Last night I went to the 35th anniversary party for the Centre for Policy Studies, the think-tank which provided the intellectual impetus behind Thatcherism. There was a distinct smell of dust in the air, as the assembled speakers venerated the past and modestly concluded that they had been right in the 1980s.
Given the celebratory nature of the occasion, I suppose a backward-looking event was inevitable. Nevertheless, the participants reminded me of American Republicans so lost in admiration for the lost glories of Reaganism that they did not notice that their Democratic opponents were winning today’s political arguments. The exception, Tory readers may or may not be pleased to hear, was David Cameron. He argued for conservative solutions to today’s issues of poverty and global warming, problems which I think I’m not sticking my neck out by saying most of the assembled company did not regard as pressing or any kind of problem at all. I always admire a man who tells his audience what it does not want to hear, and although Cameron did not go the whole hog and say that the banking crisis had shattered the Thatcherite illusion that markets could be left regulate themselves, I was more impressed than I wanted to be.
I left early and jumped on a bus to go to the reception of Matrix Chambers, the law firm which has grown fat and grand by fighting human rights cases. It was in a vast marquee on the lawn at Gray’s Inn. An academic pointed me towards the star guest of the evening, a lawyer who was prosecuting British soldiers for torturing Iraqis. “Did he oppose torture and genocide in Saddam’s Iraq?” I asked. This was not so much the wrong question as an incomprehensible question.
Although the CPS party was in the Saatchi offices on the edge of Mayfiar, Matrix out-classed it. Everyone present was a well-groomed and well-heeled lawyer of the upper-middle class. Tellingly, everyone I spoke to was also anti-Tory and confident that they could use the law to frustrate the next government.
I think there is going to be a conflict between these two wings of elite early into a Cameron premiership, possibly over the deportation of terrorist suspects, who have no right to remain in Britain, or freedom of speech, which the judiciary is undermining without even pretending to seek the approval of parliament. At the moment, the lawyers seem to have the upper hand, but I caught in their bland assumption of superiority a hint of dangerous over-confidence.