Few people are entitled to more compassion than young men thus affected [by love]; it is a species of insanity that assails them, and it produces self-destruction in England more frequently than in all the other countries put together.William Cobbett, 1829
What on earth is the Conservative party going to do about sexual intercourse? People are having it off all over the place, willy-nilly, apparently oblivious to the possibility that one day Hell may swallow them up and devour them for such libidinous recklessness. Even Church of England bishops, who are meant to refrain from sexual intercourse by and large, or at least partake of it quietly, within a monogamous, heterosexual relationship ceremonially (and expensively) endorsed by the Church and the state, may shortly fling off their shackles and embrace sodomy as a valid lifestyle choice.
Sex is everywhere. It is in our face. It is rammed down our throats. Renounce sex today and you are as estranged from society as you might have been in 1667, had you renounced God. In fact, without wishing to incur divine wrath, sex is God, in a way. Today there is no higher force at work on all of us, unpleasant though that may seem. I've seen sex used to persuade us to donate money for research into multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease – and, of course, to sell everything: building societies, motor cars, curling tongs, shampoo and gravy powder. Is there anything sex can't sell, these days, given half a chance? Where should we go to hide from sex? This week on a mainstream terrestrial channel, the attractive television personality Lisa Rogers – dressed in a fetching black-leather basque – showed me how to fit a 'cock brace'. I was too busy writing this to take notes, sadly. But you get my point. There. Is. No. Escape.
And yet the official Opposition is in a bit of a quandary. It gives the impression that it doesn't quite get sex – literally or metaphorically. Are Conservatives sexual libertarians or back-to-basics family-value monkeys? This is an issue more divisive for the party than, say, Europe – and, you might argue, more intrinsic to a conservative political and social philosophy. Sort out a stance on sex and the world is your oyster; not least because, for once, New Labour – the least 'sexy' political party ever, ever, ever; they make even Gladstone's Liberals look like Linda Lovelace – is equally bereft.
The whole caboodle was thrust forcibly down Iain Duncan Smith's throat earlier this week when it was revealed that a 'senior Tory strategist' leads a 'double life' as Britain's top organiser of sex parties. That's Dougie Smith, the co-ordinator of the influential, modernising think-tank, Cchange. The man's name is important, by the way. People called Douglas or Doug never have sex. People called Dougie do it all the time.
Mr Smith runs an organisation called Fever Parties, the purpose of which is to set up orgies for affluent, youngish couples in the south-east of England. It must make a welcome change from discussing EU convergence criteria with Theresa May or Francis Maude.
This is what happens if you sign up to Fever. You pay 50 quid and take your partner (no single men allowed) along to an agreeable Chelsea or Kensington townhouse where you chat with like-minded couples about, you know, convergence criteria, steel tariffs, foundation hospitals and so on. Then the lights go low. The scented candles are lit. The champagne flows. And you proceed to shag each other senseless, making the beast with two backs – or, indeed, three, four, five and six backs, as many backs as is your personal penchant, all in the caring, consensual atmosphere of a party organised by somebody who, perhaps, earlier that day took tea on the terrace with John Redwood.
Dougie's gone to ground now, conscious of having horribly embarrassed his Cchange colleagues and made life difficult for his political masters. At Cchange, quite properly, they blush and change the subject when you ask them about it – but even then, in private, they concede they have no ideological objections to Dougie's chosen vocation. It's just a bit delicate within the party, is all, they murmur. They're worried about funding, too. And so, somewhat archly, a source close to Dougie Smith told me, 'Now, they're living the modernising dream rather more than they expected.'
Indeed. What follows may be an apocryphal story, but it has the ring of truth. Apparently Dougie hit on the idea of Fever Parties when he arrived in London, went for a walk on Hampstead Heath and was astonished to espy hundreds of homosexuals cheerfully buggering each other in the open air. It was an epiphanous moment, it seems, for Mr Smith and, like Martin Luther King before him, he had a dream. Why can't heterosexuals be given something like this, except indoors and with an agreeable Chablis on hand, he reportedly wondered. And so Fever Parties was born.
