It is interesting how moderate politics cannot get a hearing just now. I do not mean that it is banned — after all, the moderate establishment is still, just, in control — rather that few seem to want to listen. This must explain why Oliver Letwin’s new book Hearts and Minds has so far been pretty much drowned out by endless discussion about whether Mrs May must go. Is it too reasonable in tone for people to want to discuss it? A pity if so, since it is excellent. The book is mercifully short, very clear, and an engaging mixture of memoir and argument. There is a thought-provoking exposition of how the youngish Oliver, who worked for Mrs Thatcher, maintained allegiance to her view about markets, but came to believe she had missed the vital importance of helping those trapped in the chaos of drugs, poverty, welfare and family breakdown which markets can do little to touch. There is also a convincing defence of the Con-Lib Dem coalition, which did much more good than people realise. And there is Oliver’s touching ability to find some plus point in others which no one has previously spotted: he must be the only person ever to have referred to Mrs May acting ‘jovially’. If you read this book, you will be reminded why Butskellism — refreshed by Thatcherite economic clarity, and modernised by Blairish/Cameronian social liberalism — is quite a respectable way to run a modern country. If we abandon it, we may become nostalgic for it. Then Hearts and Minds will be read with the attention it deserves.
It also deserves, however, to be challenged. Letwin the Remainer describes gloomily crossing Lambeth Bridge early in the summer morning after the referendum vote to leave: ‘Nadezhda Krupskaya’s description of the beauty of the torch-lit processions of the Russian Revolution comes strangely to my mind…These are, in their own way, revolutionary circumstances.’ Funnily enough, I crossed the same bridge at much the same time travelling the other way, towards the Vote Leave headquarters, with a song in my heart, and thinking more of Wordsworth (writing one bridge downstream) than Mrs Lenin. Although Letwin feels the sense of change, I don’t think he fully grasps why people seek it. In part at least, they do so because of a failure of the sort of politics he advocates. The subject matter and tone of that politics — the ‘proceeds of growth’, letting sunshine win the day — jar with the reality of life for most people after the astonishing events of September 2001 and October 2008. They seem to evade the question of what makes a truly free and independent country. There is resentment too, because so many of the advocates of that politics extrapolate from their own very comfortable circumstances to assume that things are all right really. They aren’t, and none of our leadership elites, from Tony Blair’s onwards, has ‘kitchen-sinked’ their role in what has gone wrong.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, which appears in this week’s magazine