Let the battle of ideas commence

The gauntlet has been laid; the battle lines are drawn; the stakes are clear. It is time for we the battalions to bear arms and truly give life to the political debate in Britain

Time for the battle of ideas to commence...
Benjamin Harris-Quinney
On 10 May 2012 13:23

As the Government laid out its legislative agenda in yesterday’s Queen’s speech, and at its anniversary, the doors of debate have been flung open.

Not only is the leadership of the Conservative party under scrutiny following broad punishment at the national polls, and the contrary exaltation of a certain single mayor – the very ideas that underpin the manifesto and philosophy of the modern Conservative party are in question.

Vote blue, go green; the big society; Lords reform; gay marriage; the general progressive “detoxification” agenda – these feel neither like solid Conservative policies nor substantive policies in themselves.

No party, no leadership, no government, can save itself from the searing correctitude of reality; only time will tell.

The lens of history exposed the unpopular Thatcher government’s brilliance, as it equally exposed the shallow vanity of the immediately popular Blair years.

What has been absent  from politics for the last 15 years is enough good ideas on which to build a vision; to engage government in the only purpose it has, not just passing time from one election to the next, but making the nation greater than when it took office, and as great as it can be.

It is impossible to look upon the present through the eyes of history, but one thing that is clear is that this is not a government of great ideas or great vision; at best it is of compromise, short term necessity and questionable pragmatism.

Great ideas come of intense competition, not blind adherence to the doctrine of leadership. We can bemoan our leaders for the absence of ideas and vision to a point, but ultimately there must be a realisation that a real and ferocious battle of ideas has to take place, and the cohorts of that battle must be us.

It is a great shame that the inhabitants of the Westminster village do not pay credit to their surroundings in engaging in the level of debate that was once commonplace. Either Westminster’s current inhabitants lack the intellect, or they find its environment unwilling.

I believe it must be the latter. We live in an age supposedly of freedom yet where there is great fear of derision in speaking one’s mind, either to how the court of media opinion will perceive it, or how well our colleagues and leaders will digest it.

At a recent dinner with Dr David Starkey, he expressed many ideas and critiques which I feel most Conservatives support. I commented that his views were correct, but unusually forthright, to which he replied: “Why?  The points I make are unremarkable, hardly extreme and this should be the centre of the debate – it cannot be on my shoulders alone.”

Why indeed; that dinner was full of opinions from all corners of the room, yet the newspapers the next day were full only of the so called outspoken views of Dr Starkey.

In a recent interview David Cameron said, “I do not like cutting down tall poppies, if anything I like too many tall poppies around me”.

Outside of Afghanistan I have seen few tall poppies emerge in the first two years of this government – in or out of the elected house. But the gauntlet has been laid; the battle lines are drawn; the stakes are clear. It is time for we the battalions to bear arms and truly give life to the debate.

Ben Harris-Quinney is the Chairman of the Bow Group and Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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