Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this month was a landmark moment in British political history. It marked the total rejection of social conservatism by the leadership of the party which once existed as its standard-bearer.
The Prime Minister opened her speech by talking about ‘the British dream’. Leaving aside those components taken wholesale from the ‘American dream’, the central idea was compassion understood in the modern sense: never saying no.
This limited sense of the word compassion is a modern curse. It teaches that all restrictions on one’s freedom to act in accordance with temporary will are evils. Governments attempt to legislate these evils away and in doing so destroy the inherited foundations of society, all of which are based on legitimate restrictions of action which result in the common good.
Not only has marriage been progressively diluted by the liberalisation of divorce and the admission of same-sex couples, but fundamental pillars of our society such as language are now threatened.
If it is possible to become a man or woman by an act of imagination then the words no longer have any agreed meaning. This is not the same as the organic change which naturally adjusts the meaning of words over time in a living language. Instead I mean that the state redefines words using the coercive force of hate-crime laws so that they have an opposite meaning to the one previously agreed.
This is the problem of government by lawyers. They believe that the impossible can be made possible through the statute book. Previously the phrase ‘two men married to one another’ would have been logically impossible as marriage was the word used to describe the lifelong union of a man and a woman. They think that by appropriating the word, the natural family unit changes too. It doesn’t. What has happened is that the word that described it has been confiscated by the state. This is now happening to women. A woman is born with female reproductive organs that would, under normal circumstances, allow her to give birth. If we say that the word ‘woman’ may now include a person born with a penis, we have not changed any of the facts of life, we have simply confiscated a useful word and made it meaningless by state decree.
Without common language, there can be no inherited knowledge. All of this we appear prepared to jettison because of our deeply unsophisticated concept of compassion.
Mrs May’s dream is interesting for what it lacks. Absent are notions of sacrifice, duty and society in the broad and national sense as opposed to the narrow, sectional sense found in the word ‘community’.
As the campaign director of the Coalition for Marriage, I found her treatment of marriage deeply troubling.
Same-sex marriage was held up as an exemplar of compassion by the Prime Minister. The implication was that the 669,000 people whose convictions led them to sign the Coalition for Marriage’s petition against same-sex marriage in 2014 are heartless.
This is a calculated insult which is astonishing from the mouth of a Conservative Prime Minister. It is a slur on a wide pool of people, many of whom have devoted their lives to the service of others.
It also thinks of marriage upside-down. Marriage as conceived by Mrs May is something that the individual extracts from society because society feels compassion for him or her. The historic understanding of marriage as a duty, one which confers obligations rather than rights and therefore can necessarily only be discharged by a man and a woman in balance, does not occur to her and appears to be alien to her system of thought.
I attended the conference for one evening to speak at a fringe event in opposition to no-fault divorce.
Two things struck me. The first was the undoubted presence of good, conscientious and morally conservative MPs, activists and supporters. They exist in the party in huge numbers and some are household names.
Our poll of 550 Conservative Party councillors found that nine in ten wanted the party to ditch the politically correct agenda and focus on the basics, while three in four wanted marriage prioritised in schools. Likewise three brave and principled MPs signed the Coalition for Marriage’s joint letter to the Daily Telegraph objecting to Justine Greening’s proposals to introduce children as young as five to homosexual and transgender relationships at school. On this website David T C Davies MP has acted with great integrity to challenge the latest transgender proposals from his own Government.
The question is whether these morally conservative voices have influence with the party leadership. Peter Hitchens has set out forcefully and convincingly his belief that the party has been organised in such a way that these voices will continue to be marginalised and while it is possible to conceive circumstances where this is not the case, much would need to change.
The second observation concerns what is now the Right wing of the party. Libertarianism is a perfectly credible political position but it is very different from social conservatism.
Listening those speaking at the conference from a libertarian perspective made me realise how close the moral position of the libertarians is to that of the Corbynites.
For both sets of people it is about having. One set has and resents any restriction on actions made open to it by the act of possessing. One set has not and wants to possess another’s property in order that it too may have access to unrestricted action. Neither conceives its social role in terms of duty or draws upon a political motive deeper than selfishness.
Despite the unfashionable nature of social conservatism, it still has strong and broad popular support. The Coalition for Marriage, for instance, has more current supporters than either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats. It is my responsibility to ensure that these voices carry.
But it is your responsibility, too. I often end talks by asking people to donate. Not necessarily financially, helpful though that is, but rather to donate their good name. Nothing is more powerful. People enjoy signing online petitions and reading blogs because they are anonymous. However, failing to stand up for these beliefs in person, awkward though it may be, has allowed the permissive echo-chamber to develop to such an extent that a Conservative Prime Minister has jettisoned social conservatism. It is time to argue back.