January 19, 2007

Historical Moment

The Carnival of Cinema has left for the first time the safe confines of Nehring and settled for a week at the neurophilosopher's blog. Nehring does such a good job but the Neurophilosopher is up to the challenge and has produced a really good carnival for us all to read through- he's done brilliantly and should be commended. Next week there might even be a cinematic post of substance here- but for your fix I suggest you go over to the Neurophilosopher and read away. Just as an advert he has embedded the whole of Frank Capra's Wonderful Life- an amazing film about small town America, starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers. Its a really wonderful film. Well worth seeing on any number of levels.

Rawls, Habermas and Hobbes- an article by Professor George

Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, has aimed his guns at Jurgen Habermas and John Rawls- his critique of their ideas aims at the ways that Rawls and Habermas want to understand the role of religion in contemporary society. Professor George sees Rawls and Habermas as attempting to answer the great question of our time- how do religious people reasoning from religious axioms coexist within a society with those who disagree with them about religion and who therefore disagree with their reasoning. How does a Catholic whose central conception of human kind is as flawed individuals, tainted by the fall, and only redeemed by the saving grace of Christ, coexist in a society with a liberal individualist who argues that humanity's faults are soluble by social engineering and that human nature is a fiction. Its difficult to think of points they would hold in common, its difficult to conceive of ways that each could understand the other's argument. The difficulty on abortion is an obvious one: on the one hand you have the religious person who is essentially arguing about the presence of a soul within an embryo and on the other you have the secularist who doesn't beleive in souls but is interested in the right of a woman to control her own body. Accusations of murderer and sexist fill the air- but neither position in its own terms is about murder or sexism- what we have is a clash of languages.

Professor George states that Habermas and Rawls failed in their attempts to find common ways of arguing about politics. He argues that they failed largely because they failed to comprehend the nature of the Catholic challenge to their own liberalism. He argues that they arbitraryly divide rational from irrational arguments- moral from ethical arguments- to exclude those arguments based upon religious principle from their remit. Professor George doesn't face the problem that they describe- save in a very limited way- reccomending the revival of the idea of natural law- something I will come onto. What he does is severely criticise Rawls and Habermas for excluding from public reason the religious. Professor George therefore leaves us with two possibilities- the first is that religious and irreligious people cannot live together in society (something one Anglican authoritarian recently told me was possibly true) and the second being that we should withdraw to Catholic natural law as our basis for argument.

Invoking natural law though doesn't really help anyone. Professor George is right to say that natural law has been used by thinkers of all Christian traditions, Jewish traditions and by at least one reputed atheist, Thomas Hobbes. But he is completely wrong to say that what they produced was something that could be accepted by anyone as a basis for argument no matter what their political principles. I study natural law as part of my work- and the natural law that 17th Century English Revolutionaries argued for was a natural law based solely upon the bible. If you didn't beleive in the bible then you couldn't join the argument from that perspective. Thomas Hobbes on the other hand has a completely different idea of natural law- he uses the term- but Hobbes does not derive his natural law from the Bible at all- his one natural right (the right to preserve one's own life) is derived from an insight into the biological and mechanical operations of the human brain not from Leviticus or Deuteronomy. Replacing our doubts with the word natural law just moves the debate on a step- all it does is involve us all in a discussion of what natural law is. Whether it is the law of human nature, whether it is the law of what we biologically do, whether it is the law of what we can do in our modern society. Ultimately what do you mean by nature and is it static?

Thomas Hobbes offers a very different route out of this dilemma to us. Hobbes in the Leviathan argued that there is no summum bonum, no utmost ayme. His argument was basically that instead of aiming for that that is your ultimate good in society- political action should be about the preservation of society. The worst thing is civil conflict- the best is unattainable. Hobbes's doctrine has all kinds of problems- is living under Hitler worse than anarchy- the woman raped in Berlin in 1945 might say it isn't but the Jew definitely will say it is. Hobbes does offer some kind of a way forward though- because what we are trying to do is find that minimum that within a society which includes people who beleive very different things about the world and human nature, can provide a basis of discussion and argument. It may be that its time that we return to the old Hobbesian question of what minimum people with very different ideas of the world can beleive in and find to argue from.

