Guy Browning: How to ... be moderate

Moderation in all things is good, but you can overdo it. Often it is the most moderate politicians who are given to sexual and alcoholic excess in their private lives. Similarly, political extremists tend to be very moderate at home.

It's almost impossible to build a social or religious movement on moderation, principally because moderation doesn't move forward, it budges up to accommodate. You'll notice that municipal statues are generally of people standing up pointing somewhere. You don't get statues of moderates in armchairs, weighing up the pros and cons.

Moderation sounds genteel but is the hardest road to tread. Extremism has all the easy answers. For example, it's very difficult to hold the position that global warming is happening only slightly. Light green is not a colour recognised by environmentalists. Similarly, the Church of England will be torn apart by its militant extremists unless its moderates burn them at the stake to calm them down.

The British are suspicious of extremists and instinctively moderate. The fact that the custard cream is the nation's favourite biscuit tends to bear this out: it's a bland filling held between two tasteless biscuits. Indeed, that describes our political set-up as well.

Moderators are people who chair Presbyterian meetings or groups on the internet. Group moderators on the net are faceless people of probity, intelligence and great judgment. It's a shame they can't wear some sort of medal in public so we'd know who these digital Solomons are. But then, modesty is the handmaiden of moderation.

Moderation can be dangerous, especially when you're trying to do something difficult. For example, bungee jumping off the kitchen table is likely to be more dangerous than doing it off the Humber bridge.

It's not a good idea to fall moderately in love and is, in fact, mildly insulting to the object of your lukewarm affection. A moderate lover would sign their Valentine's cards "Yours sincerely" and send bunches of watercress instead of red roses. They wouldn't fall in love, either; they'd step gingerly into love. Love is an extreme, which is why it's strangely unnerving watching Liberal Democrats mate.

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