Covenant: The New Politics of Home, Neighbourhood and Nation by Danny Kruger (Forum, £20)
IT IS rare to encounter a politician who has reflected deeply on what ‘politics’ means and has a coherent, persuasive vision of how our national life could be. The conduct of modern politics is often so tawdry, so full of empty promises, that we are grateful for a prime minister who is fiscally honest, hard-working and who avoids scandal. But these are minimal standards. Danny Kruger, Tory MP for Devizes and a practising Christian, reminds us in this book that we are called to raise our sights beyond mere personal contentment and consider the common good. It is a vision that challenges the dominance of selfish individualism with that of community, replacing the focus on ‘me’ with ‘us’.
It cannot have escaped anyone who observes modern culture and the political governance which flows from it that there is a massive divide in our country today between a progressive, left-wing minority wedded to ideological positions on sex, gender, rights, climate, race and the interpretation of our national history, and the views of ordinary people on these subjects, whatever their political stance. Kruger calls this a struggle between ‘the Idea’ and ‘the Order’. ‘The Idea’ developed from the 18th century Enlightenment, when the validity of ideas ‘were conferred by intellectuals’ such as Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre (all atheists) and which has led, inevitably, to our current chaos, where ’a billion personal truths [are] all claiming the status of the absolute’.
In contrast, ‘the Order’ is what has developed over the millennia in the West within the Judaeo-Christian religions (the word ‘Covenant’ of the title is recognisable to both faiths as the unbreakable bond between God and his creation). It describes an outlook richer, more humane and more meaningful than the words ‘conservatism’ or ‘tradition’ can convey: our duties to family, to our community and to our nation; and the necessary sacrifices these duties demand of the individual, whose happiness arises not from demanding his supposed rights but on the fulfilment of his clear obligations. The existential clash between these two ways of looking at our lives can hardly be overstated. As the author observes, ‘Our culture has never before adopted the critique of itself as its governing philosophy. It is difficult to imagine how a civilisation that essentially repudiates itself can possibly survive.’
Kruger’s Christian faith is implicit throughout his analysis. In a moving statement, he writes: ‘Put simply, the politics of the covenant is built not on reason but on love.’ Not love as mere sentimentality or feelings, but understanding our true personal and social commitments and upholding them tirelessly without seeking up-ticks on social media or the shallow signalling of supposed virtue. The three intertwined circles of our human interactions he defines as marriage, (‘the foundational covenant’), our responsibility to our neighbourhood and our love of country. He rightly observes that ‘the safest and best place for sex’, and the nurture of children that follows, is within a stable marriage. ‘The evidence is overwhelming that marriage helps couples stay together and to bring up their children well,’ he states. ‘Sex today is an individual recreational pleasure. We have caused it to saturate our culture.’ Bleak words; enough said.
As to our place of residence, the author firmly believes that everyone should act ‘for a year as a part-time local councillor – at least once in their lives’. On nationhood, we should have ‘deference to the past and to the historic culture of these islands’; respect for the many different cultures in our population but also ‘a more critical self-confident civic nationalism in public life’. This is a rejection of the abstract ‘multiculturalism’ beloved of supporters of the Idea and of the ‘globalist’ outlook which ignores legitimate loyalty to one’s own country.
As a conservative-thinking politician, Kruger would like to diminish the power of the state and empower families and communities to make the decisions which affect them most closely. He makes a plea to ‘strip away the hierarchies of impervious bureaucracy, to make public services more local, more human, more cost-effective’. Further: We need to ‘organise for the conservative normative: for the married family with dependent children, with elderly parents and community obligations’. Settled communities need to be empowered ‘to take responsibility for the housebuilding in their neighbourhoods’. He advocates taxing households rather than individuals and giving ‘childcare subsidies to parents who want to care for their children themselves or to pay friends or family to do so’. And he advocates giving subsidies to care for the elderly at home, rather than the woeful state residential care offered at present. In this vein Kruger would also encourage a local financial sector to stimulate growth, e.g. a ‘network of regional banks to provide capital for businesses’. As to the huge shortage of affordable housing, he would create ‘Community Land Trusts’ to help settled communities take responsibility for building homes.
Who is to pay? Kruger’s book is not an economic treatise, though he does suggest ways to finance such a radical realignment of power. But it is obvious to me (and must also be so to the author, who witnesses at first hand how money is endlessly squandered by government) that the enormous sums spent and unaccounted for during the lockdown, for instance, could be better scrutinised and better deployed.
What is invigorating about Covenant is that it is practical as well as principled: it offers a real alternative vision. The author reminds us of the present, profoundly dispiriting malaise in our society: uncontrolled immigration, chronic ill-health linked to obesity, loneliness, a ‘precariat’ which is ‘over-qualified, underpaid and paying exorbitant rents’, a situation where in 2019 a British judge could conclude that biological sex is ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’, and where in 2022, PayPal could suspend the accounts of organisations ‘that give platforms to people who have heretical opinions on sex and gender, climate change and the response to Covid 19’.
The list could go on. Quite simply: ‘The culture no longer expects us to live for others.’ If even half of what Kruger envisions and argues for could be implemented by a confident, properly conservative government – not the vision-free, number-crunching, no-smoking technocracy that governs us at present (which won’t change if Labour wins the next General Election) – it would have my vote. A nagging, nay-saying voice within tells me that the demolition of the Judaeo-Christian view of marriage, the corruption of youth in school PSE lessons, the callous treatment of the unborn and the elderly – to name a few egregious examples – have gone too far to be salvaged and transformed. But then a Christian voice within counters this with the contrary belief, robustly laid out in this thought-provoking book, that all is not lost. There is still time. We must have hope.