In the March issue of Standpoint our election diarist Andrew Gimson wrote that he had told a lunch of pollsters back in January, at which a sweepstake was held, that the Conservatives would win 330 seats. He was thus the only pundit to correctly predict the result. (The final tally of 331 includes Speaker Bercow, who does not ordinarily vote.) For this bold feat of psephological clairvoyance, Mr Gimson deserves to win not merely his sweepstake but one of those press awards that seldom seem to go to the most deserving members of the journalistic trade.
Yet in retrospect, even Britain’s most astonishing election result in living memory already seems inevitable. Vox populi, vox Dei: the voice of the people is the voice of God. To have elected an unrepentant Labour leadership, whose arrogance added insult to the still painful injuries inflicted during their last term of office, would have been contrary to natural justice. Messrs Miliband and Balls had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing; but there was to be no Bourbon restoration for them. Five years ago, the country had refused to endorse their master’s profligacy, and it was not about to do so now for his bag carriers either. Their politics of envy was punished too: Labour has been forcibly reminded that the British still admire their entrepreneurs. We need more young people to emulate them, not to run them out of town by penal taxation or throttle them with red tape.
Yet David Cameron was right, in his moment of triumph, to avoid triumphalism. The Conservatives have been returned to office with a mandate to finish the job, certainly; but they need to reflect on the meaning of that mandate. The campaign exposed a long-standing weakness in the Tories’ philosophy: they don’t have one. As the result showed, in order to know how to win an election, it is not necessary to have a political philosophy; but its absence sooner or later leads to an inability to answer the “why” question. Mr Cameron stands firmly in the tradition of pragmatic, slightly Whiggish Tory prime ministers such as Baldwin or Macmillan — doers who did not think much of thinkers. So he will need some persuading that his new government needs not just big new ideas, but a new moral framework within which policies may cohere. To be precise, this moral framework is not so much new as very old — as old as our nation, maybe even as old as our civilisation. It is a moral framework requiring self-control, even the stiff upper lip. But it is also an ethos of unselfishness, decency and humility.
For the Prime Minister’s summer reading, I would recommend The Road to Character (Allen Lane, £17.99) by the New York Times columnist David Brooks. It isn’t exactly a book to read on the beach, but its cooler message might appeal to a man who prefers “chillaxing”, glass in hand, to roasting in the sun.
Brooks is a champion of what he calls “eulogy virtues” — the qualities you hope to be remembered by — rather than the achievements you might boast of on your CV. He thinks we have sacrificed the humble “Little Me” for the sake of the high-flying “Big Me”, replacing a regimen of self-examination that struggles to overcome sin with a culture of self-esteem that worships success. Brooks makes no great claim to originality: his binary contrasts draw on a long tradition that goes right back to the two differing accounts of the creation of humanity in the Book of Genesis. He mentions a celebrated Jewish sage, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” drew a similar comparison between Adam I, the “majestic” man who subdues nature, and Adam II, the “covenantal” man who surrenders to God’s will.
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