Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The War to End a Gentler World

Much of the gentleness of Europe had been dissipated anyway, before the First World War.  Commercialisation, the era of the sophist, the economist and the calculator that Edmund Burke long ago identified had already come about.  It co-existed however with a continuing gentleness of Faith, Monarchy, rural life and homesteads.  Alongside the grime and misery of industrialisation, the older world still lingered – sustained because that was the natural way to live.  A portrait of that world was powerfully painted by Siegfried Sassoon in his book Memoir of a Foxhunting Man.

The Great War was the first industrial and first fully-mechanised war.  Men were no longer bands of brothers, but pawns to be sacrificed.  When the clouds of smoke cleared and the barren landscape remained, that gentler world could no longer survive.  The pressures were building, but the Great War ensured the victory of Modernity. 

The combatants indeed represented different worlds.  Austria-Hungary and Germany placed their faith in the new power of mechanised warfare.  The descendants of the Holy Roman Empire again turned on the remnants of Byzantium, supported by the Ottomans.  In its harassment of the small state of Serbia, Austria-Hungary was only following in the spirit of the Catholic Crusaders who sacked Christian Constantinople in 1204 for gain of its treasure.

The new nation of Germany allied with the Hapsburgs made war on an older Christian culture in its attack on Serbia, bringing Holy Russia into the conflict, in defence of its tiny Orthodox brother.  The mechanised horror of modern warfare the Germanic nations wrought on Russia, brought an end to the Orthodox Monarchy and saw the forces of materialism and modernity Dostoevsky foresaw taking control of Russia.  The Russia of greedy, crass oligarchs that we see today is the result of the triumph of those forces and the Holy Spiritual Russia is still battling to re-emerge.

In England things changed forever.  For many the painful losses of War at least meant the forces of Progress triumphed – women’s suffrage, class distinctions beginning to dissolve and a greater faith in science and the Machine (that force identified with all its dangers by that Anglophobe Anglican R S Thomas).

Yet with those many, many young men who died for us – to protect us from a German-dominated single State of Europe – did not something of England’s spirit die too?  For all our progress, didn’t something intangible yet profound die with our boys on Flanders Field?  Haven’t we been left with an uglier world all round – a world where money does the talking, faith is seen as blind not as vital for our existence and our beautiful countryside is disappearing, subject to the forces of greed and gain?

Edward Thomas died for the land of England more than anything else.  The England his poetry describes, however, seems more like a distant memory.

Yet I would not dare say they died in vain.  For by resisting Germany we did retain our freedom in the West despite all the ugliness of the modern world.  By keeping that freedom – unlike Russia’s fate as it fell under the control of the merciless Bolsheviks - we at least have the power to make the choice to rebuild that gentler world.  Much as consumerism and technology can separate us from trusting in older values, the young men who died protected our freedom to resist the erosion by the forces of modernity of our spiritual inheritance.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

If Mr Cameron’s Easter message was divisive then he has struck the right tone!

There has been some criticism of David Cameron’s assertion that this nation, Christian for over a millennium, remains Christian and that this is a heritage that is to be valued.  Apparently a number of self-appointed intellectuals regard this assertion as divisive.  First and foremost it seems difficult to argue with Mr Cameron in terms of the facts.  We have an established church, our national holidays, such as the recent Easter break, celebrate Christian festivals, not Islamic or Hindu festivals, the largest religious group in the nation remains Christian.  It is true that this current generation is making a hash of handing on this Christian heritage to the next, but that does not mean this inheritance is non-existent.  Perhaps this generation will fail to honour the trust it owes its descendants, but the inheritance will no doubt be rediscovered. 

Just as the monks during the Dark Ages, safeguarded this nation’s Christian culture, for it to be rediscovered by the converted Anglo-Saxon invaders much later, so a small number may keep this inheritance safe through the current tide of secularism, for it to be rediscovered in the future.  The inheritance exists, even if Polly Toynbee and Terry Pratchett are selfishly trying to deprive future generations of their right to it.

