Thursday, March 08, 2007

Principles ± 3%

One of the things that continues to fascinate me about the Dear Leader is his continual insistence that nothing he has done in government constitutes an abandonment of Labour principles. As with so many of the Rev. A.R.P. Blair’s mantras, it has been accepted with religious fervour by the party faithful. Which in itself is no bad thing, except that you get the feeling that in this case, Tony actually believes his own hype, a trait that is usually catastrophic for a politician.

There is a justification for it. That the politicians haven’t yet picked it up and slung it back at him is understandable, since the justification is not political, it is statistical. That I have picked it up is understandable, since I’m a scientist, not a politician. And that calling it rubbish is an insult to garbage everywhere goes without saying…

Amongst the trees of policy it’s easy to miss the woods of society, this being just one of the reasons joined-up government remains a myth. The “genius” of statecraft is that it reverses the equation, and merely asks what the endpoint for society as a whole looks like. With Mrs. Thatcher this was largely irrelevant,both because she never hid her use of statecraft and never cared about society.

But Blair does care, if only because being quasi-Catholic has to result in an overwhelming sense of guilt sooner or later. This is a problem when your sole ambition in life is to keep the Labour party in power by whatever means possible (retaining power and making a positive difference being mutually exclusive goals in an era when anyone named Dacre is running a national news organisation).

The answer, however, is also within statecraft. If you consider your political belief system as a whole and add it all up, there has to be an endgame, a sum total of what your principles are meant to achieve. That then sets a target for your government to achieve. In statecraft you’re pretty much not allowed to act on the basis of any of your principles, so you potter along doing what appears to work.

The trick is that, if the sum total of what you do looks even ever so slightly like the target of your principles, even if you have to tilt your head and squint to make it happen, you can claim that your principles have not been abandoned. In statecraft, the means do not matter, only the ends.

So when Blair opens up on the achievements spiel, as he does at least twice in every Prime Minister’s Questions, it is vital that we stop getting caught in its headlights. Yes, New Labour have achieved some things in the last ten years, but that’s like saying England did well making 157-7 chasing Australia’s 290-3. To win the battle we must ask the question the public want answered;

“You were a Labour Prime Minister elected twice with three-figure majorities, this is what we expected you to deliver; why did you fail so miserably?”

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