Every now and then someone asks me if I have ever thought of becoming a politician. My response tends to be a laugh so deranged that the question answers itself. When I manage to verbalise the answer it usually goes something like this: ‘No, because I enjoy saying what I think is true.’ Occasionally my conversationalist will persist: ‘But politicians have a huge variety of opinions. Parliament is not filled with silent types.’
Throughout such interactions various names and images flash through my head. I think of Sarah Champion, for instance — the the British Labour MP for Rotherham. Ms Champion got her seat in 2012 and among the problems she inherited was the fact that her constituency had recently been one of the largest crime scenes in modern British history. Around 1,400 underage girls and young women in Rotherham were sexually abused over the course of years by groups that we now coyly call ‘grooming gangs’.
In 2016 Champion was appointed shadow minister for women and equalities — a portfolio which probably ought not to exist. But if it is to exist then an opposition to rampaging paedophilic rape gangs ought to be within the position’s purview. In 2017 Champion tried to break the political taboo on mentioning what had happened in her constituency and was promptly forced to resign.
‘Ah, but that is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party,’ you might say. ‘Everyone knows that the Conservative party — the party of Boris Johnson, no less — is better than that.’ To this I issue a derisory snort.
The latest Conservative face to come to mind is that of Daniel Kawczynski. Until last week I’d never met the member for Shrewsbury. But we crossed over in Rome because we had both been invited to speak about Europe and Brexit at a conference on ‘National Conservatism’ to which I was invited by my friend John O’Sullivan, the former speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher.
The conference was hosted by a range of European and American conservative institutions which between them cited inspiration from Edmund Burke, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Other organisers included Chris DeMuth, who had worked for Ronald Reagan and the distinguished orthodox Jewish Israeli academic Yoram Hazony.
If I belabour the list of invitees it is not to boast, but simply to highlight the absurdity of what came next. Inevitably a hit-piece appeared ahead of the conference claiming that Kawczynski was being ‘criticised’ for appearing at an event with ‘far right figures’.
It is true that the composition of the conference was to the right of your average Question Time panel. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke, as did numerous MPs and MEPs. And while Matteo Salvini ended up not showing, Giorgia Meloni from the Brothers of Italy party (a party to Salvini’s right) did. Some very Catholic people spoke, but I am ecumenical in these matters and recognise the rights of Catholics to air their views in Rome. True, some of the participants were examples of where I think the continental right goes wrong. Head of my list would be Marion Marechal, who has dropped ‘Le Pen’ from her name, but whose family politics remain ugly and sinister to me.
But of course such occasions are gold-dust. I hadn’t seen Marion Marechal up close before and was vaguely relieved to see that the main weapon in her arsenal is a somewhat tiresome schoolgirl flirtatiousness. Likewise Meloni, whose complaints about ‘high finance’ alone being responsible for Italy’s financial problems made me put a hand to my head like an Anglican half-praying.
Yet aside from a small number of such people, the conference was full of parties who are wholesome, uncontroversial allies to the conservatives in this country, and indeed any country.
As we know, conservatism has one serious disadvantage against leftism, in that while the left always has the same list of demands everywhere, conservatives conserve different things wherever they are. This means that a degree of ideological latitude and tolerance for regional oddities is a prerequisite for anyone interested in conservative coalition-building. I can think of few more crucial jobs for the years ahead than figuring out who on the continent we should work with and who we should not: who are our ideological confrères and who are the people who might crash the whole bloody thing again. I like to work this sort of thing out for myself and was pleased to meet a Conservative MP who took a similar view. Indeed I was pleased to meet an MP who wanted to make friends with good conservatives across the continent. Well, the howls will have taught him — and everyone else — another lesson.
Some excuse of a journalist started calling around the various ‘community groups’ which are such a menace to this country. Various other know-nothings did the same. Soon the Muslim groups, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and some freelance gays were throwing around the usual accusations. Everyone at the conference was apparently ‘far-right’. It was also alleged to have been packed with homophobes and anti-Semites — something that Yoram Hazony might have something to say about. Not to mention me and Kawczynski himself, who identifies as bisexual and who I guess could object to such a characterisation exactly half the time.
He held out for a couple of days, but eventually the sad excuses for journalism and the puffed-up ‘community groups’ achieved their magnificent, ignorant, victory. The Conservatives made their man issue an apology for attending a conference of conservatives from across Europe.
And so that is why I laugh like a madman when the politician question comes up. I reckon it would be less than a day before I was hauled into the whip’s office, made to stand in front of the desk, a pre-written confession before me and a pen forced into my hand. Found guilty of drawing lessons from the mass-rape of children, or consorting with people from the continent who are not on the political left. There I would be, signing a statement agreeing that orthodox Jews are anti-Semites, that I have consorted with homophobes, that elected prime ministers are fringe nobodies and that while up is down, right is far-right.
There are a whole heap of European problems. But this one is ours.