Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Pride and Prejudice
I have tended not to engage in the cultural wars raging at the moment. This is, in part, because I have been focused on education and Covid and, second, because I remember the words of a close friend, “You don’t need to don your armour for every battle.”
However, the skirmish over our Union flag and the sneering about ministers’ flag displays from BBC presenters really got my goat.
I remember some years ago (pre-2010) when I was a parliamentary candidate, a BBC journalist came to visit Harlow. I happened to show him a leaflet I was sending to residents, containing some key campaign messages about cutting the cost of living and the like. The front of the postcard displayed my face superimposed on a Union flag. The reporter looked at my leaflet in absolute horror and questioned whether I was pandering to the far-right. Completely gobsmacked, I replied how on earth can a leaflet with our national flag be seen as any way promoting racism?
I never forgot this moment because, to me, it symbolised all too clearly that so many of the London professional classes were out of touch with the decent patriotism and pride of most citizens. The infamous 2014 “Rochester” Tweet by Shadow Cabinet member Emily Thornberry served as another example.
In many overseas countries, I have seen flags proudly displayed on government buildings and in ministers’ offices. No one raises so much as an eyebrow. Yet, when ministers choose to do so in this country, this is something to be mocked and laughed at.
The reason I care about this is because I think the knocking and disdain for our flag by the “liberal elite”, is a small example of the gulf between their views and those of millions of voters – and one of a number of reasons why so many voters turned against Labour.
Far from being the first refuge of the scoundrel, patriotism is an anchor that roots all of us in our communities and provides stability and cohesiveness from one generation to the next. Pride before prejudice.
Over the past week, horrific allegations have emerged about sexual abuse, assault, harassment and “a culture of rape” (predominantly conducted by male students and directed towards females) in certain leading private schools. At the time of writing, over 5,500 testimonies from current and former pupils have been documented on the “Everyone’s Invited” website.
Even worse, it appears that school staff have not always taken adequate action upon learning of allegations (until it reached the media). At first, it looked like this was confined to one or two schools. Now, it seems this problem is much more widespread. As I write, a state school in Lincolnshire has hit the press because of students sharing abhorrent rape “jokes” online.
There must be a national inquiry led by the Department for Education or Ofsted to establish exactly what has gone on, the scale of the abuse and how the failings of protection of female pupils, of care and safeguarding have gone unchecked.
It is my view that Ofsted should inspect all schools – public or private – rather than having different inspection regimes. These schools, some with a great history, should be ashamed that they have allowed these things such abuse and harassment to occur, letting down so many of their pupils, without repercussions for the perpetrators.
Over the years, I have tried to explain my own definition of Conservatism to (extremely patient) ConservativeHome readers. It usually involves the phrases “ladder of opportunity” or “The Workers’ Party”.
Given the upcoming local elections, I would like to propose a challenge to readers: how do you explain what Conservatism means on the doorstep? In other words, if a resident asks you while canvassing, “what is it to be a Conservative”, what is your reply?
The only conditions are that your answer:
- cannot mention Brexit;
- must not be more than two sentences; and
- must also pass the Ronseal Test (i.e. it does what it says on the tin).
Comment below. With JRR Tolkien Day on Thursday, it seems only appropriate that the winner will receive a Tolkien novel.