Friday, August 12, 2005

Putting the mental into fundamental

This seems to be a campaign that's gathering pace on behalf of the new right in the Tory party, shamelessly stolen from the Republicans in the US. They want to make the word 'liberal' an insult to be thrown at those whose views don't match their own conservative ones. (Obviously, when the word is used in conjunction with 'democrat' then they may have a point.)

This 'Cornerstone' group of vocal Tory MPs emerged blinking into the light a few weeks back, realised that it wasn't the 1950s and decided that the clock must be turned back. All the ills of Britain could be instantly solved by reverting to the morals of half a century ago, back when divorce was difficult and shameful, abortion was the province of the rich and the backstreet quacks, gay still meant happy and the ethnics knew their place. Hell, we've had the adventurist war in the Middle East, so we're part of the way there - only this time, we remembered to take the Yanks with us.

Knowing that they wouldn't spark the slightest interest outside the silly season, they are making the most of it by getting their comments into the Spectator, renowned lately for its own brand of debauchery - Boris & Petsy, Rod and a secretary, Kimberley and David (and others too libellous to mention) - I'm surprised that they haven't invited the tumescent John H to write a column. The irony isn't lost on Guido and Scribbles shoves her oar in as well, picking up on a piece by Christina Odone in the Obs last week which covers similar ground.

I made the point a while back that if the Telegraph had asked the same question of Christians or Jews, they may well have found more than 32% of them considered Western society to be decadent, so pushing it as a peculiarly Islamic issue seems a little prejudiced.

Anyway, it seems that this has fuelled John Hayes, the Tory MP and part of the Redwood Vulcanistas, into writing a piece [paid content on the Speccie website, but largely reproduced here] demanding a return to traditional conservative social values (economic liberalism is OK, personal liberalism isn't). Like Christina, he finds it easy to list the things wrong with society - homosexuality always looms large here, lager louts get their mention (as flavour of the month) and Big Brother also comes in for some flak. He's backed up by a supportive letter from a group of unknown Tory MPs this week. All want to roll back the clock, but remain are strangely silent on how this should be done and which groups should suffer - for suffer they would. They know who to blame, but not how to solve it. Politics isn't just about asking questions, but also about trying to find answers that work, otherwise you're opposing for the sake of opposition.

Do we revive the stigma of illegitimacy and treat young single mothers as a problem to be hidden away, just like we used to? You women - get back into the kitchen.

Do we bring back the good old days when gay men were prosecuted merely because of their sexual orientation? Why not go the whole hog and let's roll back all that awkward equality legislation - I can see a market for signs saying 'No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.'

What about bringing back the birch for those minor offenders - or the rope for the more serious ones? And if we beat or kill a few innocent members of society, that's a risk worth taking.

National Service would sort out those yobs, wouldn't it? And let's ban the internet while we're at it and give the Lord Chancellor back his power over what appears in our theatres. Hell, let's extend his censorship to films and TV as well. [EDIT: Thanks to anonymous who wins this week's prize for spotting the deliberate mistake - it was the Lord Chamberlain who had the power to control what was seen on the London stage]

Anyone who wants to outlaw abortion should watch the excellent and powerful Mike Leigh movie Vera Drake, which is hugely evocative of post-war sensibilities and morals, as well as containing a magnificent central performance from Imelda Staunton.

Aside from the issue that wise politicians regard issues of personal morality as too sensitive, lest their own failings and those of their colleagues be exposed, we've moved on as a society. Of course change and progress often bring unforeseen problems, so we should seek to deal with those rather than always trying to hark back to the myths of some hazily-remembered golden age. We need to find a path round obstacles rather than trying to find reverse gear, otherwise we'll be left behind. If this new breed of Tory can't grasp that we've shifted culturally and that they need to appeal to more than their core group of nostalgia-junkie voters, then they are doomed to longer in the wilderness than I thought.


Manfarang said...

I can remember the 1950s well, it wasn't that long ago!It was the Daily Mirror that carried the headline 'How to spot a homo'.The moral issues you mention weren't the province of the left.(In those days the Communist Party was the fourth party-and they did have some councillors).
In those days we had full employment, lots of branch railway lines, trains that ran on time(many of them hauled by steam trains)lots of buses( including trolley buses)free dental treatment-yes, there were NHS dentists!-free eyes tests and people could get an appointment with a GP by just going to the surgery.And of course we had Hovis!
Middle East war?This time it was the Yanks that took the Brits there.What will you be saying next limey- that the Brits won the second world war?
Talking of the Yanks,well the Tories don't really like them. After all they cannot speak English properly or spell it.(In the 1950s a bill to reform spelling was given a second reading. New Spelling as it was called.)I don't think Cornerstone are going to go too far with their 51st state idea.However links with Italian groups may be more promising. Neo-fascism that's the way they will go!

Anonymous said...

It was the Lord Chamberlain who had the role of licenser of plays in the city of London, Westminster and certain other areas.
In someways the Labour Party of the 1950s can be regarded as the precursor of New Labour.Under the leadership of Hugh Gaitskell attempts were made to amend clause IV and of course he was fiercely opposed to a unilateralist position on nuclear weapons. On losing a conference vote he said he would "fight,fight and fight again to save the party I love."
Maybe there are some today who would rather forget those words.