40 days and 40 nights
The biblical allusion prompted Tom Harris MP to tweet:
Odd that Dave's using Biblical language. When I hear "40 days and 40 nights" the first thing I think is "wilderness".And that, Mr Harris, is right and good.
For these 13 years have been a period of soul-searching and introspection every bit as painful as the other two great periods in the wilderness that the Conservative Party has endured. Its longest period in opposition (1850-74) came as a result of the schism caused by the repeal of the Corn Laws. Since the Party lost power in 1997, Disraeli’s darkest days have been re-lived by John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. They were typified by a lack of unity, fractious in-fighting, disloyalty and a resigned despondency that the party never actually deserved to win against Tony Blair: indeed, there were many on the Conservative benches who preferred Mr Blair to Major, Hague, Duncan Smith or Howard.
But then New Labour removed their most successful leader in the party’s history, and foisted Gordon Brown upon the nation. And week after week he had to face the youthful David Cameron across the despatch box, with Mr Cameron exuding a passion for change, tenacity, vigour and suave presentation. In just a few short years since he was elected, David Cameron has managed to draw together the disparate and sometimes conflicting strands of the Conservative Party, and has succeeded in reconstituting it as the ‘broad church’ consonant with its history.
On this Palm Sunday, let us remember that periods in the wilderness are invariably sorely testing, but they can be profoundly purgatorial. Yet the catharsis is only beneficial if it is enduring, if the lessons are learned and effect real change.
In the Lord’s case, the wilderness was a necessary prelude to the incarnational kenosis: he conquered the temptations of the Devil and demonstrated that He came to free people from Satan’s power.
In Disraeli’s case, his wilderness years were inseparable from the great Tory revival, his ‘One Nation’ legacy and the birth of the modern Conservative Party.
In Cameron’s case, the fruits of his wilderness years are yet to be tasted. But there is sure and certain hope of resurrection.