Believe me, Smith and his fellow Fever workers are not remotely embarrassed by their line of employment. They are positively evangelistic about it – and not simply for financial reasons. A couple who choose to attend a Fever Party will dissolve the sexual tension and emotional jealousy which bedevils and destroys so many relationships. That insane craving for sexual différence, described so succinctly by Cobbett above, can be a most malign force: it breaks up families, it costs the Exchequer lots of money, it causes havoc. Why not have it rigorously assuaged in a pleasant, controlled environment with other, like-minded people?
The Conservative party, though, is not so sure. Ann Widdecombe – who has never, to my knowledge, attended a Fever Party, although I'm sure she would be a most welcome attraction were she ever to do so – has already stamped down with her size-12 boots. 'I certainly don't regard it lightheartedly,' she said. 'I take a dim view of that sort of behaviour.' Well, thank you, headmistress.
Trouble is, there are plenty in the party who would entirely agree with her, and a good many who would go still further in their condemnations. Quite why they would do so is the question to be resolved.
When, exactly, did the Conservative party become the party of sexual repression? It certainly never used to be thus. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was the Whigs who, in public at least, were censorious about the sexual behaviour of individuals, in court and Parliament, as this obscene, anonymous poem from 1682 makes perfectly clear:
The Tories, back then, were too close to the debauched aristocracy to be anything other than relaxed about sexual shenanigans. Nor did the rise of the nuclear family and the 'companionate' marriage destroy the important bond between conservatism and sexual licentiousness. It is only in the last 40 or so years, it seems, that the Right has retreated into its strange sexual laager, being beastly to homosexuals and adulterers and those who, generally, have predilections which do not conform to the sorts of standards laid down by, say, that entertaining, sexually dysfunctional wacko Thomas Carlyle. And, you have to admit, this censoriousness has got them into all sorts of trouble. Was there ever a policy strategy more stupid, more out of touch with public opinion and – we learnt later, sniggering as we did so – more hypocritical than John Major's Back to Basics campaign? A petard designed solely to be hoist. Why should a perfectly decent Cabinet minister be forced from office because he wished to have sexual intercourse with the lubricious Antonia de Sancha, regardless of whether he chose to wear a Chelsea strip for the escapade? Who did Mr Major think he was pleasing by sacking David Mellor at the time? If you remember, Paddy Ashdown's popularity with the public increased quite dramatically when it was revealed that he'd committed adultery. The public was ahead of the politicians, as ever: it wasn't the sex they objected to, it was the hypocrisy.“
The King, Duke and StateAre so libelled of lateThat the authors for Whigs are suspectedFor women in scandalBy scribblers are damned allTo court and to cunt disaffected.
The irony is that censoriousness was forced upon the Conservative party by the Left when it swung behind the various liberationist struggles of the 1960s. But the Left embraced gay rights and women's rights not out of an ideological commitment to the freedom of the individual – quite the reverse – but because they thought they were undermining the patriarchal society. In other words, they weren't enjoying the sex; they just thought it was politically useful. Indeed, the Left has its heart in a dismal, totalitarian and very Victorian ideology which emphasises the need to restrain, confine and overcome human nature; if you doubt that, read the Communist Manifesto, and tremble.
The Right, for its part, never even pretended that such things were either possible or desirable. As that aforementioned source close to Dougie Smith put it, 'The Left spends all of its time trying to make people act contrary to their impulses. For lefties everything is political. But it doesn't have to be like that.'
The Conservative party now, though, has a choice to make. It can follow Ann Widdecombe and return to the repressed, as Freud put it. It can, in other words, be the party which takes a 'dim view' of other people's harmless behaviour. In which case, I suspect, it will be left behind. Or it can allow people the freedom to behave precisely as they wish in the privacy of their own homes – or one of Dougie Smith's rented apartments – without censure or social or financial penalty. Watching Iain Duncan Smith this last year or so, one cannot be entirely sure which path will be taken. Maybe he should spend an evening at one of those terrifying Fever Parties. It might be hell, but he could learn something.
Rod Liddle is associate editor of The Spectator.