The criticism that actually needs to be addressed is not the absurd and laughable suggestion that this is not a Christian country, but the further assertion made by the pseudo-intellectual letter-writers to the Telegraph that it is bad for this nation to be Christian because it is divisive and impedes the progress of the ideology of relativist multi-culturalism.

Well just because something is divisive does not mean it is bad.  I am sure Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a divisive figure for Germans living under the Third Reich.  He, in following his Master, did not balk from divisiveness in his pursuit of what was Right.  Whereas multiculturalism may not seem as monumentally evil as Nazism, it is a sort of insidious nihilism, which eats away at our values.

Evil under multiculturalism is not organised by a tyrannical State, but it is permitted and never condemned, for fear of judging non-indigenous cultural values.  Let us remember that Christianity is supposed to be divisive.  Christ said he did not come to bring peace, but division.  He described Himself as coming into the world as a sword, to set people against one another, even within families.  Well the reaction of the letter writers is evidence that Christianity is divisive.  It is divisive because like a sword it sunders the gold from the dross, the good from the evil.  If Christianity were not true it could be compromised within a mishmash of other cultures in a grey and relativist nihilism.  It is precisely because Christianity is so clear that it is the only way that it will always divide people.  If we as a nation wish to aspire to truth and moral values, then we will inevitably find that some will disagree with us even violently.  That is not to say we have got everything right by any means as a country, but if we hold true to our inheritance of values then we will rightly be called divisive – and that is something to take to our credit.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Curious Case of Western Foreign Policy

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been renowned for its expertise on foreign climes and cultures so it really is mysterious why British foreign policy seems currently to be focused on destabilising areas where its interests require stability.  Perhaps the more pertinent question is why American foreign policy is all about making the world more uncertain, when its interests seem to depend on a certain world.  That must be the more pertinent question because to a large extent British foreign policy is a shadowing of American policy.

Indeed the foreign policy of “Old Europe” when independent from the United States, can be best represented by the Congress of Vienna, where British statesman, Lord Castlereagh, was instrumental in ensuring an agreement that secured the existing political establishment and prevented a major European war for a century.  This was an anti-revolutionary and anti-nationalist treaty, which worked in its goal of achieving peace. 

Today the United States take the lead in Western foreign policy and have adopted policies in recent years that have destabilised the Middle East (particularly through the invasion of Iraq) and thereby allowed Islamist extremism to gain a foothold in the region and also given Iran the opportunity to fill the new vacuum.   It was apparent to the most naïve of foreign-policy observers that remove the strongman Saddam Hussein (hideous as he was) and a factional and internecine power struggle between religious groups would result. 

Despite the example of that consequent bloody civil-war, the United States have recently abandoned their ally Hosni Mubarak to a revolution.  This has sent two messages to the world – that the West does not object to revolution as a means of seizing political power and secondly, that it will not stand by those who take the political risk of allying themselves to the West.

This is not to defend the two dictators, Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak; rather, it is to point out that being rid of brutal strongmen at all costs, even bloody revolution and civil war, is not always right or justifiable.  In Iraq and Egypt, not only were there all the usual risks of revolution – bloody civil war, persecution of minorities, a far worse dictator arising – but, there was also the looming threat of political Islam just waiting for an opportunity, with all its hostility to our interests.

The latest manifestation of the failure of the West to speak out against revolution was the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine.  No doubt the deposed government was especially corrupt and toadied to Russia, but it was elected for a term and there was a mechanism of a general election, when voters would have had the opportunity to throw out the crooks.  Even when there was a possibility of political compromise, the West seemed to pull the rug from under the negotiations.  On the face of it, supporting the Pro-Western revolutionaries seemed more coherent than Middle Eastern policy, but the unintended outcome – a more dominant Russia in the region – shows again that supporting destabilisation is always the high-risk strategy.

