When he comes to Stanley Baldwin, Fawcett attributes his description of the new Conservative MPs elected in 1918 as “a lot of hard-faced men who look as if they had done very well out of the war” to Lloyd George, as if only a Liberal could see how repulsive the Tories were.

Baldwin succeeded in part because he well understood how repulsive the Tories might seem, and took enormous pains to create a more favourable impression.

In 1980, Fawcett introduces us to “the hard right”. It is an unsatisfactory label, for the word “hard” makes it sound more defined, and less yielding, than it really is.

Fawcett knows the term is not satisfactory, for he keeps worrying away at it, and trying to justify it. In the course of a passage about Donald Trump, he writes:

“The hard right, in sum, was not weird or extreme. It was popular and normal. Indeed, it was alarming because it was popular and normal.

“Lest the term ‘hard right’ here sound loaded, and the account of events overdrawn, the passion and dismay with which mainstream conservatives themselves reacted needs recalling. They did not, in detached spirit, dwell confidently on the hard right’s visible weaknesses and incompatibilities. They did not ask if there was here a pantomime villain got up by the liberal left.”

Trump was and is an opportunist, a huckster who has belonged to three different political parties, and who seeks, as American presidential candidates since Andrew Jackson have sought, to get himself elected by expressing the anger of poor white voters who loathe the condescension of the East Coast establishment.

When he comes to consider Boris Johnson, Fawcett quotes The Economist‘s description of him as “indifferent to the truth”, and its advice to voters last December to vote Liberal Democrat – a way, perhaps, of feeling virtuous, but also of opting out of the choice actually facing the country.

Fawcett goes on to attribute a “forceful hard-right style” to Johnson, and a “disregard for familiar liberal-democratic norms”. The author is worried, for as he declares in his preface:

“To survive, let alone flourish, liberal democracy needs the right’s support… When, as now, the right hesitates or denies its support, liberal democracy’s health is at risk.”

The conservative family is in danger of going to the bad. This is true, but has always been true, and sometimes the warnings have turned out to be exaggerated.

Johnson enjoys teasing liberals, but has lived much among them, craves their approval and himself possesses many liberal characteristics.

Fawcett will know this, for he is the Prime Minister’s uncle: a brother of Johnson’s mother Charlotte.

The near impossibility of defining Johnson, something of which his critics complain, could even be a sign that he is a conservative.

These quibbles about the last part of the book in no way diminish admiration for it as an astonishingly accomplished survey of the last two centuries of conservative thought.