SHEDNOTES 95: Proper conservatism


The Shed has to confess to being a bit behind with its election commentary. We did like Simon Jenkins, Guardian, when he wrote …

We won’t touch. We’ll change nothing. We’ve mucked you about long enough and will leave you alone, we promise. These are the least likely pledges to be heard during the coming election campaign. No one will promise to stop fussing, meddling, intervening, legislating, regulating. The only coalition that exists is the “coalition for change”, and it embraces all parties. A politician would no more oppose the concept of action than a priest would oppose the concept of God.

In the next two weeks the party manifestos will be published. How wonderful it would be if they were empty, if they just promised to allow recent upheavals in the public sector to calm down and settle. Change, of all sorts, has become the occupational disease of modern British government.

Labour was no different. Tony Blair could not stop himself mouthing change. When Gordon Brown came to power, his last words on entering Downing Street were “let’s get on with change”. The buzzword of the age is disruption. The change manager is king, the change consultant his charlatan. Head officers are the new autocracy. Toss the poor bloody infantry into the Magimix, they cry, it will only do them good.

Lord Palmerston is said to have replied to a colleague demanding a new statute that parliament could not pass laws indefinitely. “There are too many laws already,” he said, with a wave at a row of statute books. Lord Salisbury was probably the last leader to espouse the politics of inertia. At the 1895 election, he pledged that his government would “drift slowly downstream, occasionally putting out a boat-hook to avoid collision”. On foreign intervention he was particularly emphatic: “There is no practice which the experience of nations more uniformly condemns, and none which governments more consistently pursue.” As recently as 2010-11, Belgium survived 589 days without a law-making government.

Ask any frontline professional today whether they would welcome more legislation on their area of concern, and the response is unanimous: “For God’s sake no.” Doctors plead, leave us alone, if only for a year. Teachers beg, just let us teach. Not a new tax regime, moan the accountants. Please not another Home Office initiative, wail the police. Change has been relentless for the past decade. Nothing is left to settle.

The language of politics has degenerated into the language of action and reaction. As the lobbyists clamour round the manifesto scribes, what bliss it would be if they were told that the first year of the new parliament would be completely free of laws. The first queen’s speech would state: “My government will spend its first session reflecting and pondering. Existing monetary and fiscal aggregates will remain in place, otherwise nothing will change. The press can discuss something else. A year on, my government will assess whether this has left the country better or worse. Only then will it decide what change is required, if any.”

You would hear the cheer from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

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thankyousir …

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