This strange foreign policy emanates from the United States and the only explanation (given Western interests have been harmed so much in the Middle East as a result) is a romantic attachment to the idea of revolution.  It is here argued that through a misunderstanding of its own history, perhaps even the “Hollywoodisation” of its own history, in the eyes of a section of America, the revolutionary’s cause is always just.  Well, one only needs to look at real history to see that real revolutions are bloody and destroy custom and morals.  They mean a nation state suffers a sort of ontological violence, because its genesis as a revolutionary state was through violence.  The French Revolution led to the Terror and then to Bonaparte.  The Russian Revolution led to the Bolsheviks and then the terror of Stalinism. Revolution is rarely the way to achieve stable government. 

Dominant American thought imagines their own creation as a state and concludes that throwing aside of custom, law and convention leads to a sort of secular freedom.  Well, there was not an “American Revolution”, there was only an American War of Independence.  That is why the United States emerged as stable and democratic.  The American, slave-owning establishment broke away from the rule of an island across an ocean, but it took with it a political and legal heritage – representative democracy (as opposed to direct democracy) and the common law.  It continued as a functioning state after a war of independence.  There was no one to terrorise as the remote oppressors were the other side of the ocean.  The American establishment continued with the reins of power, but independent of that remote, previous rule.

Indeed where American politics breaks down, such as in the gridlock between President and Congress, is down to those elements of the constitution based upon abstract, French theory of separation of powers, rather than reliance on inherited precedent.

Where the United States are weak is not through their relative newness as a state, but through the fact that they came into existence at just the time when Europe was smashing its table of values.  It therefore took on board the new enlightenment secularism, writing a constitution that set in stone a valueless or neutral society.  Perhaps it is these origins that explain why the United States continue with an apparently overly-optimistic and simplistic view of other cultures, despite the experience of their own bloody civil war. 

This is not to suggest American people (as opposed to the Washington establishment) are in any way naïve.  Many on the American Right recognise the danger of existing under a secular or neutral constitution.  That is why there are campaigns for the Ten Commandments to be placed in schools, despite the historic exclusion of religion from the public square.  Meanwhile in Europe, with our heritage of values that have shaped our own constitutions, we are far more complacent and arrogant than many Americans about the encroaching of secularism. 

It was an American, T S Eliot who warned of the dangers of a neutral society and made the positive case for a Christian society.  It is American Catholics today who are campaigning for one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest Christian apologists, G K Chesterton, to be canonised. 

It is of course difficult to fully understand the history of another state, but it is easier for us as British to understand the United States because they were once legally connected with this polity and they adapted this nation’s institutions and laws to a new continent.  If it is accepted that the United States have misunderstood their own genesis, this would explain its seemingly irrational belief that revolution will lead to pro-Western democracies, as opposed to extremist states bent on hostility to its and our interests.  One can only hope American schools start to teach their children about the War of Independence instead of the American Revolution and that we will see a different, more historically aware foreign policy from a future generation.   

Friday, 21 March 2014

Twenty-first Century Bear-baiting

The bear has a sore head and it is on the loose, out of its pit.  Anyone who doubts bear baiting is cruel only has to see the suffering of Mr. Putin through his torment at the hands of Western powers.  NATO has crept up to Mother Russia’s borders, the West arbitrarily pushed for Kosovan independence, through which it broke from Serbia – Russia’s ally.  The United States invaded the sovereign state of Iraq (ruled by a brutal psychopath), ignoring Russian opposition.  The West encouraged a crony capitalism to rise from the ruins of the Soviet Empire, allowing the hated oligarchs to prosper.  Russia is smarting and now it is flexing its muscles.  The Crimean crisis is of course about protecting a Naval base and pipelines, it is about extending its sphere of influence, it is about protecting Russian speakers in the Crimea, but it is also about Russian pride, even Russian hurt pride. 