Professor George's solution to the problems of Rawls and Habermas can be easily discarded. Ronald Dworkin's latest book focuses upon this issue- and I'm just beggining to read it and try and understand it and I promise a review when I've done that. But definitely the idea of what it takes for people with different ideas to live together and fashion a political community, that is at a minimum level, satisfying to a large majority of those involved, is a fascinating issue. Hobbesian political theory can only take us so far- he afterall was thinking about a very different society- but it might be time to turn back to the old master and read him in conjunction with Rawls, Habermas, George, Dworkin and anyone else who seeks to solve this question.

PS Can I make a brief apology- it seems that the article from Professor George now is behind a subscription wall at First Things- I accessed it yesterday via the political theory daily review (linked to in the sidebar) but it seems that now that route has been blocked- so you can't check the actual article- apologies guys.

January 17, 2007

Great new blog

Just to advertise a friend of mine has just set up his own blog- this guy has forgotten more about the nuts and bolts of politics than I ever knew- especially about elections and votes and statistics.

Friendship and Love, Lewis and Plato.

I just read an interesting post on a blog I've just discovered- about homosexuality- its over here and the author, F, argues that hatred of homosexuality is tied in to the lauding of the heterosexual marriage bond and consequently to sexism. The historical case is obviously a difficult one to establish and someone better than me will no doubt do that- but I'm less interested in exploring that and rather want to explore a concept in the thought of C.S. Lewis that I think brings out something rather interesting about the intellectual strengths of the sexist view of human relationships when allied to homophobia as opposed to Plato, likewise a sexist, but with a different view of homosexuality.

Lewis in his book the Four Loves argues that there are four distinct kinds of love which can meld together and spill out of each other- he argues that they are affection, friendship, sexual love and spiritual love. The last one obviously as a devout Christian he argues is the one that a devout religious person feels towards God. The first three of those loves Lewis anatomises in all their detail and he argues they can coexist- they can be found together- but that they are separate. In particular he argues this with relation to friendship and sexual love- he does acknowledge that women and men can fall in love through being friends but he argues that that's atypical and more often than not women and men can't fall in love through friendship and probably aren't friends in their relationships.

Lewis's friendship is based upon his feelings about his own friendships in Oxford- he thought that those friendships were the model for friendship as a whole. Friendship for Lewis was based on shared interests- and he thought that friendship between men and women on that basis was unlikely- women would prefer to discuss pots, men Plato.

Plato had a very different attitude- Plato thought that sexual love and friendship were bonded together- he argued that sexual love quite often depended on the rationality of the lover- Plato viewed love as being a relationship between young boys and older men- his ideal of love was not marriage but was this kind of homosexual relationship. Now obviously Plato recognised that marraige existed- but there is a further interesting aspect to this which is that Plato also thought that women could be rational, to a lesser extent than men but they could be and thus Plato's love and friendship aren't as distinct as Lewis's and this leads to a conceptual change in the way that Plato views women.

Both Plato and Lewis would today rightly be described as sexist. But because Plato saw sexual love as embracing properly both homosexual and heterosexual forms of love and because he understood that the highest sexual love (from which I hasten to add he excluded most male-female love) included a love of rationality, you could argue that Plato's idea of women became much more moderate than Lewis's, his sexism more moderate because of his idea of love. Because Plato didn't want to separate friendship with a man from love of a woman as much as Lewis because of his acceptance for love from men to men, you could argue that his homophilia made him more receptive to the idea that women were rational than Lewis's homophobia.

