"The Conservative Party has forgotten the qualities of loyalty, pragmatism, duty, patriotism, humility and service"
Peter Oborne in the Telegraph has written one of the most perceptive analyses of the contemporary Conservative Party in a very long time. But it's a bit rich of him (and the Telegraph) to blame B-rate backbenchers for handing the next general election to Ed Miliband when he (and they) are constantly carping and criticising. It may indeed be that David Cameron hates his party and much of his party loathes him, but it is journalists like Oborne and newspapers like the Telegraph which fan the discontent.
The most perceptive comments are on the nature and character of old and new Tory MPs, and how this transation has shifted the expression of Conservatism:
...The truth is that the character of Tory MPs has mutated in the course of little more than a generation. For almost all of the 20th century, Conservatives were guided by the essential Christian insight that their personal needs, ambitions and egos were the things which mattered least of all. Their lives only had meaning and purpose within the context of the great institutions of church and state.Which brings us to the illustration His Grace has selected for today's post. The people (and Her Majesty) want authentic and intelligent representatives who understand and appreciate those qualities of loyalty, pragmatism, duty, patriotism, humility and service. Previous generations of Conservatives were indeed guided by the essential Christian insight that their personal needs, ambitions and egos were the things which mattered least of all. Yet cast adrift in a sea of relativism and promoted beyond their capabilities, many of the new generation see politics as the fulfilment of personal ambition rather than as a dutiful public service. And it is noteworthy that this shift in perceptions is contiguous with changing attitudes toward the great institutions of church and state, the meaning, purpose and functions of which are simply no longer widely understood by many Conservative MPs.
...Second, the Conservative Party, as traditionally constituted, always understood that the national interest was more important than party advantage. This was an intuition that confounded and baffled Labour, whose political analysis was founded on class antagonism.
Thus traditional Tories always welcomed coalition government as a fine expression of patriotism in response to a common emergency – think of the way that Bonar Law took second place to Lloyd George, or Stanley Baldwin stood aside for Ramsay MacDonald. The modern Tory party, in sharp contrast, views coalition with churlish and blinkered resentment. This is because its MPs think too much of partisan advantage and sectional interest.
Third, the Conservative Party used to be the stupid party, on the whole a positive thing. Many allegedly stupid Conservatives, with Willie Whitelaw the classic example, were intelligent but not intellectual (another distinction that Labour and its allies in the liberal media found hard to comprehend). Tories like Whitelaw, who had lived through the 1930s and served as a tank commander in the Second World War, knew at first hand the damage that abstract ideas could do.
In a linked insight, they also understood that the vast bulk of government was not about changing the world, but about compromise and pragmatism. Over the past 12 months, by contrast, the Tories have developed an enthusiasm for ideological purity that recalls the Labour Party of the late 1970s. Last week, a Tory MP named Brian Binley published an “open letter” to the Prime Minister, a moment of preposterous self-importance that was nevertheless taken seriously by many people who ought to have known better.
To sum up, the Conservative Party has forgotten the qualities of loyalty, pragmatism, duty, patriotism, humility and service that served it so well over the past two centuries. It has lost its sense of history, and lives in a perpetual present characterised by frantic manoeuvring for immediate political gain. Many of its MPs, though of high intellect, unfortunately are of low character. This is a state of affairs which does not merely threaten its chances of winning the next election, but throws its long-term survival into serious doubt.
David Cameron, as party leader, must take some of the responsibility for this. He threw his personal weight behind some of the MPs who have inflicted the worst damage, such as Louise Mensch and Zac Goldsmith, the insubstantial and foppish member for Richmond. More seriously, the Prime Minister and his ally George Osborne have failed to provide moral leadership.
Mr Osborne, in particular, gives the damaging impression that politics is a game which belongs to a tiny coterie of clever, devious and extremely rich people. Both Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne – they are so close personally and politically that they deserve the joint appellation of Camborne – show far too little appreciation of the importance of institutions in British public life, less still of the historical foundations of the Conservative Party.
They remain transfixed by the electoral success of Tony Blair, and regard The Unfinished Revolution, the shallow masterpiece written by Mr Blair’s late pollster Philip Gould, as a rule book for how politics should be conducted, rather than what it really is: a nightmarish warning. The controversial gay marriage initiative may well be an attempt to emulate Tony Blair’s famous “Clause Four” moment, when he asserted his own authority at the expense of the Labour Party.