This outlook may seem like Russian paranoia to those of us in the West, but it could still be a genuinely-held world-view and it seems this is perhaps how the world does look and feel to Putin and his allies.  I am sure there are many liberal Russians who would not see things this way.  It does seem the case though that the rising tensions between the West and Russia are at root to do with a failure to understand each other.

It also seems difficult for the West to understand why the Crimean people should vote in a referendum to join Russia (having arbitrarily been given away to the Ukraine by Krushchev) and thereby avoid closer links with the apparently morally-good European Union.  However, looked at dispassionately, the West might have offered material wealth, but it also offers spiritual poverty. The conservative society of Eastern and Southern Ukraine is presented with a liberal-individualist culture in Wetern Europe manifested through abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, secularism and materialism – is that really such an appealing culture to join?

The Slavic world has not done well out of contact with the West.  Before the Napoleonic Wars, Russia was an agrarian society based around the institutions of Monarchy and Church.  Invasion by France woke Russia up to its technological backwardness.  It therefore embarked upon a programme of modernisation and industrialisation, with all the ugliness and brutalisation that industrialisation brings.  We know in the West that industrialisation can lead to the loss of something precious – one only needs to think of Ruskin, Carlyle, the Romantic poets and the Distributists to hear the literary mourning for a lost world.  There is a constant theme in our men of letters that a better world has been cast away for riches.  Yes we have an easier life physically in the industrialised West, but are we not poorer emotionally and spiritually?  Church attendance is down, marriages are fewer and break more often, teenage-pregnancy rates are high, employees often suffer mentally (stress, nervous breakdowns) from the demands made of them by corporate employers.  What we have cast aside - the hard work of a traditional, agrarian life - might even have been the praxis leading to virtue.  The Russians would understand that.

Hyper-modernisation in Russia went hand-in-hand with a sort of hyper-Enlightenment.  Bolshevism reared its ugly head, throwing off the Church and tradition by taking the ideas of the Enlightenment to their inevitable conclusion – political violence and atheist values.  Thus, while the West preserved the Church and its political institutions, Russia took the pseudo-science of Enlightenment theory seriously and plunged into bloody revolution, followed by brutal oppression by an atheist regime.

Russia as the Soviet Union oppressed its own people and its subject peoples brutally.  People disappeared to the Gulag for opposing a regime that can only be regarded as evil, particularly under Joseph Stalin.  Whole peoples were moved to different locations, as a means of undermining the concept of nation that binds us together.  The West remained as a beacon of hope for many in that dark time. 

The Cold War saw the West win, not only because of its economic strength, but because there was still virtue residing in its culture, handed down by its heritage – a heritage Russia had violently forsaken.  However, during the latter part of the Twentieth Century the West became more and more detached from its own cultural values and developed a liberal-individualist anti-culture.  Liberal individualism would not have defeated Nazism and neither did it win the Cold War.

A financially and morally bankrupt Russian Empire disintegrated in the 1990s.  The West did not think it necessary to offer its heritage of political tradition and cultural values; rather, it introduced Russia to capitalism unlimited by values and cultural norms that still applied (however diminished) in the West.   The hated Russian oligarchs prospered.  Once again Russia was brought into contact with the worst aspects of Western culture.  Selfishness and materialism, not tradition and religion, were seen as the alternative to Socialism. 

The West might see itself as a bastion of the rule of law and political freedom.  To Russians it probably looks like the preacher of selfishness, licentiousness and materialism.  Western Europe was once built upon Church and Monarchy, now it appears to have subsided into moral turpitude.  The only value that matters is individual freedom or rather selfish licence unconstrained by values or taboos.  That at least is probably how we look to the Slavic world.

Of course it is difficult really to imagine how we look to others, if not impossible.  Notwithstanding that, we must at least feel some unease at simply proselytising the post-Soviet world into value-less liberal-individualism.  It really is a rather corrosive world-view and the Slavs, with their own traumatic history of destructive atheism and an all-powerful, oppressive State can probably see that.

