Thursday, October 07, 2010

David Cameron, heir to Disraeli: “We are the Radicals now.”

In a speech constructed almost entirely on the ‘Big Society’ theme (which he mentioned about 10 times), David Cameron has soared above the interminable tedium of petty party politics and offered himself to the nation as a reforming radical. He is painfully cutting the deficit and repaying debt because he has to, but he is intent on renewing the nation because he wants to.

And we’re all in this together.

If there is to be fiscal discipline, fairness and social justice, there must be collective enthusiasm, individual responsibility and reward for industry. He will abolish the entrenched, top-down bureaucratic services if the spirit of enterprise and entrepreneurial vision fills the void. The poor we will always have with us, but henceforth only the deserving poor will receive support from the state. He wants the British people to love their country because we’re all in this together.

This is Cameron’s patriotic social contract.

And with this, he stands four-square behind Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher.

Disraeli’s pursuit of ‘One-Nation’ politics was primarily concerned with the eradication of poverty, and this was to have an enduring appeal for the Conservative Party. A Jewish convert to Anglicanism, his faith may have been more about political expedience than spiritual regeneration. But he came under the influence of the New England Movement and thereafter made great gains in the most impoverished urban areas in the 1874 general election: his administration of 1874-80 saw public health bills, factory acts, education reforms and slum clearance initiatives which won praise even from the trade unions.

For Churchill, the ‘One Nation’ leitmotif was manifest in national unity, and that unity predicated upon the pursuit of the common good which was grounded in the Christian, Anglican basis of English political life. He once described himself as a ‘buttress’ of the Church of England, supporting it from the outside rather than being a pillar within. Whatever Churchill’s personal beliefs about the nature of God, his writings and speeches consistently equate Christianity with enlightenment and Anglicanism with patriotism.

For Thatcher, from a Nonconformist tradition, her conservatism was Tory in its Burkean deference to the great institutions of state but thoroughly Whiggish and libertarian in its iconoclastic challenge to the big agencies of state, her emphasis on the ‘work ethic’ kind of Protestantism, her patriotic belief in the national British Christian spirit and her notion of morality as the opportunity for free choice.

David Cameron sees a fusion in the spiritual, moral, political, and economic crises facing the nation: they can be addressed separately, but they are different descriptions of the same overall crisis. His ‘broken society’ theme stems from the same aversion as Thatcher had to the state’s interference in the exercising of individual free will. For her, morality lay in choosing between feasible alternatives. A moral being is one who exercises his own judgment in choice, on matters great and small, bearing in mind their moral dimension, i.e., right and wrong. If there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose.

In a more Anglican fashion, Cameron has articulated the same theme. We’re all in this together, but the moral good lies in choosing to participate: it is a fusion somewhere between individual responsibility and community right. One does not need to manifest missionary zeal: a passive assent to the benign aims and objectives of the ‘Big Society’ will suffice. Out of this will flow service, self-sacrifice and voluntary effort. It is a vision wholly consonant with his ‘fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments’.

Unlike Thatcher, he has not come to set father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. She brought a sword: Cameron brings peace. His expression of Anglicanism does not seek to polarise or divide by setting one moral philosophy over another, but instead to unify and heal; to seek consensus in accordance with its traditional via media. His political philosophy is both Catholic and Reformed; Conservative and compassionate; One-Nation and devolved: it is Red Tory.

And, in accordance with the postmodern settlement, he tolerates the illogical disjunctions and internal contradictions. His worldview does not pitch Europe versus the USA or the EU versus the Commonwealth any more than liberalism is antithetical to conservatism. ‘It takes two’, he says.

And so the party of free-market capitalism is also the party of the poor: the party of localism and individual responsibility is also the party of the NHS. While Margaret Thatcher invoked the ‘extremism’ of the God of the Old Testament in her iconoclasm, David Cameron’s approach is of the new dispensation. His appeal to Disraeli stems from his awareness that under Thatcher the Conservative Party was perceived to have a harsh attitude towards the poor. And so his ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ has a distinct focus on those who have little, with policies on health and education in particular to ensure ‘social justice’.

“We are the radicals now”, he says.

By shifting conservatism from Tory paternalism to Whiggish individualism and local responsibility, Cameron’s vision is indeed radical. The move ‘from state power to people power; from unchecked individualism to national unity and purpose; from big government to the big society’ is laudable. He explains: “The big society is not about creating cover for cuts. I was going on about it years before the cuts. It’s not government abdicating its role, it is government changing its role.”

