Magazine article The Spectator

John Milton's Advice to the Tories on How to Regain Paradise

Magazine article The Spectator

John Milton's Advice to the Tories on How to Regain Paradise

Article excerpt

There was only one photographer at the door of the Conservative Winter Ball the other evening. No security people hovered from the Special Branch. Mr and Mrs Hague were not there to be photographed and protected, Mr Hague being away for King Hussein's funeral. But that itself argued that these days no other Conservative was worth photographing or protecting. The thought occurred that it is now possible to say where the Conservatives are: they are in hell. For most Tories, especially the most traditional, office is paradise. Hell is the absence of photographers, and the trappings of power. It follows that opposition is hell. A few Tories enjoy opposition. They tend to be the party's ideologues; ideologues being natural opposers, even when in office. Thus Mr Redwood gives the impression of relishing opposition, and is good at it, which is why it would be unwise of Mr Hague to eject him from the shadow Cabinet, as Mr Hague was recently reported as wanting to do.

But such natural oppositionists are rare among Conservatives. Conservatives like being in office more than anything else. That is why office is where they have so often been. The proper guide to the party's present position is not any think-tank pamphlet, but Paradise Lost.

The Conservatives have been expelled from paradise; from the ministerial cars; from the outwardly deferential civil servants smoothing their way; from us journalists anxious for their indiscretions. Their situation is that of the angels expelled from heaven, and thrown down to hell, in Milton's Book One.

We may dispute who has expelled the Tories, who is God, for the purpose of this metaphor. It could be the electorate, or Mr Blair, since the fall which Book One of Paradise Lost describes is the equivalent of the 179 Labour majority which cast out the Tories on that fatal May Day, 1997. By that `Almighty Power', whether Demos or Mr Blair, the Conservatives were

Hurl'd headlong flaming from the Ethereal Sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire.

Reaching hell, the Tories view

The dismal situation waste and wild,

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great furnace flam'd, yet from those


No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv'd only to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end . . .

O how unlike the place from whence they fell!

This is Milton's description of the shad

ow Cabinet's rooms at the Commons; the loss of ministerial salaries; the absence of a

private office fixing a free lunch with a

lobby correspondent; the need to devise

policies without the help of civil servants;

the recourse to public transport; the

unavoidability of spending more time with

one's family. Eventually, in the gloom, the

party leader, Satan, discerns the deputy

leader, Beelzebub, and `Breaking the hor

rid silence thus began: "If thou beest he;

but O how fall'n! How chang'd".'

Satan, like all newly defeated party lead

ers, affects defiance and confidence:

`What though the field be lost?

All is not lost; the unconquerable will

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield

The deputy leader, as deputies are wont,

expresses confidence in the leader:

'O Prince, O Chief of many Throned Powers,

That led th'imbattled Seraphim to War . . .

Too well I see and rue the dire event,

That with sad overthrow and foul defeat

Hath lost us Heav'n . . .

The mind and spirit remains

Invincible, and vigour soon returns . …

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