It is perhaps one of the oddities of the British political tradition that it is often best revealed by foreigners. Voltaire and Montesquieu in the 18th century had a large part in England’s reputation as a notably free society, but it could be argued that the Irishman Edmund Burke should be recognised as the major ‘foreign’ contributor to our political self-understanding. He could express what the English were about better than any native. In doing so, Burke made a lasting contribution to the development of modern democracy.
Without competition between politi-cal parties, democracy can’t work. Burke responded to the political factions of his time by reconceiving them as the (more or less) respected bands of politicians we can recognise today. He did this through a kind of high-mindedness. A party, he explained, is a ‘body of men