Friday, March 26, 2010

Liberal England: Ungovernable Conservatives

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News appears to argue that the trouble with the Conservatives is that they are no longer Conservative. I suppose that is what comes of turning 50.

If the Conservative benches are ungovernable now they will be worse after the general election, given the intake of new members. And it is certainly true of the Conservative blogosphere.

The action of Labour members in making John Bercow Speaker leads me to pose Calder's Third Law of Politics. It is:
When politicians do something which they think is very clever, it will eventually turn out to have been very stupid.
My first two Laws, developed over many years writing this column are:
  1. If all parties are united in support of a measure, it will turn out to be a disaster.
  2. The more power the state takes to itself, the more arbitrarily that power will be exercised.

To the column...


With his gown and boyish smile, John Bercow resembles a progressive young master in an old-fashioned school. And like a lot of masters who want to be popular with their pupils, he has trouble keeping order.

You can trace his problems back to the undistinguished reign of Michael Martin. Often Buggins’ turn will get you through, but when the expenses storm broke over Westminster Martin proved to have none of the qualities needed to restore its standing in the eyes of the public.

Trouble was, there was no way of getting rid him other than public ridicule. And in that process the authority, the mystique, of the Speakership took a battering too.

Then there was the way Bercow got the job. When the election of the new Speaker took place David Cameron was riding high in the polls and many Labour MPs assumed they would soon lose their seats. What better way of getting back at an incoming Conservative House, those Labour MPs reasoned, than landing it with someone it would detest?

And Bercow, though he started out as secretary of the Monday Club's immigration and repatriation committee, had been long been courting Labour backbenchers with an eye to the Speakership. He did it so blatantly that he became widely disliked on his own side.

So we again have a Speaker who is not respected by many MPs, which has done nothing to rebuild the standing of the role.

But the Tory benches’ increasingly open disrespect for Bercow also tells us something important about modern Conservatives. They are simply ungovernable.

Philosophically, their views owe little to what the philosopher John Gray called the “rich network of interlocking interests, social deferences and inherited institutions” that have historically constituted British Conservatism. Instead they offer a bundle of theory and grievances, much of it market nihilist rather than Conservative and originating across the Atlantic.

And personally, unlike their predecessors, this new generation of Conservatives have not been shown their place in the scheme of things by Spartan schools and regimental sergeant majors.

Instead, they have entered adult life with a cast-iron sense of entitlement and a certainty that no one, certainly not the Commons Speaker, can tell them what to do.

I blame progressive schoolmasters – like John Bercow.

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