Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons’ Foundation,
Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell’s Laws of the Public
Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.
I expect that most conservatives have enjoyed this week more than any week in politics since April 1992. The sight of the Labour Party indulging in what Peter Mandelson has called "a moment of madness" has certainly cheered conservatives’ spirits in the run-up to the annual conference season.
How long ago seem the difficult days of the 1990s – a period when "New Labour" was given the benefit of the doubt and journalists and voters alike nodded sagely when Tony Blair described himself as "a pretty straight kinda guy".
Everything that Blair touched seemed to turn to gold. The Grid was adhered to. Iron parliamentary discipline was the order of the day. Ministers pursued initiatives with vigour. And it seemed that nothing that the Conservative Party did or said made the slightest bit of difference.
That is not to say – as some Cameroon revisionists would like us to believe – that the period from May 1997 to December 2005 was wasted. William Hague kept the Party together when a split was a real possibility. His good-natured, confident demeanour kept us believing that maybe one day our time might come again. Iain Duncan Smith lanced the boil of the European debate and pioneered the "compassionate conservative" agenda that the current leadership are passing off as their own. Michael Howard instilled discipline among MPs and persuaded voters that the Party was a valid electoral force again.
Nonetheless Blair’s "Midas Touch" convinced many conservatives that
Blair – and New Labour – were unbeatable. Every policy idea or
innovation dreamt up by a conservative think-tank (or rarely by CCO)
seemed to be stolen by the government. The Party was outflanked on
defence, law and order and even, if the polls are to be believed,
economic competence. The Party could not rise above the mid to low 30s
in the polls, no matter how many government ministers had to resign or whatever scandal beset the government.
And yet here we are in September 2006 – barely 16 months after a third
Labour election victory – with a wholly different political landscape
even to last month. Some credit is no doubt due to David Cameron for
positioning the Conservative Party in such a way that has put both
Labour and the Liberal Democrats under considerable pressure (albeit
that this strategy risks losing yet further the support of traditional
Tory voters). Cameron has made it socially acceptable again for people
to say they are Tories. He has credibility among the mainstream media
and he is given a fair hearing (although some might say that is because
he is advancing the agenda of the BBC and Guardian – as Francis
Urquhart would say "I couldn’t possibly comment"…).
The real reasons for this week’s debacle lie, of course, with the
occupants of 10 and 11 Downing Street. A pact formulated at La Granita
in 1994 which saw a division of domestic economic policy and social
engineering in favour of Brown and international policy and the
premiership in favour of Blair has finally unravelled. Despite being
decried for being "psychologically flawed", "cowardly" and "stupid",
the Chancellor finds himself arguably closer to kissing hands with the
Queen than ever before. But as the keys to Number 10 move tantalisingly
close to James Gordon Brown’s hands and his wife eyes up changing the
interior decor, the boot is put in by the Milburns, Byerses and Clarkes
of the world who all fear quite what a Brown premiership will mean. And
all the time, Tony Blair stubbornly clings onto power, exhibiting an
unheard of level of hubris and arrogance even for him (personified by
his ridiculous planned "farewell tour" culminating on appearances on Blue Peter and Songs of Praise).
For much of the last decade or more, too many conservatives took the
view that New Labour was the Chelsea of the political world: a team of
stars impossible to beat. The fact is that they were not perfect, they
just made fewer mistakes (and those mistakes went unnoticed and
unpunished). Now Labour is making so many mistakes it is hard to know
which ones to notice and which to punish. The maxim that oppositions
don’t win elections but governments lose them has never looked more
certain. Likewise this week’s Law of the Public Policy Process –
winners aren’t perfect: they just make fewer mistakes than their rivals.
Get out the popcorn. Open a beer. Sit comfortably. This will be even
more enjoyable than watching Spinal Tap, and (shocking as it is to
believe) even funnier. As Lady Thatcher might have said on hearing
Blair announce he was indeed planning to hang around for another year:
"Let us rejoice at that news"…
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