Yet in the West we still presume that our earlier moral integrity means that even today, what we do is right because we are the ones doing it.  Thus, invading Iraq or supporting the breaking away of Kosovo is the morally right thing to do, but for Russia to annex Crimea or for the Crimeans to choose to leave the Ukraine is wrong.  Well perhaps it is wrong and certainly Russia is signed up to respect the Ukraine’s borders as part of the deal on nuclear weapons.  The West is therefore on relatively firm legal ground in opposing the annexation and it is right to be concerned about the fate of the minority Tartar people.  However, now that the modern West has descended into a value-less liberalism it is not in a position to preach to others.  So perhaps it would be less hypocritical to see this international crisis as a battle to extend spheres of influence on the part of the West as much as the East, rather than trying to claim the moral high ground.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Putting things right

As another hunting season draws to a close (one much disrupted by the weather), it is worth considering the position of one of our great cultural traditions.  Despite the Conservative Party’s pledge to hold a free vote on the ban, despite Tony Blair, the man who as Prime Minister who used the Parliament Act to force the ban through the House of Lords unconstitutionally, admitting he was wrong and despite a clear impact on farms such as sheep farms on the Fells hanging on by their fingertips, hunting for political reasons alone remains banned.

Just as it was once useful for Mr Blair to allow frequent free votes on hunting to keep his more prejudiced backbenchers happy, so for the current Government hunting can be a useful political football.  It is all very well to launch a review into the impact on farming of restricting the despatch of foxes to one couple of hounds, but repeal of this aspect of the ban could be achieved by statutory instrument, with no need for a Parliamentary vote.

It feels more as though the review is to send a message of sympathy to hunting people without actually acting.  Yet even Tony Blair now admits the hunting ban was a mistake.  There are few who would argue the ban was about animal welfare.  It was as Tony Banks said “totemic” – it was a deliberate attack on a certain way of life and an imaginary, stereotypical foxhunter, who bares little resemblance to the majority of keen hunt supporters - The people that in Tony Banks’ bitter mind represented the class enemy.  Because this was about a visceral hatred and class resentment, no argument would ever have won around a man like Tony Banks.

So what is to be done?  Hunting has shown its determination to survive within the law, despite that law being unjust and unclear.  It faces the threat of animal-rights extremism, increasing urbanisation taking away country, an ambiguous and draconian law and this season, as so many others have also suffered, the impact of the flooding.

Hunting has rightly been defended on animal welfare grounds.  Most people of sound mind understand that hunting an animal is more natural and humane than trapping, poisoning or shooting.  Most realise that fox numbers have to be controlled.  The real misunderstanding seems to be that urban people assume that people enjoy hunting because they enjoy killing.  This is a complete misunderstanding and comes from ignorance, so perhaps it is time to talk about what is so enjoyable about hunting.

If hunting is only justified on the very valid argument of pest control the debate is narrowed to a question of whether foxhunting is cruel or not.  While that argument can be clearly won, the urban mind still does not comprehend what is enjoyable.  So they then ask: Why don’t you just treat it like pest control?

The answer to that is surely that hunting has grown organically throughout the centuries as part of rural English culture.  It is therefore multi-faceted.  Nobody sat down one day and planned hunting as the means to control foxes.  Rather, it has arisen naturally through tradition.  So the enjoyable things about hunting (which previously did a vital job in wildlife management) are the community, the tradition and pageantry, the thrill of riding across country and jumping fences and most importantly of all working with animals – horses and hounds.  Anyone who truly loves animals cannot fail but be absorbed by hounds working.

We know hunting did a vital job before the ban, but just because it did that vital job, does not mean that it should not be enjoyable or rich in community and traditions.  So rather than the hunting rules and rituals being unnecessary, they are precisely what make hunting so rewarding.  This is perhaps why hunting is surviving all that the Government throws at it. 