I don't really stand securely on this as the number of coulds used in this post reflects so I'm willing to abandon it. Here however is the idea: if you beleive that people's friendships are based on shared interests and shared rationality and you beleive that love is irrational and full of desire then that creates an interesting issue around homosexuality. If you beleive that homosexuality is forbidden and that women and men can't be friends- you are saying that there is one relationship friendship for men and men or women and women and another relationship sex for men and women. If you beleive on the other hand that its possible to love and be friends with a man and that its possible to love a woman in the same way that you love a man- instantly you create the position whereby women and men can both be objects of the same kind of love. And if you say like Plato that I can love a man because he is intelligent then I can feel the same sexual passion for a woman because she is intelligent. Building up the barriers between the ways that its possible to imagine someone loving a member of the same or the opposite sex means building up the barriers between the ways that we regard the same or the opposite sex. In some sense understanding love between men and women comes down to understanding men and women and if you beleive that love can only be felt as an irrational desire by a man for a woman or vice versa, then you are saying something about the ways that men and women can communicate or in this case can't. If like Plato you beleive I can love a man or a woman in the same way- then you are saying that there is something similar about men or women.

This post doesn't say that statistically homophobes are also sexists, nor does it say that historically that's always been true. All I am saying is that if we take Plato and Lewis's arguments about friendship and sexual love, we can use them to show that homophobia and sexism easily coexist. Dividing the world into two halves- superior (men) and inferior (women) is easier if you divide the ways that a man can relate to those two groups into friendship (felt for men) and sexual passion (felt for women), it becomes more difficult if you say that someone can feel friendship or sexual passion for anyone regardless of the group that they come from.

January 16, 2007

Yuliya Tymoshenko on Russia's Place in Europe


Yuliya Tymoshenko has been a controversial figure within Ukrainian politics, one of the architects of the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine she later fell out with the present President Viktor Yushchenko. Today though she has written a this article about Russia's place in the new European security world based upon both NATO and EU enlargement.

Much of the article is incredibly general- we are asked to back Russian independence, the independence of the former Soviet states like the Ukraine and the normalisation of Russian relations with other countries. The difficulty is getting there and Tymoshenko seems to me to answer all the easy questions and leave the difficult ones- how to do things, how to balance Russian against minority nationalisms and how to deal with the Russian minorities inside the former Soviet states like the Ukraine and Estonia? All questions she leaves floating in the air.

Where she is more interesting to a western reader is in the rebukes that she administers to Gazprom. Not only does she attack the idea that Gazprom functions as a normal company and calls for European intervention (how?) to make it function like a normal company- a fairly conventional standpoint- but she also points to another issue. Tymoshenko argues that Gazprom has not invested in its own infrastructure and consequently will be unable to meet both domestic and European demand in the future. She argues that Russia may not be a reliable partner in supplying Europe with gas, not merely because of political interference like that recently seen in the Ukraine, but because of incapacity to continue supplies. It may be that she has her own interests in putting this line- political or even commercial given her own interests in Ukrainian energy companies in the 1990s.

I'd welcome more information on that last point- if true it is very worrying both for Europe and for Russia and the way that our relations develop into the future.

Blogfocus

I forgot on Saturday- but James's latest blogfocus is now up and filled with the usual collection of the fun and interesting posts of the last few days. Enjoy.

Fergus Millar The Roman Republic in Political Thought


In these Western parts of the world, we are made to receive our opinions concerning the institution and rights of Commonwealths, from Aristotle and Cicero, and other men, Greeks and Romans, that living under popular states, derived those rights, not from principles of nature, but transcribed them into their books, out of the practice of their own commonwealths, which were popular... And so Aristotle, so Cicero, and other writers have founded their civil doctrine on the opinions of the Romans, who were taught to hate monarchy, at first, by them that having deposed their sovereign shared amongst themselves the sovereignty of Rome, and afterwards by their successors. And by reading of these Greek and Latin authors, men from their childhood have gotten a habit (under a false show of liberty) of favouring tumults and of licentious controlling the actions of their soverieigns... with the effusion of so much blood: as I think I may truly say, there was never any thing so dearly bought, as these western parts have bought their learning of the Greek and latin tongues
Thomas Hobbes The Leviathen

Thomas Hobbes's Leviathen is a classic of European political thought- and it is a devastating counter attack upon what Hobbes beleived was his contemporaries' unfortunate obsession with Republican Rome- with authors like Cicero and Livy that gilded the ancient Republic, the Republic of the early Rome, with the laurels of liberty and acheivement. Hobbes was angry with this because as the quote above shows, his reading of Thucydides and his understanding of the English Civil War, made him beleive that Republican government and the aspiration to rebel caused in the end civil war, anarchy, murder and unhappiness- a war of all against all.

