Now I know why so many people hate me. It came to me in a flash during dinner with a group of bright, articulate, well-balanced sixth-formers from Roedean girls’ school. I was banging on in my rabid right-wing way about the importance of free markets and the shortcomings of feminism and suchlike when I happened accidentally to vouchsafe that the proudest achievement of my life had been teaching my children to read. And it was as if, all of a sudden, I’d waved a magic wand and sprinkled myself in fairy dust. The mood softened. You could almost see the thought bubbles above the girls’ heads, saying: ‘Aaah!’ and ‘Gosh maybe he isn’t, like, so totally evil after all.’
‘Blimey!’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s where I’ve been going wrong!’ And a plan began to form in my head. My wife has long been telling me that I need to find ways of stopping people thinking I’m such a grade-one Berkshire Hunt, and my Roedean experience confirmed it. Clearly, from now on, I would have to attend all my speaking engagements accompanied by a puppy. With a lovely blue ribbon round its neck. And dozens of photos of me changing my kids’ nappies and helping old blind ladies across the road. And a fund of anecdotes, like the time I spontaneously invited a party of Congolese orphans with leprosy to come and join me in the jacuzzi. (‘Oh, never mind all the floaty bits, kids. These warm soothing jets are the least you deserve after the hell you’ve been through!’) And a T-shirt with a big smiley face on with the caption: ‘Oh. By the way. I’m really NICE.’
No, not really. In fact the conclusion I drew from my Roedean experience was the exact opposite: that in future I will try even less hard to make people like me at public speaking engagements. I think it’s time we on the right fought back against the tyranny of nice; time we told it like it is, without prettifying our arguments with love-me-do asides about how many kittens we saved from drowning this week, and without trying to show our audience how reasonable and balanced we are by conceding that our ideological opponents have the occasional point. Because the point is, our ideological opponents don’t have a point, and by trying to play the smiley-smiley nicey-nicey game we’re a) fighting the battle on terrain of their choosing, and b) diluting an argument which needs no dilution.
Let me give you an example from my Roedean evening. At one point, one of the girls raised the question of paternity leave. Wasn’t this a reasonable way, she wanted to know, of making society fairer? So I took the girls back to First Principles. What could be less fair, I asked, than for the government to step in to confiscate free citizens’ hard-earned money in order to redistribute it as part of some dubious social engineering programme whereby recent fathers are paid to spend a few extra weeks slobbing around the house getting in the way? What’s so wrong with letting those free citizens decide for themselves how to spend their money — perhaps on healthcare, perhaps on education, perhaps on whatever-the-damn-hell they like?
The girls were impressively quick to grasp this point. My proudest moment was when their headmistress, Frances King, asked them at the end to put up their hands if they thought the government played too big a role in our lives. And almost every one of them did: even those girls who earlier on had been trotting out the usual pieties about doing their bit to reach out to the halt, the lame, the oppressed and the deserving poor. There was only one real dissenter — a teacher who wanted to know where the room was in my bleak, heartless right-wing vision for all those needy minority groups? There was a time not so long ago when I would have tried to answer this. I would patiently have explained that in no wise does being conservative make you uncaring; that in fact, au contraire, it’s conservatives who care more about the poor than socialists because what we want to do is restore to them the dignity of labour and the benefits which always accrue from a healthy economy, rather than keep them enslaved as clients of the state.
From now on, though, I’ve decided, life’s too short. To bother arguing with a left-liberal about ‘social justice’ and the ‘deserving poor’ is like arguing with David Icke about the lizard-headed master race called the Babylonian Brotherhood, or with David Irving about the Holocaust. OK, so you might win on points in the end. But in the process of winning the battle you lose the war by conceding that theirs is a topic of debate even worthy of discussion in the first place.
This is one of the Cameron coalition’s gravest errors. Every economic decision it makes has to be defended according to the impact it might have on all those wonderful imaginary ‘deserving poor’. The workers who actually produce the wealth that supplies the safety net for these ‘deserving poor’ might just as well not exist. It never had to be this way: these were the terms of debate Cameron and his advisers agreed to have set for them when they decided it was more important to please the BBC than their natural supporters.
Hence my impatience — and the impatience of many British conservatives like me. We look with envy at what is happening with the Tea Party movement in America, and wish the same thing could happen over here. As the Conservative MEP Dan Hannan says, it’s time to repatriate the revolution. Unfortunately I don’t see much sign of that revolution being sparked off anywhere within his own party. It will have to come from elsewhere. But from whom? And how?