I hardly spend my life attending dinner parties given by the chattering classes. But I will admit to attending dinners given by people who chatter – though not in the Hampstead/Islington fashion but more in the Tory manner, if it exists any more except in muddled gobbledegook.
Most of these people have been scathing about Tony Blair ever since he came to power and now they are more scathing than ever. The irritating thing about their criticism is its hypocrisy. Blair’s crime used to be that he was a hollow man, with no convictions, whose only ambition was popularity and whose only policy was to follow Sun opinion polls. (His only good point was that he seemed ‘safe’ on the economy.) Now he is attacked by the same men and women for being the opposite.
Having been lambasted for being nothing, he is now lambasted for being too much – an almost evangelical Gladstonian Liberal who wishes to correct wrongs. The situation in Iraq to him, it is implied, has become what the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’ were to Gladstone. Why has Blair turned ‘moral’ all of a sudden, instead of thinking of Britain’s best interests? Worst of all, horror of horrors, how un-Tory this is.
It is true that most 19th-century Tory leaders were more averse to war and international intervention – think of Robert Peel, for instance – than their Liberal counterparts later on – consider not only Gladstone but Palmerston and the Don Pacifico affair, etc. But what of Lady Thatcher whom these Tory chatterers still worship so? Was she not more of a Gladstonian Liberal than a Tory, with her overwhelming desire to change things? Her attitude towards the Falklands was certainly Gladstonian. It was a moral duty. A matter of principle.