It is easy to be disenchanted by politics and cynical about politicians – especially if you’re persuaded they’re all disingenuous liars whose objective is shadowy manipulation and the pursuit of personal power. Some are undoubtedly ambitious and intoxicated by their own infallible sense of self-righteousness. But others are thoughtful, compassionate and sincere. One or two may be loonies, but more than a few claim Jesus as their personal political inspiration: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow..”
Whether you attribute reason, compassion or justice to any individual politician or political party is largely influenced if not wholly determined by the prism of your political allegiance. A Socialist in Gerrards Cross is a freak; a Conservative in Bootle is evil; a LibDem just about anywhere is an aberration. So, when David Cameron stands up and delivers a speech on “Freedom. Justice. Standing up for what is right”, it is worth remembering that freedom, justice and rightness are many-sided and may be variously apprehended and endlessly waffled on about. But just because your notion of justice isn’t David Cameron’s doesn’t make him Hitler. And just because you assert vehemently that his notion of “what is right” is, in fact, profoundly wrong, doesn’t make him a serpent from hell.
There was a lot of “look at me” in the Prime Minister’s conference speech, but he is our leader and must be seen to lead. Passivity isn’t an option when weakness is fatal. Cameron is a skilled orator, and this speech was easily one of his best: it leaves an impression of conviction and determination, even if you don’t believe in the ethic of his appeal or the morality of his government. You may loathe his politics and yearn for his removal, but, hey, the thing is, the Bible tells us that he was appointed by God (Rom 13:1) and Christians are exhorted to pray for him (1Tim 2:1-4).
Two sections stood out. This on the threat to our national security:
The threat is Islamist extremist terrorism – and it has found a new, hellish crucible – with ISIL, in Iraq and Syria. These people are evil, pure and simple. They kill children; rape women; threaten non-believers with genocide; behead journalists and aid workers. Some people seem to think we can opt out of this. We can’t.. Because let’s be clear: There is no “walk on by” option. Unless we deal with ISIL, they will deal with us, bringing terror and murder to our streets. As always with this Party, we will do whatever it takes to keep our country safe. And to those who have had all the advantages of being brought up in Britain, but who want to go and fight for ISIL – let me say this. If you try to travel to Syria or Iraq, we will use everything at our disposal to stop you: Taking away your passport; prosecuting, convicting, imprisoning you… and if you’re there already – even preventing you from coming back. You have declared your allegiance. You are an enemy of the UK – and you should expect to be treated as such.
And this on social justice in the tax system:
I can tell you now that a future Conservative Government will raise the tax-free personal allowance from £10,500 to £12,500. That will take 1 million more of the lowest paid workers out of income tax – and will give a tax cut to 30 million more. So with us, if you work 30 hours a week on minimum wage, you will pay no income tax at all. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Lower taxes for our hardworking people… that’s what I call a Britain that everyone is proud to call home.
But we will do something else. The 40p tax rate was only supposed to be paid by the most well-off people in our country… but in the past couple of decades, far too many have been dragged into it: teachers, police officers. So let me tell you this today. I want to take action that’s long overdue, and bring back some fairness to tax. With a Conservative government, we will raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate. It’s currently £41,900… In the next Parliament we will raise it to £50,000.
So here’s our commitment to the British people: No income tax if you are on Minimum Wage. A 12 and a half thousand pound tax-free personal allowance for millions of hardworking people. And you only pay 40p tax when you earn £50,000.
By rejecting those who reject us, Cameron distinguishes between the domain of terror and the domain of security. If you opt for the former, you forfeit your right to British citizenship. This ought to be extended to all who refuse to integrate to the extent of fomenting hatred and decrying the foundations of the liberal state. There can be no place in fraternal community for those who revile our liberties and repudiate democracy. Their agitation impacts upon public life and society’s most vulnerable minds. We harbour them at our peril.
When it comes to money, the ubiquitous Conservative caricature is that of privilege, toffee-nosed elitism, looking after the rich and despising the poor. Solidarity with the oppressed and liberating the impoverished from the burdens of taxation are seen as a socialist priorities and pursuits, intrinsic to the social gospel of ministering to the neighbour in need. But alleviating the plight of the poor is a fundamentally conservative pursuit, too. It is simply that the conservative believes that the more just and effective solution is to trust the lowest-paid workers to keep more of what they earn and be individually responsible for its stewardship, rather than taxing them and redistributing their money to achieve a higher dignity. The freedom of the individual is not synonymous with unbridled individualism: incentives matter, and our behaviour and motivation correlate closely with reward and possession.
You may balk at assertions of Tory benevolence and mutual interdependence. You may refute the belief that societal well-being and cultural flourishing may arise from self-defensive Conservative politicians and the self-protectionist institutions they seek to uphold. But economic morality and political integrity are not the preserve of any single perception of the common good or myopic application of theology. David Cameron is concerned with the well-being of each of us and the cohesion of the nation. You can believe and follow or repudiate and loathe. You can give him latitude in his moral limitations or harp on about his shortcomings. You can credit his virtues or despise his faux-sincerity. But through whichever political prism you choose to perceive and observe, you are exhorted first of all to pray for him. That is a basic act of Christian dignity.