Chris R. Tame, Appreciation from The Daily Telegraph, 10th April 2006
Liberty is a subject they won't teach in Brown's nurseries
Chris Tame is dead. The name is little known even in the world of politics, where Tame worked. But that is because he ignored the means by which most politicians pursue their ends: state action. He was the founder of the Libertarian Alliance, a reading group that evolved into a think tank, publishing more than 800 pamphlets over 30 years on everything from philosophy to economics. Unobtrusively, he stiffened our politics, and helped keep the Left at bay.
Tame was iconoclastic and anti-establishment. He disdained the Tory party for its "stuffy'' and "reactionary'' tendencies; he believed in legalising drugs and in our right to whatever expression of sexuality catches our fancy. Just the sort of chap David Cameron would have welcomed with open arms, you would have thought.
No. Tame was an ideologue, and, says Mr Cameron, "Conservatives are not ideologues''. This statement is on the cover of Built to Last, the statement of "aims and values'' that was debated at the party's spring conference in Manchester this weekend. I say "debated'', but it was the most desultory debate imaginable. Delegates found it difficult to wrestle with a semolina pudding.
The only exciting moment came when John Strafford, the leader of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, suggested adding to the document the statements "we love mother'' and "we believe in apple pie''. To which a young man on the platform in an open-necked shirt, whose name I didn't catch, responded: "You're living in the past, mate.'' Both got a good round of applause.
Who was right? The fact is that Built to Last does contain, amid the cream and butter, some tasty raisins. Personal responsibility, limited government, family stability, national sovereignty - they're all in there. It's just a little difficult to find them, because none of these phrases actually occurs. They must be inferred.
No doubt this is sound politics: voters don't want a diet of raisins. But the truth remains that politics is about ideas - principles in their pure form.
To suggest, as politicians do, that politics is about "people'' is as meaningless as the other consensus classic, that politics is about "events''. Even "aims'' and "values'' have something behind them that is pure and universal.
An idea, that is.
To Tame, the idea was freedom. He wanted to privatise not just schools and hospitals, but the money supply, the Army and the police, and to legalise everything except direct attacks on the life, liberty or property of others. In a libertarian world, the state would be confined to registering land deals, and not much else.
You don't have to go along with all this (I don't) to share the basic libertarian premise. "Property-rights anarchism'', as it is also sometimes called, rests on the assumption that free people, in properly constructed institutions, cohere naturally. Libertarians are not libertines. Freedom is not an isolating but a unifying thing. Without a public police, thought Tame, we would not be reduced to individual Tony Martins, toting shotguns in our farmhouses: we would band together to form local, private forces.
Tame is dead, but Polly Toynbee lives and flourishes. The Guardian columnist is enjoying what is either - depending on the outcome of the next election - the springtime or the Indian summer of her ideas. Gordon Brown has raised taxes to a level that even she, almost, finds satisfactory. And now he has adopted the project she has been advocating for years: "universal children's centres'', or "public nurseries''.
As Toynbee imagines it, "every child from birth finds here everything necessary to thrive... here working mothers are guaranteed affordable childcare, in a place where parents of all classes create a hub for the local community''.
She anticipates the creation of "the early-years professional... a brilliant combination of nursery teacher, social worker and health visitor, steeped in child development, with graduate status and teacher's pay''.
Childcare is one of those issues that barely breaks the surface of politics. And yet no subject more clearly illustrates the ideological difference between Left and Right. For in their respective approaches to it, the two sides reveal their fundamental idea of what it is to be human, and how the human being at his simplest - the newborn child - relates to the society he has joined.
To the Platonic Left, the child is born perfect, and degenerates thereafter. He is born perfect because, in his unformed infancy, he is equal, identical to all other babies. But then the corrupting circumstances of home and neighbourhood and culture get to him: in the Marxist word, he is "alienated'' from his fellows by bad social and economic arrangements, and so he enters an exploiting and exploited relationship with mankind.
To the Left, then, the purpose of politics is to counteract culture, to "wipe the slate clean'', in Plato's words, and return the child to the state of innocent equality in which he popped into the world. Theirs is the gospel of Judas - gnostic, believing in the essential badness of the created order. They want us to escape our too solid flesh, and attain a purity beyond circumstance, beyond the basely material. They are world-haters.
To the Aristotelian Right, by contrast, the child is born imperfect, and improves. In a word, he is fallen - imbued with the sin of mankind. Corruption has already set in, in human nature, which seeks aggrandisement and personal gain at the expense of others. Society, however, can meliorate the worst of this, by inducting the child into the habits and conventions of civilisation. So the purpose of politics is not to rescue the individual but to civilise him, not to strip away his private affiliations but to deepen his links with his family and society, and thus with himself.
From these abstract ideas come concrete policies. For the Left, the project is to disrupt the generations and undo the ties that bind parents to children. Hence the perennial Labour attack, ramped up in last month's Budget, on inheritance, that most obvious and material sign of corrupt beginnings. In the same way, responsibility for the child's education rests with the state, and any attempt by parents to take power themselves represents the exploitation of unfair social and economic circumstances. Hence "comprehensive'' education, which deliberately discounts the particular characteristics the child has gleaned from his home and family, be they genetic, cultural or material. And hence state nurseries, which will begin the task even earlier - "from birth'', says Toynbee. Plato had the same idea. So did Pol Pot.
To the Right, however, the raising of children is the job of the parents who brought them into the world. Not the state, not society in the abstract - which is the state - but the family is rightfully responsible for a child. We need more childcare, to be sure, but it should be private, provided by the ad hoc agencies of a neighbourhood, accountable to parents and representing all the messy informality of the society we inhabit.
Polly Toynbee and Gordon Brown understand the ideas that lie behind their "aims and values'', because they are ideologues. David Cameron could be one, too, if he wished. Chris Tame left 800 pamphlets behind.