Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Death of a Decent Breed



As promised, here's my longer tribute to the late Sir Ian Gilmour (above), from the Guardian's Comment is Free website.


"When Bush talks about bringing democratic government to the Middle East, he means the election of Arab governments which will do what Israel and America tell them to do. But why is Europe acting in much the same way? Mr Blair talks a lot about Muslims and denies that they have been oppressed by the west. If he had ever read a book on the subject, he would know what rubbish that is. His neglect of the Palestinians and his aggression against Iraq have endangered Britons both at home and abroad, as well as being directly contrary to British interest and principles."


Who wrote the above words? John Pilger, Robert Fisk? George Galloway? No, they were from the pen of the late Conservative MP and former defence minister Sir Ian Gilmour, who died on Friday at the age of 81.

Gilmour was the last of a dying breed: the humane, thoroughly decent, "one nation" conservative - a man who believed that people were more important than "market forces" and that Britain's best interests were not served by total subservience in foreign policy matters to the US.

Sacked from the cabinet in 1981 by Thatcher for his opposition to her monetarist dogma, Gilmour, "the wettest of the wets", never wavered from his belief that the party's lurch to the neoliberal right in 1975 was a betrayal of its conservative principles.

I first saw Gilmour in person when he addressed my university's politics society in 1984. He held us enthralled for over an hour with his attack on Thatcherism and his defence of the mixed economy post-war consensus: as an unreconstructed "old" Labour socialist I found myself nodding in agreement with everything the tall, wonderfully well-mannered old Etonian baronet said.

Gilmour went on to write a brilliant book, Dancing with Dogma, tracing the Conservative party's takeover by a band of very un-conservative free-market ideologues.

He was wonderfully dismissive of the extremist ideas of the next generation of Thatcherites. In 2005, he wrote:
"The flat tax may well be right for, say, the new economies of Eastern Europe, but in long-established economies like those of the United States and western Europe it would be largely a device for making the rich richer, which is no doubt why it appeals to the neo-cons here and in the US."

He was also a principled opponent of both wars against Iraq. On the eve of the second Iraq war, he told the House of Lords:
"if the war starts, as seems almost certain, it will be, in my view, a war of cynicism, aggression, greed and unpopularity."

Today, few Tory MPs share Sir Ian's visceral hatred of military conflict: instead gung-ho neocons, eager to show their loyalty to the US state department, predominate.
But it wasn't always so. There was a time when, believe it or not, the Conservative party included people who did not believe that capitalism was a religion and that Britain should follow a foreign policy decided in Whitehall and not Washington.

RIP Sir Ian. If only there were more Tories - and indeed Labour politicians - like you today.

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