Conservatism is a coalition
Now, however, Mr Montgomerie has decided to go ad hominem, criticising some of The Daily Telegraph’s finest political commentators and most eloquent writers of prose.
The latter fact alone ought to have given him pause for thought.
He did not send a private email or phone ‘to have a quiet word’: he chose to use the ConservativeHome platform to publicly reprimand those who profess to be Conservatives but appear to do nothing but carp and criticise David Cameron.
And he named:
Douglas Murray (Telegraph) who argued 'Why the Conservatives deserve to lose'.
Gerald Warner (Telegraph) who declares 'Most Tories hate David Cameron and cannot wait to see him crash and burn'.
Michael Deacon ((Telegraph) who refers to David Cameron and George Osborne as ‘spoilt’ children.
And Simon Heffer (Telegraph – at which point Mr Montgomerie asks if we are noticing a pattern) who called for George Osborne to be replaced by Ken Clarke.
It wasn’t only The Daily Telegraph (though few would deny a ‘pattern’): there were a few delinquents named at The Daily Mail, including Amanda Platell and Peter Hitchens.
All that Tim Montgomerie was requesting, quite reasonably, was for Conservative-minded journalists to cease their assaults on the Conservative Party during this election period. The alternative, after all, is simply five more years of Gordon Brown, and you would think that any Conservative of any hue would prefer David Cameron’s Conservatives to another dose of Newish Labour. And so he exhorts: ‘This close to a General Election is a time for people on the right to weigh their words carefully. Do they really want to help re-elect a government that has taken state spending to more than 50% of GDP? The Cameron-led Conservative Party isn't perfect but this election isn't a choice between a perfect and an imperfect Toryism but between Brown's big state interventionism and David Cameron's alternative.’
He reminds the recidivists: ‘There is constructive criticism and there is destructive criticism. There is a time for debate on the Right and a time to either be silent or gun for Labour. At the moment there's too much ill-discipline on our side of the fence.’
And he singles out Lord Tebbit for particular disapprobation, because he ‘should know better’.
All of this amounts to ‘ill-discipline amongst the commentariat’ while there is ‘enormous discipline within the parliamentary party’ (or is it intimidation and fear?).
Cranmer is no great fan of The Daily Telegraph: it is his view that the odious Barclay brothers have disembowelled a great institution, reducing it to a petty, spiteful and vindictive rag which is quite intolerant of dissent and now obsessed with tabloid trivia.
But Tim Montgomerie – who is the most pleasant, personable, polite, and well-meaning of people – has out-patricianed the patricians. There is something inescapably patronising and paternalistic about a public rebuke to those who actually do ‘know better’ (and Lord Tebbit, at least, certainly does). It is the patrician-Tory mind-set which seeks to impose discipline upon those who are not ‘on side’. And yet every effort to do so will only have the effect of aggravating the dissent and prolonging the division.
Consider the responses:
Gerald Warner is on top form, with superlative invective and searing wit. He proclaims: ‘Not all of us are prepared to huddle in the Cameronian sheep-pen, waiting to see our ideals slaughtered by a bunch of opportunists and adventurers who have hijacked the Conservative Party.’
Douglas Murray gives a most intelligent and reasoned riposte, which merits an honest answer: ‘Why should people have any loyalty to Cameron or the Conservative party? People are loyal to institutions which are loyal to them. It is a reciprocal arrangement.’
Peter Hitchens says he deplores ‘the whole idea that journalists sympathetic to a political position or party should be under any “discipline”. What would our comments be worth if they were delivered to obey such discipline?’
Lord Tebbit, of course, does not respond.
Because he really does know better.
But then the infallible Telegraph Blogs head-honcho wades in with a snide, self-satisfied, ex cathedra swipe at CCHQ.
And therein lies a clue with regard to the constitution of the Telegraph blogs ‘commentariat’: they are not simply united by a common employer in the Barclay brothers: they are a self-perpetuating cabal of like-minded individuals whose allegiance is to forces far deeper than Tory politics. Note the autocracy, the venomous spite, the girlish immaturity and the glorying in the abuse of power.
And Tim Montgomerie throws down the gauntlet with this challenge:
When just one Telegraph blogger probes the Barclay Brothers I'll respond to your criticisms of Cameroonian message discipline
They will not, of course, because they dare not.
The sadness of this internecine media war is that both sides end up damaging the Conservative Party, which is fully represented by neither intransigent stance and is far greater than any individual, including its present leader. The Conservative Party is a coalition and has been since its inception. From the moment a few Tories and Whigs discovered their common ground, and then the liberals and unionists came on board, the Party became a dynamic force in the world; indeed, the most successful political entity in democratic history. We do ourselves a disservice to mistake uniformity for unity: we can be united in diversity, even during a General Election campaign. And there is something attractive about a party which permits dissent within its ranks and finds space for the individual, eccentric and recalcitrant, for that is the human condition.
We do not have to like each other: that which binds us philosophically is far deeper than superficial emotion.
But we ought to tolerate each other: the Party is replete with people who are not talking to one another because of some thirty-year-old falling-out. But, apart from the chronic, high-profile feuds, few know of them.
The Conservative Party has been shaped by distinctly un-conservative sources and traditions. We live in a world of tensions and mutual exclusions, and conservative orthodoxy is not immutable.
And neither, thank God, is the Conservative Party.
True fidelity to the conservative tradition demands an openness and willingness to learn from others. A commitment to dialogue is not a betrayal or compromise of that tradition, but an act of fidelity to the philosophy of the Father of Conservatism.
And if Edmund Burke were here today, he might just be banging a few heads together.
Or his own against a brick wall.