Hobbes is not unusual in European history in basing much of his ideas upon an image of the Roman Republic. Professor Fergus Millar's lectures delivered in memory of Menahem Stern in Jerusalem in 1997 and published in book form in 2002 focus upon the ways that philosophers and historians have sought to understand the Roman Republic's institutions and use that understanding to fortify their own political thinking. Acute observers like Polybius as early as 150 BC were already trying to work out what it was that made Rome a successful state. Polybius's work wasn't rediscovered until the 16th Century but based on the Augustan historian Titus Livius (Livy) medieval authors as important as Bartolus and Marsilius of Padua incorporated accounts of Rome into their political thinking. As Quentin Skinner and John Pocock have shown during the early modern period, Florentine writers like Machiavelli, English writers like Harrington and Milton and the American founders all turned to the Roman Republic to try and understand republicanism and the process by which Rome rose.

Millar's book is best understood as a piece of present day political polemic- he wants us to go back to Rome in order to discover what democracy means and especially what federalism means. Therefore he focuses more on what his authors leave out than on what they put in to their discussions of the Republic, as James Zetzel noted Millar's description of his thinkers is peculiar because it is as much about what they failed to notice as about what they noticed. Particularly, as Zetzel appreciates, Millar attacks Machiavelli and Milton for neglecting to write about the Roman Republic institutionally, rather they wrote about the civic morality that the institutions within Rome encouraged. Machiavelli- the most influential of these writers- was describing the way that virtu was encouraged by the constitutional order of Rome and by its practice of arming its citizens. He wished to contrast that vigour to the indolence of a tyrannical community which degenerated into slavery and with the false stability of a Republic like Venice or Sparta which refused to give their people arms for fear of revolution and ended up being overrun by foreign forces. Machiavelli's concentration was on the way that Rome's encouragement of civic virtu led in the end to its corruption and destruction under the Principate- he was less focused on the way that Rome presented an institutional model and more upon the way that it presented a moral exempla for the modern- in his case Florentine- Republic.

So Millar is an odd source when it comes to his discussions of political theorists- but in reality that is because he isn't really providing an account of them as much as he is providing an account of their failure. For Millar, the important thing to realise was that their Rome- the Rome of Livy and the Rome of Cicero- never existed. He argues- and admits that its an extreme position- that Rome was actually pretty much a democracy. Citizens voted, in later times by tribe, upon proposals put to them by magistrates. The Senate was not a leglislative body but an advisory body to magistrates elected by the people. Full male suffrage was a privilege of Roman citizenship- and Millar argues that Italy in the later Republic ressembled nothing so much more as a modern nation state. But within this state, echoing Cicero, Millar notes that each Roman citizen had two allegiances, one to the city of Rome and one to his own city. Furthermore like Machiavelli, Millar argues that Roman citizenship was linked to military service- Roman magistracy too was linked to service in the army.

