No opposition leader’s party conference speech is complete without a ‘This is who I am’ passage. On Tuesday, Ed Miliband said that, because of his family’s background as refugees from Hitler, he had ‘the heritage of the outsider’, but because of his own career, he had ‘the vantage point of the insider’. I wonder if this attempt to provide an autobiographical ‘narrative’ helps as much as people think. The truth about modern politics is that almost all its main practitioners have attained their positions only by devoting their entire adult lives to it. No war or hardship or business success, no experience of a profession or a farm or a factory has touched them. When they tell their ‘story’, they only expose how little of it there really is. They talk about the virtues and values (that word endlessly repeated) of ‘the British people’ with the enthusiasm and ignorance of tourists. So when Mr Miliband spoke, it was not that he failed to convince me that his views were right, but simply that he gave me no reason why I should think him suitable to lead my country. The politicians’ preoccupation with ‘narrative’ today derives from guilt at the fact that there isn’t one.
The Catholic Church in the English-speaking world has just introduced a new version of the liturgy. This presents conservatives with a conundrum. Should we welcome the changes on the grounds that they are intended more faithfully to represent the original Latin (which has not altered)? Or should we disapprove of them on the grounds that all change should be resisted? Liberals suffer from the same problem the other way round: they are supposed to love liturgical change, but they dislike these reforms because of their sacral and anti-populist spirit. There are said to be calls for a Society of Paul VI to adhere fanatically to the groovy language of the 1960s just as Lefebvrists stick by the Tridentine Mass.