Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Hague Cannot Escape from Liberal Banalities and the Cant of Caring

Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Hague Cannot Escape from Liberal Banalities and the Cant of Caring

Article excerpt

On the basis of Tuesday's newspapers, there was an obvious conclusion to be drawn. The Tories were `playing the race card'; William Hague had decided to reinvent himself as the new Enoch Powell. Opinion was divided as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, but everyone agreed that Mr Hague had delivered an important speech, and a controversial one.

There is only one problem with that interpretation of events. It cannot survive a reading of the speech. The text contains some good knockabout, at Frank Dobson's and Ken Livingstone's expense. But there is no mention of race and immigration. Though asylum is discussed, there is nothing in this draft to suggest that Mr Hague has devoted two minutes' thought to the topic. He deals solely in liberal banalities.

Bogus asylum applicants are denounced, but only on grounds to which no liberal could object: `genuine refugees . . . are suffering most at the hands of a system on the verge of collapse because of the massive influx of bogus asylum seekers'. As for these `genuine refugees', they `have always been welcome in Britain - and must always be welcome in Britain. For that is the mark of a civilised, free and open society.'

That final sentence deserves a high place in an anthology of liberal twaddle. How could anyone who calls himself a Tory touch on such profound questions in such a platitudinous fashion? As he skips from civilisation to freedom to openness, Mr Hague would appear to believe that even if these concepts are not synonymous, they are easy to harmonise. He should have read Isaiah Berlin, who, though no Tory, could have told him that the great goods cannot always live together. Above all, he should have read Oakeshott, who would have reminded him that civilisation is only a collective dream; a dream requiring a well-made bed of order. Civilisation depends on restraint, yet freedom and openness are the enemies of restraint. So freedom must be constrained by law; openness, by the national interest.

But if we took Mr Hague's words literally, and accepted the liabilities which they would place us under, there would be no further possibility of restraint, whatever the national interest. `Genuine refugees': that could apply to most of the population of Africa, and much of the population of Asia. A billion-plus Chinese; each one of them would only have to develop a taste for democracy to acquire a well-grounded fear of persecution on political grounds. What if there is a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan? That is a real danger, and if it were to occur, the aftermath could see some pretty unpleasant regimes in Delhi or Islamabad or rather in the new capitals, those cities having been destroyed. That could mean another billion or so who could qualify as genuine refugees.

Humankind cannot bear very much reality. For much of the time, most of us are governed not by a sceptical intelligence but by our viscera: those of well-fed, contented animals in good health and comfortable surroundings. This induces a complacency which no realistic analysis of current global conditions could possibly sustain. We live in a world which is already dangerous and growing more so, as the Cold War is succeeded by a hot peace. It was always likely that once the Cold War was over, there would be large-scale migrations of previously imprisoned peoples. No one can blame the wretched of the earth for trying to seek a better life; many of them, indeed, are displaying heroic courage against hopeless odds. But it is as impossible to succour them as it is to blame them. …

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