Millar's book outlines this in two chapters one at the beggining which gives the reader an outline of the Roman Republican constitution as it stood in the time of Aristotle- so approximately the end of the fourth century BC, and the other at the end, an outline of the constitution in the times of Cicero so in the mid point of the 1st Century BC. Those chapters frame the historical account of how people have understood the institutional basis of the Republic- this chronological dash back to the time of Cicero is in my view completely deliberate. What Millar wants you to do is realise that a crucial strand of western political thinking has depended upon a mistake- that Rome's institutional framework offers us a way to understand the way a polis system of direct democracy might work within a nation state. There are obvious flaws to this- but its interesting to keep it in mind because what Millar is suggesting is that Rome is far closer to the kind of regimes that we have today- with multiple loyalties to civic, national and even transnational bodies and with a democracy that was far from perfect and depended upon geographical access. Consequently the problem of Rome- the problem of its eventual decay into the principate and the empire of Augustus- becomes much more central to the way that we think about our polities- what were the weaknesses of Ciceronian Rome, this nation state with possibly over a million citizens intitled to vote, that led to its downfall and are there any reasons to think that we are in a different position.

Millar's work in many ways is obliquely aimed at that conclusion- it is a conclusion suggested rather than spoken, but its worth considering. Rome's fall as an empire is something that we all know about- but its tragic fall from Republic into autocracy got as much ancient attention- from Polybius, to Suetonius, to Tacitus ancient Roman authors were perplexed by what had actually happened to the Roman Republic. Why had it become the victim of civil war and dissention. Most of them rejected the Hobbesian answer above- which is that Republics are inevitably unstable, that democracy results in mob rule. Some like Cicero argued for aristocratic virtue to hold up the Republic- the kind of Oligarchy that Milton was later to endorse. But its interesting to see Millar suggest that Rome was no oligarchy. Its interesting also that he misses out the non-Miltonic voice of the English Revolution, men like John Streater who argued that actually Rome performed the role of a democratic model and that men like Cromwell were to be feared as a second Caesar. Streater and the radicals opened up through the printing press another possibility- the education of a people so that they did not follow a Catilina or a Caesar into the jaws of tyranny but instead were educated out of being a mob. So that aristocracy and democracy in their original meanings became the same thing.

Millar's book is a fascinating contribution to political thinking- its a rather off the wall contribution because it invites one back into the arena of assessing the failure of the ancient Republics- a failure Hobbes for one was aware of. Millar wants us to appreciate, unlike Machiavelli or Milton, that the oligarchic image of Rome wasn't true and that Rome ressembled not so much a Venetian oligarchy as it ressembled in some ways a democracy. His analysis is timely- in a period when we are increasingly warned about the Gresham's law of knowledge operating on the internet and where mob rule as annunciated by tabloid editors has received more attention in the West, Rome as always performs the role of a horrific warning.

Millar's work therefore encourages us to reconsider the place of Rome in our accounts of the history of democracy, and to reconsider the Republic as a political entity when we talk about our own state today.

January 15, 2007

Christian Fascism

I've posted before about how much I hate the term Islamo-Fascism- to repeat the thesis Islamist thinking has nothing ideologically in common with fascism save for the fact that it isn't liberal, but being not liberal does not make you fascist. Consequently it won't come as a surprise that I reacted badly this morning when I saw this article by Theo Hobson who labelled Christian rightwingers, soft fascists, nor will it come as a surprise that I dissent from the thesis of Chris Hedges's latest book which argues that right wing Christians in the United States are fascist.

The problem with all these critiques is that they fail to notice what fascism was- fascist regimes were established across Europe in the mid-twentieth century. The only overtly fascist regime was Mussolini's in Italy but conventionally the term has been extended to Hitler's Germany, Salazar's Portugal and Franco's Spain. The last two cases are more doubtful- Franco's Falange was fascist but many of his supporters were traditionalist Catholics. Fascism was seen by many on the right at the time as a kind of alternative way of whipping up the populace to communism- in a Europe fearful of Communist revolution, the Fascists constituted a way out of that fear, a way that the working class could be enthused with nationalism and reverence for a leader instead of with class warfare. Fascism was about the leader- the Fuhrer principle in Germany- Fascist regimes utilised all the methods of mass communication to exalt the leader- the playing of lights at the Nuremberg rally, the production of films. It drew in that sense upon ideas from theorists like Freiderich Neitsche. It also has been used to denote the anti-rational character of these regimes, their counter enlightenment exaltation of the geist or of Kultur over rationality and individualism. They saw the world as organically divided between races. All sorts of ideas contributed to this mix.

