I have just read Roger Scruton’s The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope. It could be a philosophic commentary on David Cameron’s message at the party conference this week. Scruton, as is well-known from his other writings, favours small government, vigorous local communities, long-established traditions, individual responsibility and public accountability. As a romantic Englishman he loathes the dogma of multiculturalism, Left-wing educational ideologies, Le Corbusier-type architecture and all the other movements, whether cultural or otherwise, that have been imposed on the populace by strategists, so-called experts and planners.
David Cameron’s vision of Britain – the “Big Society” – is shaped by similar instincts. He has been deeply influenced by his parents – more, in my view, than by Eton and the Bullingdon Club. He saw his father conscientiously attend local parish council meetings, refusing to grumble about the painfully deformed legs he was born with; he saw his mother work as a magistrate for 30 years. Both parents were strong supporters of their local Anglican church. All this is the kind of society that Scruton approves of: hard-working, self-sacrificing, unostentatious and believing in shared values that are greater than personal and instant gratification.
Somehow we have lost all this. It is not all Labour’s fault, though the overweening state, addicted to legislating, interfering, lecturing and nannying us, has been the defining characteristic of the last 13 years of Labour government. After all, didn’t Supermac, as long ago as the late 1950s, tell us triumphantly, “You’ve never had it so good!”, as if bread and circuses are all people ever want or need?
Scruton’s wise and thought-provoking book includes the remark: “Child abuse is not a universal social disorder, for which the state bureaucracy and its experts are the cure. It is the direct result of the delegitimisation of the family.” If the message of the Tory conference, “Your country needs you”, is to be more than mere rhetoric, and if David Cameron’s genuinely warm farewell to Pope Benedict, in which he said that the Holy Father had “challenged the whole country to sit up and think”, is to be other than a pleasant remark, the coalition will have to tackle more than the national debt: it will have to give fiscal preference to married couples and their children and not treat all varieties of households as equally important. Study after study has shown that children thrive best in intact, two-parent families – and children are the country’s greatest investment.
Whether Cameron will grasp this nettle and whether, if he grasps it, he will survive, is another matter.