Monday, July 26, 2010

Salisbury: The Triumph of Reaction

I’ve just finished one of the best political biographies I’ve ever read (David Donald’s Lincoln is the only one I can think of that might be superior), about one of the greatest Conservative leaders in history: Andrew Roberts’ Salisbury. Roberts is a superb writer, and had the advantage of a subject who was just as superb a writer, spent 9 years in full-time political journalism and preserved a full set of correspondence and records.

Robert Cecil, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, won three general elections and was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for almost 14 years between 1885 and 1902. Despite these accomplishments, Lord Salisbury never entered the Conservative pantheon. He was totally eclipsed in memory by the dashing and romantic Disraeli who was by comparison an electoral failure, leaving to Salisbury the job of putting Gladstone away for good His memory has been overshadowed even by such comparatively ephemeral figures as Lord Randolph Churchill, the artificer of “Tory Democracy”. Part of the cause of his obscurity is ideological. Both Disraeli and Churchill were figures from the left of the party, both solid examples of the classic “Red Tory”, in the original meaning of the term. Salisbury on the other hand was an outright reactionary, a High Tory of a kind that had disappeared in Canada decades before. Reaction, in its secondary or vulgar sense of opposition to and obstruction of change, was the essence of his philosophy. Disraeli ‘stole the Whigs’ clothes’ and broadened the franchise in the 1867 Reform Act, seeing increased enfranchisement as inevitable and not wanting all newly enfranchised groups to regard the Liberals as their friend and the Tories as their enemy forever; Salisbury resigned from Cabinet over the measure. (But few conservatives know that Salisbury had done minute calculations of the likely effect on Conservative fortunes of Disraeli’s proposed enfranchisement, finding the calculations Disraeli was passing on to be wrong. The next election after the Bill proved Salisbury right. In 1884, on the other hand, Salisbury was able to insist that the next major broadening of the franchise not be enacted until it was accompanied by a redistribution which made the package as a whole to the Conservatives’ betterment.) Change, he said, was “an evil, and we do not desire to give it any assistance…it occupies time and energies which are wanted for other purposes.’
He has an unlikely personality for a politician: a loner, affected permanently, Roberts thinks, by severe bullying at Eton, reserved, shy and unsocial, to the extent that in his later years there were a number of instances of his not recognizing members of his own Cabinet (they were after all in the Commons, while he governed from the Lords); as unconcerned as anyone could be about being liked, admired or honoured; notoriously sloppy and careless in dress; dismissive of political oratory, writing the Queen that extra-Parliamentary speaking engagements were “an odious addition to the burdens of political life in modern times…a bad fashion introduced by Mr Gladstone.” (Victoria greatly preferred Salisbury to Gladstone, to the extent of, quite unconstitutionally, forwarding Gladstone’s letters to her while prime minister on to leader of the opposition Salisbury, just for his information.) He could never have attained political leadership in our time (for which we are the losers.)
His claim to greatness has multiple supports. Among Conservative leaders in the Anglosphere, he was one of the greatest writers, thinkers and parliamentary and electoral tacticians. One could fill a sheaf of pages with his mordant, witty, sometimes cynical observations and sayings – and I may just do that for a while.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Merit Alone

It's about time that the Government got around to reining in affirmative action. It's a move that is not just a matter of elementary social justice; handeled properly, it will be politically popular as well. As the National Post
shows, reverse discrimination is no longer necessary in the federal public service, if it ever was:
According to the commission’s latest figures, published in 2009, 18.8% of public service employees are visible minorities, 4.2% are aboriginal, 3.3% are people with disabilities and 57.1% are women. Canada-wide, according to the 2006 Statistics Canada census, 16.2% of Canadians are visible minorities, 3.8% are aboriginal and 51% are women.
The government needs to march behind the banner "Merit Alone". The policy review needs to be guided toward toward the dropping of reverse discrimination and a total recasting of civil service policy. Hiring by merit thwaps hiring by status in any poll that gives both options. Some of the themes that the new policy should develop:

* true diversity, diversity of backgrounds and of ideas, thrives where selection be merit is taken seriously;
* targets for percentage hiring of specified groups are simply quotas by another name;
* selection by merit must replace "diversity' as the key phrase emphasized not just at hiring, but at every stage of the promotion process.

As part of this review, the government should cough up some money to get the best and most sympathetic personnel experts it can find to design "Merit Workshops" which will replace the diversity workshops which now infest the land, poisoning both the public and private spheres. In the workshops, trained meritocrats would indoctrinate their captive audiences on disasters, real and hypothetical, caused by reverse discrimination hires; selection by merit as a key element of equality and social justice; how "obstacles to merit selection" may be identified and expunged from the workplace, and the like; how new and better "selection by merit" practices may be embedded in the system, etc. The idea would be that these workshops will become an alternate institution to the liberal institution of the diversity workshop, as conservatives conduct their Gramscian march through the institutions of liberal hegemony.

One thing the government needs to do immediately is to drop the defensiveness, the whining about "Oh we're in favour of diversity, we're in favour of affirmative action, we really are." Stockwell Day may be permanently spooked because of his previous manhandling by the liberal media, but the government needs to stop cringing and walk with pride on this one. They have a bloody shirt to wave to start the thing going: the moral outrage of hiring people only from specified races.