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Having watched BBC Parliament for the better part of three years, I can only conclude that today’s Conservative MPs are a frustrating bunch.

Many of the older hands, who were elected when David Cameron was Prime Minister (2010-2016), seem more like Liberal Democrats. The Thatcher-era MPs who remain are what she would have called Wets.

Many commenters on conservative fora are at their wit’s end. Their complaints are many. Why have Conservatives outdone Labour in economic policy? Why are odd subjects taught in our schools instead of the three Rs? Why can’t police get a grip on real crime? Those are just a few of the questions Britons have.

On August 12, The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley and Steven Edginton discussed British conservatism in one of their Off Script conversations. What is it? What should it be like?

This video is 51 minutes long and is well worth watching for frustrated conservatives. Don’t be put off by the title. Immigration comes into the conversation only halfway through and only for a few minutes:

Tim Stanley makes excellent points, summarised below.

The most important thing to note is that conservatism changes over time. Benjamin Disraeli was a great Conservative Prime Minister, but his conservatism would not be applicable in our time. Harold Macmillan was another great Prime Minister of his day, succeeding Labour’s Clement Attlee. He responded to the challenges of the postwar 1950s. His brand of conservatism would be irrelevant in our times. Similarly, Margaret Thatcher met the challenges of the late 1970s and the 1980s. Stanley said that invoking Thatcher at every turn today is not helping matters, because we often mis-remember things that she did. He said that some commentators have turned her into a punk libertarian, when she was anything but. He says she was a Conservative with a strong streak of free-will Methodism.

Of our two Conservative Party leadership candidates this year, he says that Rishi Sunak is a technocrat, with all that implies. Liz Truss is a child of the Thatcher years. Both became MPs during David Cameron’s time as PM. They tend to think the way he does and only differ on the way they would handle tax cuts. In this area, Sunak adopts the early Thatcher strategy of delaying them. Truss adopts the strategy of her later years, when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor. On everything else, they are remarkably similar. It’s a politically generational trait.

Stanley came to conservatism from Marxism and stood as a Labour candidate for Parliament when he was younger. He thinks that Truss’s conversion from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservative Party is one she will not fall away from.

Stanley says that Kemi Badenoch, whom he admires greatly, is probably the only MP who studies social issues intently. He thinks she has watched a lot of Thomas Sowell videos on YouTube, because she quotes him a lot.

He thinks Badenoch could be a real agent for change if she ever becomes PM. He warns that few world leaders can effect change on their own. He cites Donald Trump, who could not fight off the Swamp. Our equivalent is called the Blob and is comprised of the same elements: the metropolitan elite and, intersecting as in a Venn diagram, the media and the civil service. Somehow, those groups need to be persuaded to change their minds over time in order for politics and society to improve.

Stanley says that today’s Conservative MPs are ignoring two elements of British life that has seen us through the centuries: family and the Church. (Stanley is a practising Catholic.) He said that MPs must find a way of putting those front and centre into policy making discussions. (That’s a pretty radical idea for a former Marxist.)

He also advocates consistency in policy positions. He cites Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn as two excellent examples of that. Their opinions have not changed over the past few decades, he says, and this is what makes them popular among their respective supporters.

As for today’s younger voters opting for Labour, he says that some will and some will not. He said that it all depends on how much impact today’s economic and social issues are having on them. He cites the young generation of the late 1960s, most of whom still vote Labour. He says that their personal experience from that time was so strong that they never changed when they hit middle age. However, there are others who will move from a more left-wing to a conservative stance. Stanley himself and Liz Truss are two great examples of political conversion.

You’ll probably want to know what Stanley thinks of our immigration mess. He says that we have dealt with EU migration well, but, as far as the Channel crossings are concerned, he compares them to a door that has all sorts of locks on it yet is kept open, serving no purpose at all. He suspects that most Conservative MPs don’t mind the tens of thousands of young men arriving on our shores every year. If they did object, he says, they would have done something by now to stem the flow.

I highly recommend this video, because no one else I’ve heard has said the things that Tim Stanley has. I now view conservatism in a new way.

On Monday, June 20, 2022, the Telegraph’s columnist Tim Stanley went back in time to explain how the rot set in the Church of England.

This happened early in the Queen’s reign. While she has nothing to do with the appointment of Archbishops of Canterbury, as the Prime Minister has this privileged responsibility, the decay is nearly 70 years old.

When I moved here decades ago, everyone said that the Church of England is the Tory (Conservative) Party at prayer.

Even at that time, our church — as did many other Anglican congregations in England — had non-liturgical services, disproving that trope.

The early morning service I attend probably could be described as mostly Conservative. Even then, I’m not sure, and, as only a handful of us are there week after week we are, therefore, hardly representative. The more widely attended mid-morning service certainly could be described as having adherents in the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Stanley’s article, ‘How the Church of England became the Labour Party at prayer’, discusses two Archbishops of Canterbury, the Right Revds Geoffrey Fisher and Michael Ramsey.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Geoffrey Fisher

Geoffrey Fisher was the Archbishop of Canterbury when the Queen acceded the throne.

Like many Anglican clergy, he was a bit of an oxymoron.

