Sunday, 28 June 2015

In our past is the surest defence for our future

‘People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors’ (Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, link).

The tragic events of the past few days, in Europe, North Africa and the Near East, remind us that our civilisation is under siege. The extremists who hate our way of life will not stop attacking us. What motivates them is hatred, not of what we do but of what we are. To our extremist enemies the West, with its emphasis on freedom of speech, belief, expression and enterprise, is a threat. The liberties enjoyed in London give hope to those who are repressed in Raqqa. As long as we live, those slaving under the dominion of Daesh will hope for freedom. Accordingly, Daesh and its sympathisers will do everything they can to undermine our society. In the face of this pressure Britain, and the rest of the West, must not back down. Instead, we must take the fight to Daesh, intellectually as well as militarily. Our society must regain its self-confidence, and its ability to assert its values, in the face of such an uncompromising enemy. Conservatism, by reviving the memory of the best principles upon which British society was built long ago, can provide the spark for that.

To stand up to extremism the West must reject relativism, and remember our society is built upon a belief in truth. Too often we appear afraid to assert that our civilisation is better the extremist alternative. I believe that is because somewhere along the line we allowed our liberalism to be corrupted into relativism. We allowed the unalienable right of freedom to believe to mutate, and something very noble became the ignoble view that all beliefs should be seen as being equally true. Many who feel instinctively that extremism is wrong find themselves unable to condemn it as a result. They are tied in knots by the mistaken idea that what might be wrong to us, may not be objectively wrong to someone else. Yet, that idea itself undermines our liberty. If liberty is not objectively good, true and beautiful, then how can we actually defend it? If our freedoms are not ours by right, on what basis are we fighting those who wish to strip them from us?

Western society was built upon the truth that all men are created equal. This truth is the root from which all other aspects of our liberal democracy have grown. The minds responsible for our society observed that when we come into this world we are the same. Or to paraphrase the Bible, we all come into the world naked, leave it the same way and we can’t take anything with us when we die.[1] From this those thinkers came to see that, as we are all equal, nobody has a fundamental right to rule over others or infringe on another’s freedom. People should be free to think, do, or say what they want, provided that thinking does not compromise someone else’s freedom. To the giants of the Western intellectual tradition it would have been a self-evident truth that extremists are free to hold their views. Not because all opinions should be viewed as equally true, but because our right to freedom of expression gives us the right to be freely wrong:

‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error’ (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859, pp 30-31, link). 

Belief in the truth of the basic equality of all is the basis for our society, it is the basis for being able to say our civilisation is better than the extremist alternative, and it also has the merit that it can stand on religious grounds too. Extremists see our society as divided and decadent. They believe that our lack of uniformity shows us to be disunited and ripe for attack. Again they are wrong. Our freedoms arise from the fact that, as a society, we believe that all people come into the world equal. In Western society people of all faiths and none can co-exist because, regardless of what side of the divide you sit on, there is widely held unspoken agreement on ideals best expressed by America’s founding fathers:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’ (U.S. Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776, link).

What Daesh sees as decadence and disorder, as a belief in nothing, we should never forget are expressions as a belief in something very beautiful: A belief shared by all, whether they believe men are made equal by God or by blind chance, that we are all equal. That belief we Westerners hold, just as proudly and resolutely as the extremists hold theirs. It is the foundation of our opposition to slavery, to our insistence on people being able to live as they like, to think and act as they like, to worship and pray as they like… Extremists sneer that we cannot defeat them because they love death more than we love life. Our response should be that as we love life so much, and we share a common conception of its beauty, and the equal value of all life, none of us will be easily parted from it.

May all those who have been victims of Islamist terror rest in peace...

[1] Cf. Ecclesiaties 5:15, link

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Road to 2020

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Conservatives are already thinking about how to win the 2020 Election. According to Matthew D’Ancona, the Conservatives want to use their majority to prove to working people that they are on their side. Generally speaking, I agree with D’Ancona. David Cameron’s 2015 General Election victory gives Conservatives the opportunity to show the British people we want them to have the chance for a better life. However, to some extent, I think D’Ancona overcomplicates what the Conservatives need to do to achieve that.

