Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories Are Not Jingoes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories Are Not Jingoes

Article excerpt

A lively conference, a stately home looking out on acres of daffodils tossed by an Atlantic gale - from Knowsley the Earls of Derby dominated Lancashire. It was to Knowsley that the Conservative History Society and the University of East Anglia summoned us to join a work of political resurrection. The 14th Earl was the best debater of his time, translator of the Iliad, patron of the turf, three times prime minister, now forgotten. The 15th Earl was foreign secretary under Disraeli until forced out of office by his prime minister; he crossed the floor to serve Gladstone, then recrossed as a Liberal Unionist over Home Rule.

But we were not there simply as an act of piety to the Stanley family. The papers read to us began to pose a heretical question. What is the essential tradition of Conservative foreign policy? At first sight few would doubt the answer. Many of us were brought up on 'Land of Hope and Glory', the platform decked with the Union Flag, the loudly applauded speeches about 'putting the Great back in Britain'. We enjoyed it all enormously. Without realising that there were other definitions, we gained the impression that patriotism was a rather noisy business, which might involve being rude to foreigners and, by jingo, if necessary bombarding their ports or invading their countries. This tradition goes back to Disraeli. That great conjuror took up Palmerston's mantle, stood up to the Russians, outwitted the French, fought Zulus and Afghans, bought the Suez Canal and made Victoria Empress of India.

His successor, Lord Salisbury, stood grandly outside any tradition, and the Great War was too awful an event to fit any category. But after 1918 the argument began again - argument, because there was a different strain of our tradition. Castlereagh, then Wellington, Peel and the two Derbys represented a more sober Conservatism, wary of rhetorical xenophobia and the waste of lives, conscious of the need for order and balance in the world. Neville Chamberlain and Halifax tried to apply this approach to the fascist dictators. Their failure and the political triumph of Churchill in 1940 settled the debate for a generation. Appeasement, which till then had been a word of praise, became the ultimate in political abuse. No doubt the peacemakers were still blessed, but somehow they had to set about their work without making any compromises or listening to any points of view except their own. Eden, a skilled practitioner of the cautious approach, used it in 1954 to end the first Indo-China war, then abandoned it two years later and led us into the disaster of Suez, replete with patriotic phrases and false analogies.

Tony Blair recaptured from the Tories the noisy definition of patriotism. He has added an element of his own, or rather borrowed it from the American missionary tradition. He proclaimed the doctrine of interventionism. The use of force need no longer be confined to protecting our own interests. It is justified, indeed it becomes a duty, when foreign rulers behave abominably to their own people. Those who enthusiastically follow this path criticised with some justice our uncertain handling of the Bosnian crisis. We saved lives, we sent troops, but not in a way which forced a solution. The war dragged on despite all our peacemaking efforts, and only ended when President Clinton imposed a peace at Dayton.

The next crisis, in Kosovo, was briskly dealt with. Innocent people were killed, but hardly any on our side. …

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