Cameron is simply completing the Thatcher revolution. His vision for education is one of the most liberating and empowering pieces of legislation ever: it is the logical continuation of Margaret Thatcher’s political objectives. While she democratised industry, the stock market and home-owning, she stopped short of giving choice to NHS patients and empowering parents to educate their children in the school and with the curriculum they wished.

This is where Cameron picks up. And he will soon find that what is good for education is what is best for health.

His speech may not have pleased everyone. And the whole conference has been somewhat overshadowed by the disastrous child benefit announcement. There are those who carp and criticise that the speech was a 'profound disappointment', 'illogical', 'peculiar' or even 'forgettable'.

But these have missed the point. This was not a speech about clarifying political policy, but inculcating a national mood. It was not a speech about philosophocal logic or particularity, but about subtlty shifting perceptions and understanding. The speech was forgettable because they all are – every one of them. What we remember is the sound-bite – ‘the white heat of technology’; ‘the lady’s not for turning’; ‘the determination of a quiet man’; ‘education, education, education’.

And we will remember ‘We’re all in this together’.

Disraeli said: “I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few.”

The Coalition is not a hindrance to radical reform: liberal conservatism or conservative liberalism is not an oxymoron to David Cameron; just a via media tension which has to be tolerated to realise his vision.


Blogger roy.maine said...

Your summation of David Cameron's speech is refreshingly unbiased and accurate.

7 October 2010 at 09:41  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

...and not forgetting of course, it is all largely irrelevant.

I hear Herman van Rompuy & Baroness Catherine Ashton have said David has their full confidence.

7 October 2010 at 09:42  
Anonymous len said...

When David Cameron takes control of the bankers(rescuing the banking system has cost the equivalent of more than £5,500 for every family in the country, an official audit has found.)then I will be impressed!

The City has apparently said the Coalitions Independent Commission on Banking Banking is so much 'hot air'. -

7 October 2010 at 09:49  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Another excellent post Cranmer.

Cranmer said This was not a speech about clarifying political policy, but inculcating a national mood. It was not a speech about philosophical logic or particularity, but about subtly shifting perceptions and understanding.

The idea of us all assuming greater personal responsibility rather than relying on the State along with the prospect of stronger communities where neighbourliness is the default position and where people are willing to “pitch in” is appealing but is it realistic?

Perhaps the JFK remark “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” best sums up Cameron’s ideas. In my experience there are a small number of individuals in every community who get involved whilst the majority do not. Some are genuinely too busy balancing young families and work but most are simply apathetic.

The reality of contemporary Britain is of mums and dads rushing off to work, juggling child care and struggling to make ends meet. It is one where the traditional extended family has become dislocated and in some cases non-existent. For the Big Society to succeed it first has to address the issue of time poverty a problem that has no obvious solution.

7 October 2010 at 10:40  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

This is good:

‘A moral being is one who exercises his own judgment in choice, on matters great and small, bearing in mind their moral dimension, i.e., right and wrong. If there were no choice, there would be no ethics, no good, no evil; good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose.’

Mr Cameron is clearly listening to me rather than the determinist Mr Davis.

Whatever the prime minister is, he is not a radical: ‘It is a vision wholly consonant with his ‘fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments’.

A man cannot find joy in living until he has found a cause worth dying for.

7 October 2010 at 11:32  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

If you cut a Conservative in two, the national interest is written on them like a stick of rock.—David Cameron

I don’t want us to leave the EU because I don’t think it’s sensible and I don’t think it’s the right thing for Britain.—David Cameron

David Cameron’s Conservative Party believes that our national interest is best served by surrendering self-government to rule by Brussels. Given the opportunity of freeing us from the EU and re-establishing democratic, accountable government—in effect, re-establishing our freedom—Soaring Dave politely declines.

You can keep your Conservative Party, Your Grace. It stinks to high Heaven.

7 October 2010 at 11:56  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Rebel Saint already said it.

For all of Cameron's posturing, he'll deliver only what his EU controlled mandate will allow which will be precisely sweet FA unless it falls in with their wishes.

If Cameron wants to seize the initiative then he can start by getting us the hell out of the EU so we can once more begin to take responsibility for ourselves as a sovereign nation. While he bows his knee to EU diktat there is no way in hell he could be described as patriotic. While he continues to pour billions down the gaping maws of CAGW and the EU it makes a sick joke of his intended spending cuts in other areas.

