The Curmudgeon


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Passion, Strength and British Manliness

The British Conservative party, having been drubbed in a general election in which less than thirty per cent of the people supported the victor, is responding in its usual fashion, by having a leadership contest. The candidates all have the unenviable task of trying to carve out a position to the right of New Labour, which in these days of colonial wars, ASBOs and threats of identity cards must be rather like trying to carve George W Bush's likeness into Mount Rushmore. It's difficult, noisy and time-consuming, and there may be room for doubt as to whether the result justifies the effort.

The shadow foreign secretary, Dr Liam Fox, lays out his hammer and chisel in today's Observer. Under the headline "Tories must give Britain hope again", Fox complains that Britain is too democratic: "Messages and policies are ... refined to please the most and displease the fewest." Manifestoes, which apparently should be written in flame, signed in blood and implemented with fire and sword, are "an exercise in nuance and compromise".

"Passion and belief," laments Dr Fox, "belong to a bygone age." I don't know if Dr Fox is referring to politicians or to the electorate here, but his acquaintance with either class must be of the slightest. Naturally, I can understand Dr Fox ignoring the passionate, principled Iraq protests and the passionate, principled G8 protests, since he presumably agrees with Bush, Blair and Brown on both issues; but what, if not the Passion of Tony Blair and his disciples, has brought us to our present lamentable pass in the Middle East? What, if not the Labour party's apparent belief that Blair is keeping them in government, induces it to continue supporting the liars, murderers and war criminals as they dance grinning and preaching down the road to holocaust? Surely Dr Fox, however isolated he may be from real people, ought to recognise passion and belief when they're staring at him through several hundred flat dead eyes across the floor of the House of Commons.

Dr Fox identifies "three momentous challenges". The first is to heal the ravages of Thatcherism: "The 1980s forces which generated economic revival also significantly increased social and geographical mobility. This markedly reduced the role of the extended family and the security it represented. ... Consider mental illness. We shut down our (unacceptable) old institutions without sufficient options to replace them. We now have inadequate services, contributing to homelessness, crime, addiction and self-harm."

The second challenge is to intervene in the economy and distort the pristine purity of market forces: "The second challenge is to create an economy competitive enough to fund what we want in the long term. We cannot tackle society's problems without sound economic foundations to support the requisite services." Oddly enough, the "noted Thatcherite" Dr Fox follows this repudiation of Thatcherism with the claim that the Conservatives will not be able to bind up the nation's wounds "by abandoning tried-and-tested economic beliefs." Political flexibility is a wonderful thing, especially when it's done with passion and belief.

The third challenge is to "have a vision of the world beyond Britain or Europe". But not beyond the United States, it appears. Dr Fox's rhetoric on the Third World and climate change is indistinguishable from that of Blair, Brown and Bono, which perhaps is why he passes hastily on to the solution to all our problems, which appears to consist of "localism" (either a repudiation of, or an interesting new name for, Thatcherite centralisation) and other abstract nouns.

Elsewhere in the Observer, Fox is reported as offering a more concrete set of proposals towards Britain's regeneration. "We face the prospect of a lost generation, failed by family and education and venting their frustrations on society," he claims. It is time to consider radical solutions: "Boys should be taught in single-sex schools with strong male role models". Again, it isn't specified who these macho mentors might be, but a little later on there is a clue: "I would like to see more church and voluntary groups get involved ... and try to teach them what's expected of them. I would like to see the sort of cadet schemes run by the armed forces try to get a bigger role." Dr Fox stresses that "such solutions would be optional" - presumably left to the discretion of those fatherless families which are the source of the whole problem. That will certainly help.

Fox's idea, of course, is a throwback to the Victorian ideal of "muscular Christianity" - lots of physical jerks, not too much thinking, God is an Englishman, no sex before marriage and precious little after, and lots of the kind of male bonding that is at present generally the province of Catholic priests or very expensive rent-boys. Clearly, in order to make Britain great again, we must revert to the tried and tested moral beliefs that made us great before. If Iraq is to be the new Crimea, if World War III is to be the new World War I, let us at least ensure that our cannon-fodder is worthy to lie beside the glorious cretins of the past. Rowan Williams and Norman Schwarzkopf for "strong male role models", anyone?


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