Archive for September, 2011
Ivor the Engine, 1958, first series, sixth episode.
A couple of weeks ago I thought people might be interested in discussing Noel Skelton’s “Constructive Conservatism”.
I was wrong.
(4) But to pass to the Referendum—crown and apex of a constructive Conservatism in the new era. Accepted by Conservatives in the Constitutional crisis of 1910-1911, its value and necessity are infinitely more obvious now. It was called for then to save the House of Lords; it is needed now to protect democracy. For if democracy, faced in the new era by Socialism as its scarcely disguised enemy, is, from a constitutional point of view, to be made stable and safe, if its property and liberty are to be preserved, the people, in the last resort, must directly and for themselves decide their own fate. And for this duty they are ripe. Meantime, it needs only a blunder or two on the part of a Cabinet, a General Election dominated by passion or prejudice, and the flank of the Constitution is turned. The task of Conservatism in the new era would be only half done if the British democracy were to be denied a means of protection the value of which has been amply proved elsewhere.
And, in conclusion, whatever means be taken to stabilise democracy, this much is clear—that the Conservative Party cannot leave it a matter of guesswork what its outlook is. “Democracy,” Lord Balfour once said, “is government by explanation.” The mass of the people are profoundly perplexed by the paradox that Conservatism, in which they have so deep an instinctive belief, is apparently content to leave its view of life unexplained, its principles unstated, while Socialism, which they distrust exceedingly, is fearless and untiring in setting out its aims and ideals. Liberalism is dying because its principles are dead. It will fare ill with Conservatism unless it breaks its silence and makes clear to the nation that it, too, has a vision of the future—of a property-owning democracy, master of its own life, made four-square and secure, and able therefore to withstand the shrill and angry gales which, in the new era’s uneasy dawn, sweep across the world of men.
(2) Of small ownership in land, only a word can be said. In principle, generally recognised to be a most powerful factor in the stability of the State and in the development of a rural democracy of character and intelligence, the policy of small holdings has greatly suffered in Great Britain from the methods which have been adopted. Extravagant expenditure on equipment and administration by Government departments or County Councils has been combined with demands for payments from the holder, based upon the principle of making him pay rent for the land, and in addition interest on the full cost of erecting the buildings. No private landowner gets an annual return if he lets his land, or a purchase price if he sells it, calculated in this way. The result has been that our State-constituted holdings have imposed on their cultivators burdens which no other agriculturists in Britain have to bear. The resettlement of the land of England and Scotland, the development of intensive cultivation, the reconstitution of rural community, are matters so vital that every effort to devise sounder methods of instituting small holdings than those presently in operation must be made by Conservatism. And this is pre-eminnently a problem which Conservative knowledge and resource can solve. Let it not be forgotten that the Wyndham Land Act was the last and greatest constructive work which Unionism did for Ireland.
(3) And agricultural co-operation. The foundation of modern agriculture throughout the world, the way to prosperity for the small cultivator and large farmer alike, it is inextricably bound up with the Conservative view of life, because it is essentially the means whereby in the cultivation of the soil the individual can be helped to help himself. On this there can safely be neither silence nor indifference. All that the State can do, all that the politician can say, should be said and done to spread a knowledge and assist the development of agricultural co-operation, if in the new era Conservatism is prepared to give of its best to the nation.
And if it be here objected that apparently all parties in the State are alive to the importance of agricultural co-operation, it must be said, in rejoinder, that so preponderating is the influence of Conservative thought on at least two out of the three great agricultural classes, that without active and ardent Conservative support and exposition, confidence in co-operative principles in agriculture would advance only at a snail’s pace, since distrust of Liberalism is complete in rural England, and is rapidly increasing in rural Scotland, while the country populations of both nations agree in their contempt for the town-bred fallacies of Socialism.