Cameron is a lying, incompetent prat of the first water. And a traitor to boot. There's a special kind of hell for politicians like him and I wish he'd hurry up and go there.

7 October 2010 at 11:57  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Dear Mr Singh. Contrary to your expectations I am not a complete savage, roaming Cambridgeshire, raping and pillaging. I do have my own moral compass derived as a by-product of our species evolution. Whilst I don’t accept any absolutes in moral behaviour I probably share many values even with you, our disagreement is where those values came from.

7 October 2010 at 12:00  
Blogger Rebel Saint said...

Graham Davis said, "...whilst I don’t accept any absolutes in moral behaviour...". Not that one again. Yes you do you liar. (Or is truth telling not a moral absolute or part of your own evolved moral compass?).

Don't bother answering btw - I'm not interested!

7 October 2010 at 12:42  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

Rebel Saint -

"Don't bother answering btw - I'm not interested!"

In that case you really shouldn't have bothered replying should you, rather childish to reply then stick your virtual fingers in your ears and hum a virtual tune. If you make a charge be prepared to allow it to be answered.

Another post from Cranny I agree with, don't know whats happened in your hiatus but I like the results so far.

Also agree with Graham Davis points to Singhy, but to come back and find agreement with Singhy would be a miracle in the true sense of the word.

7 October 2010 at 13:07  
Anonymous len said...

Seems to me that leaving the E U would give our economy the boost it needs without cutting everything to the bone.
Other countries do very well outside the EU.
Switzerland, one of the richest countries in the world, is surrounded by EU countries, and trades with them far more than we do. They are staying outside and keeping the Swiss franc, a strong currency which serves them well.
Norway flourishes outside the EU, despite grim warnings from their politicians of dire consequences if they failed to vote to join.
Countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and India all have smaller economies than ours, yet all manage somehow to trade with the EU and the world without being in the EU.
Are we so uniquely weak and useless that we cannot do the same?
If we were released from the domination of the E U we could abolish over 100,000 pages of EU regulations, which hamper our businesses and rule our lives.

So why are we still in?
Why not do something REALLY radical, get us out!

7 October 2010 at 13:15  
Blogger Preacher said...

Dr Cranmer.
This all sounds very patriotic & jingoistic but has it escaped the PM's attention that we are no longer a commonwealth a nation nor even a country anymore. Truth to tell we are a vassal of Europe, so to call for national solidarity or to call for us to rally round the flag is laughable (unless it's the blue rag with the gold stars on) if DC wants us to be a nation again then he must have the courage that he calls for from the rest of us & pull us out of the Eurowreck before we all sink together.

7 October 2010 at 13:55  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

The voluntary alliance of 12 nations that we joined is being turned gradually into a new political entity—a European super state. I doubt very much whether the people realise what is happening. Unification is supposed to be the natural direction of development.
I could never have signed this treaty [of Maastricht]. I hope that that is clear to all who have heard me. The Bill will pass considerable further powers irrevocably from Westminster to Brussels, and, by extending majority voting, will undermine our age-old parliamentary and legal institutions, both far older than those in the Community. We have so much more to lose by this Maastricht Treaty than any other state in the European Community. It will diminish democracy and increase bureaucracy.—Margaret Thatcher

Now, that’s what I call soaring.

7 October 2010 at 14:40  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

You wrote:

‘And, in accordance with the postmodern settlement, he tolerates the illogical disjunctions and internal contradictions. His worldview does not pitch Europe versus the USA or the EU versus the Commonwealth any more than liberalism is antithetical to conservatism. ‘It takes two’, he says.’

Yet in the end Cameron will come up against the same problem that Blair could not resolve:

‘First, Blair clearly linked the questions of Iraq and "Europe" in his mind. There can be little doubt that a major, perhaps the overriding, reason for Blair to back Bush was a calculation that in doing so he would demonstrate his ability to act as a "bridge" between the US and Europe (hence his insistence on a second UN Resolution before the war and his misplaced confidence that he could deliver one); he wanted to build up a stock of capital in the White House that he could subsequently draw upon in fending off criticism, notably from the Tory leader Duncan Smith, well-connected in the Bush Administration, of his European ambitions. If anything, the difficulties that both Bush and Blair have been experiencing in the aftermath of the Iraq war may have drawn them closer together. The Iraq war created new alliances against the "Anglosphere;" Blair's actions over Iraq will certainly have rekindled the flame, if it had ever died, of French suspicion of Britain. More than ever, if Britain is going to be allowed to be part of the NSU, then Blair must be prepared to submit himself not only naked, as Pompidou insisted Britain must be, but touching his toes. But if he is to be the minion of Europe, his usefulness as partner to the United States will be extinguished. Prodi, Schroeder, Fischer, Chirac, and many other "European" figures have told him he must make the choice: the US or "Europe."’

