THE General Election was won last week by the "shy Tories":
those Conservative-inclined voters who stayed under the radar of
the pollsters, but turned out in large numbers to vote on the day.
Tory voters may be shy for all kinds of reasons, but one of them
may be the fear of being disapproved of.
This might account for the fact that in 22 years at the BBC and
15 subsequently in ministry in Cambridge and Oxford, I can count on
one hand the number of colleagues who were or are self-confessed
Tories. The worlds of broadcasting, academia, and, perhaps to a
lesser extent, the Church tend to regard Tories as intellectually
deficient and morally suspect. No one wants to be thought of in
that way, and so those with such sympathies shut up.
Research shortly before the election suggested that the majority
of those who identified with the C of E were, in fact, Conservative
voters. But even they are somewhat under the radar. The rhetoric
that comes from church leaders, even when it is as carefully worded
as the Bishops' Pastoral Letter (News, 20 February), tends to sound
as if it comes from the centre left. That is at least in part
because Church of England thought has been influenced by Catholic
social teaching: a well-argued body of thought which assumes that
an interventionist State can be an effective instrument of social
Shy Tories have difficulties with this view. Not only do they
tend to distrust the extent of the State's involvement with
everyday life: there is a perception that the State is something of
a necessary evil. It cannot be a truly moral entity, because it is
impersonal, and only persons can act as moral agents.
Many Conservatives believe instead that, while there is a place
for the State in encouraging virtue, charity, and compassion, when
the State attempts to enact those virtues, it overreaches itself
and inhibits the place of the charities, individuals, and
enterprises that can bind society together.
Worse, the State removes the impetus for personal virtue by
promoting the view that it alone is the guarantor of goodness in
society. But this will always be an illusion, and one that fuels
dependency, bureaucracy, and, in the end, corruption.
Shy Tories are also shy of some of the failures of contemporary
Conservatism. They wince at the self-indulgence of bankers, at
tax-avoidance by corporations, at the cartels that act against the
interests of the public. But all this does not add up to a quick
answer, or even a decision to vote, until you look at what might
happen if you don't. This, I think, is what the shy Tories finally
did on Thursday last week.