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Scruton makes a good point. There is a certain kind of conservatism, usually espoused by those on the left of the Conservative Party, whose intellectual roots run through Sir Ian Gilmour and Michael Oakeshott back to the "trimming" Marquess of Halifax at the beginning of the eighteenth century, that: 1) seems to attribute a value to institutions simply because they exist, and without regard to how they came into being, how well they perform their functions, or whether their supposed "functions" are actually socially necessarily or desirable at all; 2) seems to accept change as inevitable, but not as something that conservatives themselves should initiate or sponsor (although they should remain completely free to jump on the bandwagon once somebody else has dictated the direction of change); and 3) seems to boil down to little more than political opportunism, unencumbered by "dogma" (or what ordinary people call principles), whose raison d'etre is gaining and retaining political power. To my mind, this kind of conservatism is bankrupt in modern politics. There is certainly a case for resisting radical change to institutions that have evolved organically and piecemeal over long periods of time (our language and culture, our traditional built environment and countryside, our demographics), and which perform their functions largely successfully (the House of Lords and the monarchy are a case in point), but the trouble is that there are few areas untouched by the frenzy of half-baked meddling legislation from the post-war period to date, and that to claim that institutions created by this flawed and haphazard process are somehow worthy of preservation simply by virtue of their lazy acceptance by the New Establishment is complete nonsense. Change is inevitable, and often desirable; but conservatives shouldn't be afraid to oppose undesirable change, or to advocate the reversal of harmful innovations (same-sex marriage and civil partnerships), simply because they are fashionable in New Establishment circles. Conservatives who abdicate responsibility for initiating and driving radical change of their own (like the pre-Thatcher post-war Tories or the neo-Blairite Tory "modernisers") lose control of the political agenda, and lose sight of the institutions and values which it ought to be goal of every conservative to preserve. There's more to politics than gaining and retaining political power. Scruton is right to criticise the moral and intellectual drift that characterised the Conservative Party after (and before) 1997: but it is important to see through the myth that the Tory "modernisation" project represented some kind of intellectual renaissance for the right, rather than just a lazy and opportunistic re-branding of discredited New Labour thinking. The right still have a lot of thinking to do and I wish the organisers of the Conference every success.
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Human rights are just so many paper rules and the ECHR is a paper tiger. Look at Russia: it has an impressive-looking constitution; it is a signatory of the Convention and of the UN Convention against Torture, etc.: but this doesn't mean that there are not widespread, systematic and atrocious abuses of the "human rights" supposedly upheld by these documents. The moral of this? "Human rights" have never protected anybody. What's important is a tradition of freedom, tolerance and pluralism, and an ongoing and deep-rooted commitment to those values: such a tradition and commitment exists in our parliamentary democracy in the UK, but not in Russia. This is all that matters. The truth is that the ECHR is a useless inconvenience: if there's a tradition of freedom and toleration it is unnecessary, and if there isn't one, or there isn't one any longer, it's ineffective. A would-be dictator would hardly order his troops back to the barracks, any more than would-be revolutionists would shuffle sulkily home from the barricades, on the strength of a diktat from the ECHR or the Supreme Court. So why should we defer to these unaccountable institutions when they undermine our national interests and affront our values?
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Jul 30, 2011