First, the Conservatives must remember the desire for security is what motivates people to vote. Generally speaking, what the British people desire from government is security. Britons are not, by and large, a nation of politicos. Between elections we do not enjoy, or wish, to spend much time thinking of what’s going on in the Westminster village. Most of us are too busy thinking about how to support our families, get to work, pay for the kids’ school uniforms and lunches, and pay our taxes and bills, to worry about who performed better at Prime Minister’s Questions. We want to feel confident that if we get sick the NHS will be there for us. We want to feel secure about the quality of the schools we can send our children to. Above all we want to feel that the economy is being managed well, so our jobs are not under threat and we can have the security offered by a regular pay packet.

Second, Conservatives must reassure the British people that they were right to believe that difficult decisions are needed to guarantee a secure future, and that they were right to put their trust in the Conservatives to make those difficult decisions. A great deal of politics is decided by reinforcing the positive perceptions people have about you, and the negative perceptions they have of your opponents. Because Britons are not overly interested in politics, we tend to stick to our long-held views about political parties. The key to winning is helping people focus on your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses. In his article D’Ancona noted one or two particular policies that he feels may hamstring the Conservatives. My contention is if these were as fatal as some think David Cameron would not be our Prime Minister. The British people elected the Conservatives because they trust us to take the difficult decisions to secure Britain’s future. In life, as in politics, often the only choice we have is between something bad and something worse. Growing up as the child of a single mother in South London I saw that on a daily basis. Hardworking people, who struggle to get by on average wages, get this. They live it. The real battle is not about policies themselves but, as D’Ancona himself highlights, why people think you are doing what you do: your motives. Labour will try to reinforce the negative impressions of why Conservatives do what we do. In the face of this attack, Conservatives must explain the reasons for our actions. We must never forget to say why the difficult decisions we are taking are necessary, or to remind people that by taking them we are securing the chance of a better future for them, their families and our country.

The Conservatives won the 2015 General Election because working people felt more security with us than with the alternative. To win in 2020 the Conservatives need to remind the British people they were right to feel this way. Sensible, stable government that shows empathy even when taking difficult decisions, and delivers lower taxes and more jobs is the surest road to 2020. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

One month on

A month ago yesterday David Cameron walked back into Downing Street as the leader of a Conservative majority government. On that day the British people placed our trust in the Conservative party to secure a better future for all of us, and to bring Britain together again as one nation. Already the next stages of the Conservatives’ long-term plan to do this are taking shape.

Those of us who work in and around the Westminster village can become too fixated on things that, while interesting, mean the bigger picture gets missed. At the moment the ‘big story’ in Westminster is about ‘splits’ in the Conservative party on the issue of ‘Europe’. Yet, while the press try to find MPs to dispute detailed procedural points, the Conservatives have quietly got on with delivering their manifesto commitments to help people have a better life.

In the first Queen’s Speech announcing their plans for Government, the Conservatives reaffirmed their commitment not raise income tax, national insurance or VAT. Instead, David Cameron will deliver his commitment to cutting income tax on lower and middle earners. The result of this will be that someone working 30 hours on the minimum wage will pay no income tax at all, and more people will have the financial security to plan for the future they want for themselves and their families.

The Cameron Government is also helping more people achieve the dream of owning their own home. Its Help to Buy scheme is helping hard working people on their deposits, and its Right to Buy extension is giving more people extra control over their lives and a chance to have more of a stake in our society.

Additionally, the Government is continuing to take the difficult decisions to keep our economy. Thanks to the confidence created by George Osborne dealing with our deficit, Britain has created 2 million jobs since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Giving businesses the confidence to keep investing in Britain is essential to helping more people enjoy the security of a regular pay packet.

When he won the 2015 General Election, David Cameron said he had been given a ‘sacred trust’ by the British people. We, as one nation, had placed in his hands our hopes for a good life for ourselves, our families and our county. The vagaries of the 24 hour news cycle means sometimes the Westminster village may forget that. However, the British people can be confident that the Prime Minister and his team never will.