Sunday, 7 September 2008

What works

Sometimes, just sometimes, you read something so good that it makes every other piece of journalism you've read recently seem thin, dull, and without insight. Ross McKibbin's article in the current LRB is that good.

McKibbin cut through the rhetoric admirably. He points out the hollowness of Blair's promise to go with 'what works', indeed to the very antithesis of it:
The culture of the focus group does not, however, lead to an apolitical politics. On the contrary, it reinforces the political status quo and encourages a hard-nosed, ‘realistic’ view of the electorate that denies the voter any political loyalty, except to ‘what works’. ‘What works’, though, is anything but an objective criterion: these days it is what the right-wing press says ‘works’. The war on drugs doesn’t work; nor does building more prisons; nor, one suspects, will many of the anti-terror laws. But that doesn’t stop ministers from pursuing all of them vigorously. New Labour in practice is much more wedded to what-works politics than the Conservatives were under Thatcher, who was openly and self-consciously ideological.

Much of the present malaise in British politics flows from this. Among other things, what-works gives the wrong answers.
He also points out, amusingly, that we do in fact have three parties in parliament. They are just not the three parties whose names appear on the ballot paper. A more accurate arrangement based on ideology rather history would have:
A party of the moderate left, undoubtedly led by Vince Cable, which would include some Labour backbenchers (but no member of the present government), some Lib Dems (but probably not their leader), and perhaps Tories like Kenneth Clarke and Ed Vaizey. There would be a centreish party which would include Brown, some members of the cabinet, most Lib Dems, a large part of the Parliamentary Labour Party, probably William Hague, Theresa May, Alan Duncan and a few other Tories; Cameron and Osborne might be honorary or temporary members. The party of the right would include everyone else (including many members of the government).
There is much else of value in the full article and I would encourage you to read it. But even if you don't, at least rejoice that there is still journalism of this quality going on in this country.

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