No 10's History Boy Gives a Clue to Today's Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Amol Rajan

OF THE two Etonians brought into No 10 by David Cameron last week, it was our Mayor's younger brother, Jo Johnson, who dominated headlines. But the more interesting elevation was that of Jesse Norman, a former banker and philosophy lecturer who has just published a scintillating book on Edmund Burke, the Irish father of modern conservatism. Both Norman's book -- an elegy masquerading as a biography -- and the promotion of its author give vital clues about the juncture our politics has reached.

In creating a policy board, Cameron was partly responding to critics within his party who described him as a political and moral dwarf next to Margaret Thatcher. Such attacks ignore the contingencies of history. Largely because of Thatcher, socialism was the great ideological casualty of the 20th century. But Britain and America responded to the collapse of socialism in starkly opposed ways. In Britain, socialism's death removed what divided the main parties; in America, it removed what united them. As a result, whereas British politics occupies a swollen centre ground, politics in America is ferociously polarised.

The result is that our politics, as I have written elsewhere, is sequential rather than adversarial. This is where Burke comes in. He was a member of my party, the Whigs (forerunners to the Liberals), and fought over his career for five great causes: the emancipation of the Commons from George III, the emancipation of the Irish, American, and Indian colonies, and opposition to the French Revolution.

Only in the last of those did he elucidate a conservative disposition. Three sentiments captured it. …

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