Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Battles of Tomorrow

Any visitors who might have crept upon this blog in the months since it became known as 'Thinking For The Individual' might have come to wonder whether the individual in mind was perhaps somewhat lazy and not quite the go-getting entrepreneurial individuals that people of my creed have in mind when they speak of individualism. All I can say is that since then I confess I have had to take a dose of my own medicine, and so I've spent the past months thinking of one individual in particular - me!

After weeks of patient and dogged preparation for GCSE exams, distracting me as they do from philosophical thought and political debate in their insistence that I understand every minute detail of eutrophication and the voltage and current on a series circuit and trigonometry and mitosis and settlement hierarchy and the French subjunctive, they've come and they've gone. But instead of a long and protracted essay on the state of British education (there have been about two or three of those since last June, so I'm covered on that one!), I have a short and simple thought. It's a thought heavily embedded in my mind more than many this week, with my education in the real world only just beginning now that academic instruction has had its chance and true experience of real life beckons. But it's a thought that is true for me as it is, as we move further into the twenty-first century and as the political map is still to be painted blue and red and whatever other colour it is destined to be, for the rest of our society.

The future begins now.

The coming week I'll be in London, living and working on an internship in the postcode where every affair of state is concluded. It's my turn to become one of the sniffling teenage boys sent by a school on work experience, and, in a flash of wisdom or a bow to my foolishness, I shall take my placement at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, 25 Victoria Street. My precocious instincts took charge over the good sense of all my friends who are working in places where they hope they'll have little chance to do any damage, where a spilt cup of coffee won't mean the difference between a Tory and a UKIP victory in Bromley & Chislehurst, and where, if they do leave a legacy of getting it wrong in the one week they there spend, it shouldn't matter for them in the slightest in their own glorious futures.

But so long as, when I make the journey back up north next weekend from my days on Victoria Street, I can be content that I've earned a great experience for myself, and come across the passionate and dedicated people I know work day in, day out at 25 Victoria Street, then my insistence that the future begins on this very day will be all the more true.

It's not merely I whose future starts now. As a society, eras come and eras go. We had the Thatcher years, then in 1990, when I was but an infant, a new man came to Number Ten, and then in 1997, another man came who works there to this day. But his time is running out, and even though the passage of history must never be simply a rewrite of the passage of statesmen and politicians, politics is changing too.

As Tony Blair insists on yet more legislation to combat crime, which has never in the history of human civilisation on these British Isles been so spread across society and so devastating to vast tracts of the country as it is today, and as Gordon Brown presides over an economy which is propped up by the tax returns of all the people, from the middle-class family in suburbia to the working man in the inner city, we can begin to see how the future battles between statesmen will be fought.

I know a young man of my age, a socialist by calling, so he says, though, I'm told, more through the words of his socialist mother and his socialist father. He lives a prosperous, happy lifestyle and lives in what in Yorkshire could easily be thought of as palatial wonder, with a swimming pool and a fencing gallery (hunting is too Tory, apparently, he much prefers to fence, if that's even the right verb). But his socialism persists, and his belief that the people must be saved from themselves by government and politicians is indefatigable.

When I deign to ask whether it is such a good thing to have an economy where Gordon Brown takes half the people's money for himself, and when I suggest the National Health Service is an institution designed to fail, and when I suggest that state education is in a rut (he is, incidentally, a private schoolboy, as am I, but I believe in them and he claims not to), he argues his soundbite. "You want to tear the government down from the inside," comes the eternal refrain.

As vulgar and sickly as I know I sound when, against this backdrop, I paint myself as the council estate boy done good, I can't help drawing the contrast. I can't help draw the contrast between I who believes in mankind, and he who believes in government. I can't help draw the contrast, for when I see how the petulant young whippersnappers like he and I debate and argue and politick the days by, I begin to wonder whether this is how the future might be.

I believe in mankind. I call myself a capitalist, a libertarian, or a Conservative, because it's easy. It takes no effort to give myself a label, for once I'm classed in a particular category, what's the need to ask me what I think of any issue of the day? My mind is then made up by which chair I sit in, which wall I'm stood against, which part of the room I take as my own.

But I am more than a label, as each and every one of us is. I believe in man, and I believe that man is a great creature, and a creature with as many co-operative, socialistic instincts as he has capitalistic, competitive instincts. And I believe that the best society in which man can thrive is the society which sets him free to thrive. That is why I believe in liberty and freedom, and why I find it so easy to call myself a capitalist, a libertarian and a Conservative. Man will make his money and make a name for himself if he is free so to do. Man will look after his neighbour and offer a helping hand to the friend in his community if he is free to do so. The greatest feats are only achieved when man is free.

But in Britain today we are not free. We have a very strange kind of freedom to call our own. We have political rights, and civil liberties that can only be dreamt of in some societies. We have freedom to waste money, freedom to do all we like with our bodies, freedom to hate our country and all it stands for. But all this is is a manifestation of the truer tyranny under which we are held.

We are plainly not free, because if we were we would be achieving. As a society, we would be a proud and happy, shining land if we were free. If we were free, we would give our neighbour a smile and a greeting, not a showcase of neighbours from hell on the television. If we were free, we would conduct ourselves with dignity and honour and respect, for these are the virtues of the self that can only come with freedom. We have a National Health Service, but we receive healthcare of a standard not befitting the fourth greatest economy in the world, and the vast majority of us have no responsibility for our own care, and none of the dignity and honour that responsibility brings upon man and the family. We have state education, but one in five leaves school 'functionally illiterate' and it is youths who are seen as the bane of society, incapable to carry the mantle of leadership in the coming decades, and the vast majority of us have no responsibility for our own education, and yet again none of the dignity and honour that responsibility brings upon man and the family.

The battles of tomorrow are going to be between me and my socialist friend. They won't be battles of Left and Right, or of radicals and moderates, or of managers and ideologues. They will be battles between people who believe either in mankind and people and families and communities, or who believe in the State and systems and politicians and government structures.

My future begins now, and the future of my society begins now too. And I know where I stand in the battles of tomorrow that my society will see when the future's golden sun rises beyond the dawn that comes now. In the battles of tomorrow, every man of us has to know where we stand. I certainly believe I do.