On the one hand:

Fisher, a former headmaster, is rumoured to have talked Princess Margaret out of marrying a divorcee …

On the other hand:

in his diary, long ago in 1957, [Conservative Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan wrote that he dreaded his meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. “I try to talk to him about religion, but he seems to be quite uninterested and reverts all the time to politics.”

Then there was the strange middle ground. Fisher:

opined of the nuclear bomb that “the very worst” it could do “is to sweep a vast number of people from this world into the next, into which they must all go anyway.” Yet he was also against Suez and the premium bond, the latter a lottery cooked up by Macmillan that Fisher regarded as ungodly.

The premium bond is great. It is one of the best investments that one can make these days. I ‘win’ at least one bond worth £25 nearly every month. I don’t need to lift a finger; the draw takes place automatically. This is a much better appreciation in capital than a standard savings account will provide these days.

Fisher got shirty with Macmillan when it came time to select his successor:

Macmillan was as mischievous when it came to clerical appointments. He suggested to Fisher that the best choice for his successor at Canterbury might be Michael Ramsey, the liberal-minded Archbishop of York. “Dr Ramsey is a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer,” Fisher is supposed to have said. “Therefore he is entirely unsuitable as Archbishop of Canterbury.” He knew this, he explained, because he had been his headmaster. “Well, you may have been Dr Ramsey’s headmaster,” retorted Macmillan, “but you are not mine” – and, one likes to imagine, picked Ramsey for the job in a fit of obstinacy, ushering in the Swinging Sixties.

Michael Ramsey

Again, we have a contradiction in terms if Ramsey was indeed ‘a theologian, a scholar and a man of prayer’, because it was during his tenure, according to Tim Stanley, that the C of E embraced the prevailing culture of the Swinging Sixties:

Under Fisher, the mission was to confirm an ancient Christian identity, but by 1960, it was obvious that England was changing fast. Rather than resist, Ramsey&Co sought to negotiate a new role as the nation’s conscience, not to block legislation, such as on divorce or abortion, but to shape it (so compassionate and forensic was Ramsey’s contribution to parliamentary debate on the legalisation of homosexual acts that one peer accused him of turning Hansard into pornography).

As clerics became dynamic commentators on the state of the nation, it might have seemed as if the gamble were paying off. But they were running on the fumes of the Fifties. It was Fisher-style conservatism that gave them the air of authority that they leant to causes that, in turn, made them sound not like they were trying to transform the world but allowing the world to transform them, that they had become dedicated disciples of fashion. Once, when asked what he thought about a trend for girls in London to walk about topless, Ramsey said, “We must just accept the fact that young people express themselves in new methods of dress that may seem queer to the older among us.”

Political shifts also took place during this time. Ramsey became Archbishop of Canterbury under a Conservative Prime Minister. In the middle of his tenure, Labour’s Harold Wilson took the helm. Edward ‘Ted’ Heath, a wet Conservative, succeeded him.

Harold Wilson ran into problems over immigration legislation with Ramsey:

One of the new archbishop’s interests was immigration. Ramsey called the Conservatives’ 1962 bill, which for the first time limited arrivals from the Commonwealth, “deplorable”. Labour, keen to co-opt the church, made him chair of a committee on race relations, though in 1968 Harold Wilson limited Asian immigration from Kenya and Ramsey condemned that bill, too.

Present day

Over the past seven decades, it has been easier for Archbishops of Canterbury to visit war zones in other parts of the world, but, as Tim Stanley points out, it is often the local vicar who encounters the impact of displaced persons:

Archbishops of Canterbury are part of a global communion: they have visited warzones and dictatorships and seen the horrors that compel people to flee, and when these unfortunates turn up in Britain, it is often the parish clergy who encounter them first. A vicar friend walked into his church one day to discover a Nigerian exile had broken into the children’s creche and was sound asleep in the Wendy house.

Immigration is a bigger issue than ever, especially as the Government is adamant over its plan to send illegals to Rwanda for processing, despite the fact that the June 14 charter flight lost all of its 37 passengers to legal challenges:

Its hierarchy has completely become the Labour Party at prayer … and so, in a bid to find relevance among those who don’t believe in God, the CofE frequently finds itself alienating those who do. It has probably irritated a few Rwandans along the way.

It is still hard for me to believe that most Anglicans voted for Brexit, but I stand corrected. Maybe they no longer go to church? Stanley says:

the one part of the population that has remained steadfastly loyal to the church is Conservative voters (two-thirds of English Anglicans voted for Brexit) …

Most importantly, while most, though not all, C of E clergy are clearly on the Left, they are attempting to court God-fearing Africans, who do not share their social views:

Archbishop Laurent Mbanda, head of the Rwandan Anglicans, has said he supports asylum seekers being sent to his country: he is also one of three African church leaders boycotting the upcoming Lambeth conference over the CofE’s tolerance of homosexuality. Here is the final twist. The Church that bent over backwards to ally with the post-colonial world has, in the process, embraced a liberal theology that now puts it at odds with much of the post-colonial world.

How Anglican clergy will reconcile that conundrum is anyone’s guess.

Would that the clergy concentrate on our souls and the promise of salvation instead.

Perhaps we need more African bishops serving in England. They know what the point of the Church is — and it isn’t politics.

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