Bernard Connolly in his famous essay Circle of Barbed Wire

And Glovy either write a coherent argument or alternatively get back to the Guardian.

7 October 2010 at 14:41  
Anonymous Caedmon's Cat said...

It has been remarked recently that the content and style of Mr Cameron's speech was significantly similar to Tony Blair's Labour Party Conference speech when he assumed the mantle of Prime Minister in 1997. This doesn't surprise me, as I have every reason to believe that, despite some subtle changes of emphasis in his policies and those of his party, he is every inch as much a Fabian socialist as his mentor Blair. And when he mentions 'The Big Society', I get very anxious. But what would I know? - I am just a humble cat..

7 October 2010 at 15:56  
Blogger I am Stan said...

Your Grace,

These conference`s are advertising and brainwashing events,the posturing,sound bites and sincere facial expressions all formulated, rehearsed and delivered by professional`s,their only purpose is to tame us proles and maintain the status quo.


Whatever new brand of utopia Mr C and his multi millionaire/billionaire friends want us to believe in he must first recieve blessing`s from the unelected,unaccountable, fat cat,all seeing ,all knowing, pecksnifferous, prodnosed commissioner`s and their disciples first,he is merely a caretaker,the on site manager at best,a puppet,a child playing king, he may push the boundries while looking over his shoulder but mummy will be watching ready to scold him and bring him back into line......what is the point of him,or any of them?

"Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it did".

M Thatcher
The Bruges speech

7 October 2010 at 16:17  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

Tory membership down by a third to 177,000 since Cameron became leader.

The harsh and brutal facts of it all YG.

7 October 2010 at 18:17  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Well said Your Grace.

Change is indeed in the air: it would seem that, after all, we finally have a politician who can please all the people, all of the time.

7 October 2010 at 19:00  
Anonymous Mark of Faith said...

Whilst I do like the tone of this article, and, indeed, I am warmed by Cameron's speech..I hear rumblings of war from the left already, and Thatcher is the ghost that needs to be laid to rest, not invoked.

7 October 2010 at 21:49  
Blogger Owl said...

YG, Cast Iron Dave couldn't tell the truth even if he wanted to, which doesn't seem to be the case. This is pure PR with no substance. Big society is just another name for big control and we know who will be controlling it. The people want small society starting with functional family units. As already pointed out, this is just a Fabian continuation of Blair's Nu-Lab with different sound bites. I am very disappointed, but not surprised.

7 October 2010 at 22:06  
Blogger Weekend Yachtsman said...

I second everything that's been said here about the EU and Britain's need to leave it as soon as possible.

But I found it very interesting that Mr. Cameron made NO mention of Gorbal Worming in this speech. Is the tide beginning to turn?

8 October 2010 at 09:00  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

"And Glovy either write a coherent argument or alternatively get back to the Guardian."

There was no argument. It was a point of fact to Rebel Saint (i.e. don't flap your trap if you don't want a reply) and an agreement of opinion with Cranmer and then Graham Davies.

If you missed that then I would suggest it is not my post that needs to be coherent but your reading comprehension that needs to be improved.

Toodle pip and a good day squire.

8 October 2010 at 10:54  
Blogger kathrynfshaw said...

"We're all in this together."

I would like to congratulate Mr Cameron on getting with the kids and using the High School Musical writer to be the key helper with his speeches.


9 October 2010 at 00:02  
Anonymous Job's Tempter said...

I think you've fallen for Dave's PR spin about faith. Read the words of his interview last year and it's exactly the same evasive language he uses when he doesn't want to answer a question. I'm pretty sure we now have our first atheist prime minister, one who (understandably) cannot believe in a loving God who would kill his son. Only it is impossible for a Tory leader to come out this way. Pace Your Grace's eternal grumbling about a secular society, Christianity still retains a grip on the establishment. Blair became a lot more open about his faith once he left office - I suspect we will see Cameron talk more openly about his lack of it.

11 October 2010 at 17:50  
Blogger salma hayek said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

14 October 2010 at 12:07  

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