When I was bold enough to admit in a Column a couple of weeks back that, while I do not necessarily support what he did, I stood by Owen Paterson as an old friend, my admission was greeted by shrieks of condemnation by a few tooth-suckingly self-righteous, holier-than-thou correspondents. They would rather jump on the passing bandwagon of disapproval and condemn Owen as if he were a mass murderer than give him the safeguards of natural law. It is my experience that friendship is more important than self-righteousness.
I was honoured yesterday to welcome 150 of the soldiers, airmen and civil servants who carried out the brilliant evacuation of Afghanistan known as Op Pitting. Led by the Band of the RAF they marched through the Carriage Gates of Parliament to be met at the Great North Door of Westminster Hall, (through which the Duke of Wellington passed on his return from the Battle of Waterloo) by the Prime Minister, Speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords, First Sea Lord and perhaps a thousand Parliamentarians from both Houses and staff from every corner of the Palace. It was a truly great celebration – a welcome home and thank you - to those who carried out one of the bravest and most difficult of military operations; and who did so with fantastic professionalism, efficiency, and above all camaraderie. Soldiers do what they do for their Queen and Country, for the officers who order them to do it, but above all for their comrades in arms. Their mates. That is why the British Regimental system works so well.
The human instinct to side with your comrades at arms is also responsible for the Party system in Parliament. The easiest truism in the world comes from those who decry the Party and the whips, since MPs “should put their country and constituents before all else”. Of course we do. Yet of the 32373, or just short of 60% of the people of North Wiltshire who voted for me in the last election, giving me a massive majority over both Labour and the Lib Dems, I am realistic enough to recognise that relatively few voted for me personally; most simply wanted a Conservative Government. It is therefore my duty to do what I can to deliver the principles and policies of the Conservative Party to them. Only some overwhelming constituency interest, or some issue of personal conscience would normally allow or encourage me to deviate from what the rest of my party are doing. Those MPs who habitually rebel on almost everything are arrogantly presuming that their own views are more important than the views of the people who elected them in the first place.
Human beings are herd animals, birds of a feather who flock together. We are most comfortable with those who are similar to us - from the same country, school or college, Church or social group, our family and friends; those who hold similar political, religious or social opinions to ourselves. That is a natural human instinct; and it provides the very sinews from which a happy society is born. Friends and family are more important than almost anything else.
Those whose best friends are their fellow human beings will sleep easy in their beds at night. He whose best friend is himself will have only his best friend to blame for his aching loneliness.