As you can see this doesn't really adequately describe what we face with either (for want of a better word) fundamentalism. Neither Patrick Robertson nor Osama Bin Laden would be fascists- they might be theocrats but not fascists (I don't think Robertson is really a theocrat either but that's another day's post). There is a sense in which both of them have absorbed the counter enlightenment but instead of lauding the nation or the man, Bin Laden and Robertson and their allies turn that adulation towards a God they understand rationally. What I mean by that is that both of them treat the bible as a kind of corpus of writings on which they can rely and rationally argue about, and they suggest that the counter enlightenment theorists were right to dismiss the rational arguments about equality but wrong in what they actually sought to errect. Like Vico or De Maistre, these modern figures are not to be found within fascism but within some that resisted and some that collaborated, within say the Catholic Church of the early twentieth century or with say some of the Protestants who resisted Hitler.

I'm not making a very substantive point here- all the points above are suggestions more than they are finished arguments- but can we please stop using the word fascist to describe things that are not fascist. Fascism means something particular, it means a particular set of ideas, no matter how incohate (and historians will disagree with my above definition- its got a lot wrong with it) but it doesn't mean religious traditionalist who seeks to impose religion by law- that is something quite different, it might be good, it might be bad but it ain't fascist.

Or rather the only way it can be fascist is to diminish that word of its meaning and just make it shorthand for 'thing I do not like' something I beleive lets real fascists off the hook and confuses those who oppose both sets of ideas by implying a commonality that isn't there- you won't neccessarily beat Bin Laden like we beat Hitler.

January 14, 2007

A crazy thought- but did Iris Murdoch read Agatha Christie?

This is almost certainly wrong- but Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea has always been a favourite of mine and still is- I was quite tired this evening and thought I'd drop into an Agatha Christie I'd never read called Three Act Tragedy, and just in the first few pages have encountered an actor called Charles who is a bit of a self publicist and retires to the coast away from his theatre life- none of his friends can beleive it and there the mystery starts. In a sense that's quite a similar person to the Charles of Murdoch's novel who also retires to the coast, whose friends don't beleive he can leave the lights of London behind him and is also an ex actor. There may be nothing in it and no doubt I'll wake tommorrow and dismiss this as the murmurings of mind enfeebled by a lot of tea and natural law- but there might be a connection of motif- no doubt the novels are very different but its interesting to find two people with the same name, similar backgrounds and with similar scenarios (retirement to the sea) in the begginings of two novels from roughly the same period. Just worthless wondering- almost certainly wrong but did Iris Murdoch read Agatha Christie along with Sartre? I might be barking up the wrong tree and definitely correct me- but hey if anyone does know if there is a connection or has a view or just wants to shout at me about my ignorance- well that's what the comments are for.

Who is David Cameron?


British political pundits focus at the moment on the enigma that is Gordon Brown. Brown's motives, his friends, his ideas are scrutinised for any difference from Tony Blair- but as Politaholic notes today in the light of David Cameron's recent interview with Andrew Marr there is far less analysis around of what David Cameron is about. From one side you get many Tory activists and figures like Norman Tebbitt who worry that Cameron is leaving traditional Tory principles behind him and adopting a Blairite centre ground, such a view of Cameron at the extremes has led to a small group of people on the right defecting to the UK Independence Party. One UKIP blogger for instance recently referred to Cameron's supporters as centre left Cameroons.

The response of the left to Cameron has been to deny this movement. Politaholic on his blog for instance, in the article above I've linked to, considers Cameron a traditional rightwing Tory. Douglas Alexander, the young Brownite Secretary of State for Transport and Scotland, has argued that the election of Cameron brought the Tories a new singer, singing the same tune. Mr Alexander wrote an article with his colleague David Milliband in which they argued that Mr Cameron's compassionate conservatism was rooted in lessons learnt from George W. Bush. That Cameron's conservative party was the same old fossil, with a new coat of paint.

