"SPEAKING LAST week to an invited audience of Pinochet supporters at the Rotherham branch of Opus Dei, the Leader of the Opposition set out his vision of a new, young Britain. Modern Britain, he said, enjoyed the jokes of Julian Clary as well as the prose of Archbishop Cranmer, the novels of Will Self and the essays of Dr Johnson, Blur and Oasis as well as Elgar and Walton. He himself was strongly attracted to the Manic Street Preachers. Modern Britain was a place fascinated by Michael Portillo holiday specials on TV. It welcomed the future while being respectful of the past. `We may talk about Calvin Klein trunks but we wear M&S Y-fronts,' he said. Britain was a land of chips and ciabatta, of pebble- dash and designer values, of Moss Bros and Versace, of Players full-strength and of high-quality hashish."
Perhaps William Hague's toe-curlingly awful thoughts on the Conservative future are beyond parody. Yet his speech delivered to the Centre for Policy Studies on Tuesday was important, for it showed the strength of the collective Conservative fantasy. Blairite Cool Britannia is now, apparently, rivalled by a tepid, Hagueite version. It is "urban, ambitious, sporty, fashion- conscious, multi-ethnic, brassy, self-confident and international". With the zeal of an astronomer watching some strange new planet swim into his ken, the opposition leader discovers people watch MTV and EastEnders. They thrive, he tells us excitedly, in "big industrial estates and housing estates".
Mr Hague's discovery of modernity has all the gaucherie of the curate with the guitar. His vignettes evoke a parodic version of "Britishness". "We laugh at others, but laugh more at ourselves. We love our animals more than we love each other." This, surely, is Britain as an Ealing comedy. It is also political prose at its self- serving, dishonest worst. Hague's "we" is intrusive. Who is he to claim political advantage from our choice of clothes, music, and food? We live in a time when whole areas of life have been de- politicised. Politicians are remote because there is less for them to do. "We" therefore see little of them. As an attempt at getting back into a world gone apolitical, the Hague sermon offers political values where they are least wanted. For all its quivering, insincere embrace of modernity this was a speech of reactionary platitude. Half-baked sociology has now moved from the left to the right in British politics. Unappealing myths about national identity are served up by Mr Hague as daily Tory bread. He claims that "the individualism of family and of local identity" are uniquely British virtues. As opposed, presumably, to those unsatisfactory continentals with large families who run the Mafia. Mr Hague has been watching too many movies over Christmas. Family structures in modern Western Europe are pretty uniform as nuclear units. Where Britain leads the field is in its record-beating divorce rates - not, perhaps, the Eurosceptic's strongest card. But it is when we turn to his picture of capitalism (known in polite society as "market-enterprise") and of Europe that this melange of politically correct conservatism reaches its fatuous climax. Hagueite Britain is uniquely virtuous. For this latter-day John of Gaunt it is an island set in a silvery sea. It believes in "voluntary associations" rather than the state and is blessed with an unusual openness and social mobility. By contrast, says the Conservative sociologist, "Europe" is corporatist. The Continent is ruled by a "European social model" - inspired, or corrupted, by anti- capitalist Catholic social teaching - which seems always to be hanging around street corners waiting for the unsuspecting Brit. …