Disarm your enemy by agreeing
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
Is the new Tory leader using Christ's way of opposition? Jonathan
Bartley wonders: 'Less confrontation in politics is far from a weak
Many people doubted that David Cameron was serious when, on assuming the
leadership of the Conservative Party, he announced his intention to take a less
adversarial line. After all, the same rhetoric had been heard many times before
from incoming party leaders on both sides of the House of Commons. However, the
proof of his words came when Tony Blair, facing a rebellion from his own
backbenchers over his proposed education reforms, had to rely on Conservative
votes to get his measures through.
The significance of this development should not be understated. For
centuries, backbenchers have trooped through the lobbies with their party
colleagues night after night, sometimes even unsure what a particular vote was
about. It sufficed to know that their opponents were going into one division
lobby and they had to go into the other.
But Mr Cameron's new strategy also highlights something not often talked
about in political life - at least, outside the occasional public scandal - and
that is the power of love. No one is attributing altruistic motives to the new
Tory leader; but his resolve to oppose the Government when he feels it is right
to do so, but to support it where he agrees with its position, is demonstrating
that a less confrontational approach to politics is far from a weak
As Christians and others involved in conflict resolution
have often pointed out, if you unexpectedly agree with your opponent, it can
disarm him or her - particularly in a system that is built on, and sustained
by, opposition. Mr Blair's rescue by the Conservatives has had observers asking
some profound, even theological, questions. "When is a victory really a defeat?"
asked the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, on his weblog - a question as
apt for a discussion of the atonement as the ten-o'clock news.
Mr Cameron's approach is thoroughly subversive. As we can see from the
reactions of many in the Labour Party to the vote on school reform, when people
show tentative signs of "loving their enemy", it causes that enemy to stop and
re-examine their own position very carefully. For the past 20 years, Labour has
defined itself largely by its opposition to the Conservatives. Many observers
expected it long ago to splinter into Old and New Left, but the party has been
held together by its hostility to - sometimes even hatred of - the Tories. When
such an enemy starts agreeing with you, it raises all sorts of questions about
your own party's values, and the uneasy coalition it represents begins to
fragment. Suddenly your own colleagues can seem very similar to your sworn
Mr Cameron's resolve to pursue a more "loving" - and, indeed, truthful -
politics may prove to be an approach that both disarms and makes a mockery of
those in power. As those well versed in atonement theory will say, that has
been done before. But they might also point out that it does not automatically
lead to the kind of regime change some people have been hoping for.
Jonathan Bartley is director of the theological think tank Ekklesia.