Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Studied Emptiness?

Since Brown took over as Prime Minister, the country has been assailed by constant talk of his vision for the country, of how his moral compass directed him through politics and of how he needed to articulate his ideas for the 'new politics'. The reason he gave for calling off the autumn election was that he needed more time to spell out his vision for the country - he repeated that phrase about ten times in a half hour press conference. Yet here we all are, four months into the Brown premiership, and what have we learned about this vision of his? Not much.
We've had re-heated (and half baked) ideas about 'citizen's juries'; we've had announcements of reviews of Government policy on half a dozen things, ranging from casinos to licensing laws; we've had loudly-trumpeted micro-fiddling of the tax and benefits system. What we haven't had is any articulation of underlying direction, nor any discussion of overarching principles. Gordon Brown has waited ten years to be Prime Minister - but it's beginning to look as though the destination was the end of his ambitions, and not the start of them.
Common wisdom was that Brown was the policy hub of New Labour - the intellectual creative force. But he has promoted nothing, articulated nothing, announced nothing. The entire Government is devoid of purpose - it, like Randolph Churchill's pudding, has no theme. A greater opportunity for the Conservatives can hardly be imagined - they have the chance to set out a vision, to - in my over-rehearsed argument - plan out a narrative of where they want to go, and what they intend to do in order to get there.
Brown and Labour look intensely, definitively reactionary. They have been on the back foot in the press since conference season ended, but policy-wise they have been on the back foot for far longer. Everything is seen in the prism of short-term political advantage. From Darling's hastily re-written pre-Budget Report to Brown's announcements of mythical troop movements. They are in Government - they should make the running, they should craft the policy. Nothing Brown has done has suggested anything other than the fact that he is out of his depth as Prime Minister. He seems to need someone to tell him what to do, and when you're Prime Minister, there is no-one left who can do that.

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