The problem with both schools of thought is that we don't as yet know what Cameron would do in government- the left and right in British politics are exceptionally alert to treachery, the left can always smell out a capitalist pretending to have a conscience, the right can always detect a communist who pretends to love companies. We all expect to be betrayed- but is there any way that we can understand Cameron and what he is doing, any way that goes beyond the idea of treachery or lying.

I don't want to say too much- because we don't to be honest know too much- but there is something that we can say about Cameron. Cameron's perception, in my opinion, flows like Blair's from an awareness of defeat- as a candidate in 2001, an advisor to Michael Howard and candidate in 2005, Cameron has only known defeat in his time in politics. In the Commons, unlike say Hague and Howard, he has only know the parliamentary manoervres of opposition not the tactics of government. Furthermore Cameron will be aware of exactly what the conservatives have lost since 1992- and it hasn't been exactly what people believe them to have lost.

These figures from 2005 which include comparrisons to 1997, done as a poll for the BBC and ICM are fascinating because they provide a class breakdown of the British vote- and there is one statistic about the Tory Vote that is very interesting indeed. In 1997 the Tories captured 43% of the vote from classes A and B, in 2005 they only managed to get 37% of the vote from the two richest classes within the country (hence one would assume the two classes most likely to vote for a right wing tax cutting party). 3% of that vote went to the liberals- who get 6% more of a share in those classes than they do amongst the average population, and 3% to others. If we go back to 1992 that trend becomes more pronounced, as Anthony Heath and John Curtis noted the Labour party gained disproportionately amongst white collar workers between 1992 and 1997.

One approach to this set of electoral facts was the Hague-Howard dog-whistle strategy that reaped some rewards in 2005. The idea was that the Conservative Party would turn into a quasi Republican party- a party that relied on cultural wedge issues like immigration to fuel its revival and return to power. The attempt for instance by Hague to make the 2001 election about Europe and 24 hours to save the pound was a gesture aimed at rousing the patriotic working classes to rise in Labour strongholds and in constituencies in Essex, Michael Howard famously tried the same with immigration- in a sense the Howard-Hague strategy came close to an attempt to turn Labour's flank, to capitalise upon the sense that Labour had deserted its traditional supporters and become a party of Islington, champagne drinking sophisticates.

Cameron's reversal of strategy to my mind is as much about the reversal of the Tory target audience. What the Tories have faced over the last couple of years is contempt from people who feel that the environment is an important issue, that gay and straight people are equal, that immigrants deserve respect, that single mothers need sympathy not condemnation and that the modern social world should be accepted. Many of those people are not socialists- not in favour of high taxes and many of them are precisely the kind of people who in many constituencies have deserted the conservative party and gone to the liberals and Labour. What Cameron therefore seems to me to be doing is attempting to make the conservatives accept the new social world of swift immigration, relaxed sexual morality- what you might call young professional morality.

Modernising the Conservative Party and modernising the Labour party don't mean the same things- as Iain Dale recently remarked to Peter Hennessy in many ways the Tories for the first time since the Twenties are facing competition as a non-socialist party from the liberals- what Cameron is trying to do is mould back together a conservative coalition. The Tories retain the rural backwoods, they retain many older professionals but they run last amongst the young and they are leaking votes amongst the middle and upper class- a socially liberal, economically liberal Tory party is possibly a package that might appeal to that demographic. Cameron is obviously about other things too- and I've exaggerated the degree to which this is a new approach- but I do think that it is part of the new Cameroon strategy.

It might work, it might not, but it seems like a reasonable interpretation. There are connections between this and the revival of one nation Toryism- there is a sense in which Cameron wants to enlarge the cultural definition of conservatism, to avoid the Tories descending back to their ghettos and revive the Tories as a national party. Part of that involves attempting to recapture the young and the middle class- and particularly the intersection of those two groups.

We shall see if he succeeds...