However, the question must be asked:  What about the fox?  For as long as there are so many restrictions on how a fox can be legally hunted, other less humane methods have to be resorted to by others (trapping or shooting).  The landowner will need to be rid of the fox, whatever the intentions of Labour MPs when they voted for the ban.  So really anyone who cares about animal welfare should be pressing for the ancestral duty of hunting to be restored to it.  Hunts across the land are fighting hard to sustain a way of life handed down to us, but for as long as hunts can only go through the motions, the fox must be controlled in more brutal ways by others.

Our ancestors handed us a method of fox control that respected the law of nature – often the sick and the diseased despatched naturally through hunting, rather than more indiscriminate means of culling.  The fox was given a clean chance of either complete escape or instant demise, with minimal suffering.  Hunting has survived under the ban because it is multi-faceted and is sustained by the commitment of hunt staff and masters and the rich tradition and the closeness to animals and nature it offers supporters.  Nature would be better served however if hunting were given back its historic role of humanely controlling the fox.  

Friday, 21 February 2014

Bishops against Tories

 A hundred years ago it would have seemed an absurd political division.  The Church of England was the Conservative Party at prayer.  In recent times there are constant clashes between the Bishops and leading Conservatives.  Currently the news is not only focused on the letter from the Anglican Bishops to the Government on welfare policy, but criticism from that even more conservative institution, the Roman Catholic Church, in the form of comments in a newspaper interview by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster.  Why has Conservatism, the guardian of our institutions, fallen out so badly so often with our culturally most important institution over the last millennium, the Church?

This is not an irrelevant matter.  Anyone who believes in a Burkean form of Conservatism or gives some credence to the idea of the Big Society, must surely recognise the Church as part of our social fabric, independent of the bureaucratic state.  The criticism of Government policy on welfare has not so much come from an ideological standpoint, based upon obscure theological doctrine, as from an empirical reaction to the facts on the ground, in the parishes.

Anglicanism is often dismissed by those on the Liberal Right as a sort of soft-Socialism led by pink Bishops.  When the blogger worked at Church House however he discovered a far more sincere conservatism on issues like Lords reform and same-sex marriage than that put forward by some ostensibly Right wing politicians.

It is the contention of this blog that since Durkheim, the Left has annexed the concept of organic society from the Right and twisted it to forward its own ends.  The Right has meekly accepted this annexation and has been left on the paltry soil of the reductionist doctrine of liberal individualism.  And yet it is very difficult to articulate a conservative position from a liberal individualist perspective.  So we end up in the absurd position of a Conservative Prime Minister leading an attack on marriage to further a concept of individualism and freedom of choice through same-sex marriage legislation.

Of course the idea of a conservative and organic society that emphasises the importance of the church, the monarchy and the family can be traced back to the French conservative thinker Louis Gabriele Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald.  For de Bonald liberal individualism was the error behind the French Revolution.  Our social institutions are of divine origin and precede the individual.  It was his outlook that Durkheim relied on for his own Left wing agenda.  Surely the Right needs to start emphasising again the importance of institutions and abandon some of its socially Darwinist attitudes.  In that way, we can answer the Left’s accusations of heartlessness towards the poor in a way that gives a greater role to the institution and not the bureaucratic approach of targets and means testing.  When our spiritual leaders are speaking out against our morally-driven policies then there needs to be reflection. Surely respect for the wisdom of an institution should come naturally to the Right. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Punch and Judy Politics – that’s the way to do it!

The British Parliament is fairly unique in Europe with its tradition, ritual and adversarial debates.  As disillusionment with the political class has grown, the party loyalties have broken down in the nation and people no longer see the point in the tribalism of Parliamentary events such as Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The Speaker of the House, who has little respect for tradition but a great deal for himself, has asked the three leaders of the political parties to consider ways to change the atmosphere of PMQs.  And yet really this misses the point, because the tribal politics of Parliament worked when people were engaged with the system and trusted their politicians.  The sometimes raucous atmosphere was described by Ang San Suu Chi during her address to both Houses as “the sound of democracy”.  We ought to consider why she said that and imagine how controlled the parliaments of authoritarian regimes must be.  A powerful political class likes a quiet Parliament.

