Douglas Hurd’s Tamworth Manifesto
Bristol in the hands of the mob for three days, the Mansion House and three prisons sacked, rioters killed in Derby, Nottingham Castle burned to the ground – that was the news from England in the summer of 1832. We should not be beguiled by the calm portraits of Sir Robert Peel or his heavy, measured prose. He led his party through times much more violent than our own. During a time of tumultuous social change he fundamentally changed its direction.
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Vol. 10 No. 7 · 31 March 1988
SIR: ‘But above all,’ asks Mr Hurd in his Tamworth piece (LRB, 17 March), ‘where were the parents of these [rioting] youths and what influence have they had on the way their children conduct themselves?’ I am not what the Sunday papers would call ‘an experienced Cabinet children watcher’, but my impression is that when it comes to ‘influencing the way their children behave’ the Cabinet are no better than anybody else. However, when their prominent offspring come to grief, as they not infrequently do, the shame they bring on their families generally enlists public sympathy and forbearance. ‘Tragic for the parents’ is the usual note. But so is the shame of those in humbler circumstances (the parents of the rioting youths, for instance).
I realise it’s too much to expect a sense of our common lot from this government (‘you common lot’ more often the note), but since Mrs Thatcher has schooled half the nation to put its foot in the face of the other half it’s not so surprising if ‘youths’ put the boot in after office hours. No amount of moralistic afterthoughts by the Home Secretary is going to alter that. Meanwhile he should look round the table.
Vol. 10 No. 8 · 21 April 1988
SIR: There was a time when Victorian values ruled against unctuous self-celebration as demeaning and hypocritical. And in any case, slow cascades of grease flow from all the yellow press upon Douglas Hurd, his colleagues and their mistress, without LRB adding to it (LRB, 17 March). What is more, Mr Hurd himself knows there is no ‘renaissance of Britain’, knows also that Mr Baker can create no causal connection between his reforms and ‘teachers’ influence in favour of respect for traditional morality’ – itself a decidedly uncertain quantity. But by this stage in his litany, cant and lying have become unstoppable. ‘Now the heartbeat of an enterprise economy is good and firm …’ ‘We reject a soft-centred vision of the world where the collective dominates the individual.’ The function of criticism at the present time, as an eminent Victorian once pointed out, is to identity what is unspeakable about such publicly-spoken rubbish. If you wanted evidence of the collapse of academic standards, Mr Hurd’s piece would do fine. Was this the LRB’s point? If so, for the sake of good government, please will you drop the coding and speak in clear?
University of Bristol
SIR: After warning us against over-dramatising particular events, Douglas Hurd does precisely that. He takes ‘the violent disturbances in small cities and market towns which ushered in the New Year of 1987’ and goes on to assert that crime in the inner cities is not due to deprivation, unemployment and Thatcherism. How can he make this assertion? Because the people who took part in these brawls were ‘white, employed, affluent and drunk’. According to Douglas Hurd, this violent behaviour is caused by teachers who do not encourage ‘respect for traditional morality, for the law and for the rights of other people’; by the Churches who fail to preach a gospel of individual behaviour and values; and by parents who have opted out. It could be that the teachers, the Churches and the parents are, by and large, trying to do the things that Douglas Hurd says they are not doing, but that their messages are being swamped by even stronger messages. Just look at the videos for hire in the local off-licence and see the sexist and violent images that are available to young people; go into any pub and see young people gathering to drink without hindrance; read the tawdry lies in the tabloids which teenagers feed on; observe the politicians scheming and distorting the truth in the interests of party and power; listen to the raucous heckling in broadcasts from Parliament; watch the cheap and shoddy games shows on TV which offer prizes to people who will demean themselves; look at the scandalous tax-dodges of the very rich; see the way pollution is tolerated because to prevent it would cost money; listen to the Asian community’s complaints that racist attacks are not taken seriously by the Police; and finally look at the way the poorest in our society are treated in a cold and uncaring way. Is it any wonder that in Thatcher’s Britain there are young people who are violent, greedy, cold and undisciplined? It is not the teachers or the Churches that are transmitting these messages.