Everyone comes to their political standpoint by a different route; most change their views at some point in their life. We are affected by our age, whether we feel positive or badly about our lives, the performance of the government, whether we like the personalities of the people in charge, our families and our political inheritance, money, location, culture – a whole host of influences on our political aspect and beliefs.
Most politicians – and I would say the best politicians – are not exempt from this. Dogma is dangerous and inflexibility of mind makes for poor decisions in practice. But whilst we ride the waves of events and circumstances as any citizen will do, we have to remain anchored to the sure seabed of our political values: why you go into a job, the reasons for wishing to serve, and the principles that you keep. It is these that inform the compromises you must necessarily make, the negotiated settlements where you meet your partners and enemies half way, the direction in which you choose to lead. Without that anchor, you are just tossed and turned on the froth and will soon enough be wrecked.
I know that I want to serve and I know that I want to leave things better than I found them. I share that with most of my colleagues, of all parties. But where we part company is the soft philosophy that guides the way in which you express those values. And this is where people often ask the most difficult question: why are you a Conservative? It’s no good just saying that you believe in the prime minister, or the manifesto, or your colleagues: you need more than that – something that describes the process by which you make decisions and frame your point of view.
I think about this often: you should do if you wish to keep that anchor firm. So what’s my answer? It’s pretty simple really: I believe in changing things to make life better for the people I serve but I also believe in conserving what is good and time-proven, so that you have the stability and continuity that you need to make the changes your constituency and your country requires. There are two alternatives: do nothing, which is a sad and depressing way to think about the world – or to change everything, which you could call revolution. Revolutions have one guarantee: they rarely alter what you are most concerned about and they often destroy the things that you would want to keep.
All of this might seem a little philosophical – and we English are not given to too much philosophy. But I was struck on Wednesday at a very special event how those two seemingly contradictory statements – everything changes and yet nothing changes – can together hold true.
I was being sworn into the Privy Counsel by Her Majesty The Queen – a rite of passage for all cabinet ministers that brings you into one of the most ancient political institutions in our country. Also being sworn in was the glorious Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, someone widely respected across Scotland and increasingly our United Kingdom as a whole. We both swore the ancient oath in front of The Queen. As I thought of the immense honour of the moment, I also thought about how Ruth – a Scottish politician in a devolved Scottish Parliament and the first gay leader of a modern political party in our country – was just by her presence showing how much had changed in the last few years, let alone in the decades since Her Majesty first assembled her Privy Counsel. The stability and continuity she has brought, and the monarchy has ensured, has made it possible for Ruth Davidson to be there, in her position, open about who she is and who she wants to be. In several senses, she shows how everything changes; yet what makes that good change possible is because some things stay the same.