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David Selbourne

Cameron's woolly centre ground

The market cannot mend our broken society

We live in a state of emergency

The Tories are failing us

It's far too late


There's little comfort to be found on Cameron's woolly centre ground

... at a time when many of Britain's institutions have been debauched during Labour's period in office, when the nation has largely lost its sense of moral and political direction, and when citizenship of an increasingly identity-less country signifies less than at any time in its history, the feebleness of the Tory response is astounding.

Britain is not only in poor shape economically, but politically. Its parliament is discredited in the public's eyes and has lost its authority over the polity, perhaps irrecoverably.

Party organisations and memberships are in the doldrums, and the independence of the civil service has been compromised, especially by Blairism's corruptions of it ...

Spectator   06 Jan 2010


The market cannot mend our broken society

In the mid-19th century, many thinkers regarded the “condition of England” as dire. Carlyle called it ominous. Established beliefs were waning, communities were being destroyed by industrialisation and poverty was increasing amid plenty. Macaulay gave warning that the discontented were growing as social order dissolved. There was rage, he declared, below the surface.

Today the condition of England is arguably worse. Few can even say with confidence what England is; and the 19th century was spared an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Lord Chief Justice ready to concede legitimacy to Sharia. Increasing inequality, the debauching of public institutions - now by privatisation - and social disintegration are again with us. Although some remain complacent, a diminished sense of national identity, economic insecurity, alarms over violent crime and dismay at abuses committed by our parliamentarians are widespread.

Anxiety about the nation's condition is exacerbated by the public knowledge that all three main political parties are inadequate both in leadership and thought. It is clear, too, that millions think that none of these parties truly represents their views. Vox pop, reflected on many websites, regularly wishes a curse upon all their houses.

The creed of our times is to be non-judgmental. It is not shared by legions of discontented in Britain, whose contempts, fears and frustrations surface daily on blogs. Here is public opinion at its most direct: “They are unprincipled,” such voices typically say of the political class, a “bunch of jobsworths troughing at the public expense”. Or, again, “none of our leaders gives a toss for the will of the people”, while Gordon Brown and David Cameron are seen as equally “shifty”. After years of “Blairism”, much of this angry public is looking for integrity in its politicians ...

The Times 09 July 2008

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We live in a state of emergency

The ills of Western democracies are afflicting the most liberal societies known to history. Among other things, Britain suffers from growing inequality, housing shortage, a falling quality of health provision, rising rates of many types of crime, a failing pedagogy, agricultural impoverishment and a huge scale of ‘consumer debt’.

Yet, for many, we are not free enough, being allegedly threatened by encroachments upon our personal liberties, coddled by a ‘nanny state’ and menaced by Orwellian surveillance.

This country is not yet in a ‘bleeding, nay almost dying condition’, as Cromwell described it to the House of Commons in December 1644. But his ‘finding’ that ‘the People [are] dissatisfied in every corner of the Nation’ is as true now as it was in his time; the scale of the exodus from Britain is a measure of it, one of many.

Notwithstanding the best efforts of the complacent to minimise or deny it, Britain is also in poor shape politically. Its parliament is increasingly discredited in public eyes, the independence of its Civil Service has been compromised, its honours system abused, its welfare system exploited, its once-proud system of municipal government reduced to a shadow of its former self, its armed forces weakened and underfunded, and large swathes of its public domain dispersed by privatisation ...

The Spectator 26 March 2008

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The Tories are failing us

Last summer the Centre for Policy Studies, the Tory thinktank, courageously commissioned from me a 10,000-word analysis titled "What is wrong with the Conservatives?: A non-Conservative view". But it was not published, on the grounds that it would "seriously damage" the party's leader.

In the essay, I argued that what is to be expected of a Conservative party, as a non-Conservative sees it, is a politics of national self-repair; the protection of a free society from itself; leadership; something more than the threadbare value system of the market; the setting of limits to corporate and financial-sector licence; the reinforcement of the ethic of citizen duty (not responsibility); crying a halt to the dismantling of public institutions; and a squaring-up to the advance of Islam.

But when public relations take the place of principles, and the media tail wags the political dog, a Conservative party has had it. It needs to be on the moral high ground, not the soggy centre ground, or at least be seeking it. This requires a sterner politics than that of modernisation, of being with it, or of "freeing up people's lives" - the hair of the dog that has bitten us ...

The Guardian 04 January 2008

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It's far too late for mere 'respect'

There are no boundaries of class or party among those who sense, or know, that British society is in profound trouble. Yet the consensus that this anxiety has created remains largely unexpressed. Politicians dare not tell the whole truth about it for fear of adding to public alarm, and losing by it. Complaint over the quality of public provision, or about the education system, or about the statistics of violent crime regularly break surface, but in fragmentary fashion. Those who specialise in intellectual evasions even deny the facts of civil society's disorders; many who have pointed to them have retreated from the scene.

In 1994 I wrote The Principle of Duty; I would find it difficult to get published now. In the book I argued that limits must be set to selfish individual entitlement if our free social order is to be preserved.

Today, libertarians of every stripe command public debate and such argument is increasingly perceived as reactionary rather than enlightened ...

Telegraph 22 May 2005


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