The new dislike of Prime Minster’s Questions is due to a twofold and interlinked cause.  First politicians have become more careerist and political conviction and ideology have diminished.  This means that there is less conviction to the adversarial approach.  The new type of politician has aggravated the public, not through his opinions but through who he is – the slippery careerist only interested in the greasy pole, who treats politics as a path to high office.  Therefore the public also no longer believe in the adversarial clashes in Parliament.  It seems empty and meaningless.  So, on the one hand the politicians no longer believe in it and on the other, the public no longer believes in the politicians taking part.

If a primary concern of the voters is immigration but a primary concern of our politicians is same-sex marriage, then there is a disconnection between the public and their political representatives.  Not only that, but as a rule, most politicians take one view on Europe, immigration and the family and the public tend to take another view.  So people no longer feel represented in Westminster.  It may be because of this break in a connection between the political class and the voters that the Nationalists in Scotland have gained some traction (rather than a rejection of our common history by the Scots being the primary cause of nationalism).

Interestingly John Bercow is in many ways the incarnation of much of what voters distrust about politics.  A man whose views changed as the electoral fortunes of his party diminished:  A man who has dispensed with tradition by declining to wear the wig, thereby taking attention away from the office and increasing the focus on himself and a man who seems to have an aversion to the aspects of Parliament that depend on conviction to function effectively.  For example, if PMQs was still a way of addressing the breaches in our own nation then the adversarial nature of it would strike a chord.  It is when the people going through the motions all seem to share a liberal, metropolitan outlook that the clashes in Parliament seem rather to be about going through the motions than sincere debate.

Prime Minister’s Questions should work well by allowing political divisions in society to be brought out and aired with the passion and confrontational nature that means people can go about their lives, knowing their own grievances, passionate beliefs, fears and concerns are being fought out in Parliament, not on the streets.  Instead, parties outside the system are growing to cater for the voicelessness that the public is experiencing.

There is something slightly self-important about MPs fearing that they look ridiculous.  The best thing about the adversarial nature of politics is that it puts the ordinary voter in the position of being the reasonable judge, weighing up both sides. 

Just as in the criminal court, everyone expects prosecution and defence to push their case as far as they can, because the person who is trusted to make the reasonable decision is the juror; so with PMQs the voter can observe with a detached air and cast himself in the role of the reasonable man looking at two caricatures. 

Politicians’ concerns about how PMQs make them look are not just about vanity though, changing PMQs would also be a power grab by the political class.  If parliamentary debate moves towards a more consensual tone, it becomes politicians patting each other on the back, not putting their opponents under scrutiny and pressure, but instead looking at the demands of the voters as an unreasonable force to be mitigated and addressed.  The whole political process would be turned on its head, with the political class becoming more incestuous, more self-regarding and less respectful of the voter, who would no longer be regarded as the reasonable judge of their arguments, but an unreasonable agitator whose anger must be assuaged by politicians working together.

It is no accident that a Speaker who cannot see the importance of the wig, cannot see the importance of adversarial and tribal politics.  A consensual form of politics would suit the political careerists rather than the conviction politician.  Change the atmosphere of politics and we will see yet more of the more slippery sort of politician prospering – the sort of politician who prefers to cast aside tradition and swagger in the empty openness of classical architecture, rather than understand he is only a part of a thousand years of history when surrounded by the Gothic of Pugin.  Such politicians are of course already there, but they must not be allowed to reshape Parliament in their own image.

Parliamentary tradition is there for a reason.  Politicians should stop worrying so much about how they look and worry more about whether the current parties are representing the country at large or just metropolitan London.