Wednesday, 6 August 2008

All Change

This is what Gordon Brown said on the steps of No 10 Downing Street when he became prime minister on 27th June 2007:

As I have travelled around the country and as I have listened and I have learned from the British people - and as Prime Minister I will continue to listen and learn from the British people - I have heard the need for change: change in our NHS; change in our schools; change with affordable housing; change to build trust in government; change to protect and extend the British way of life.

And this need for change cannot be met by the old politics so I will reach out beyond narrow party interest; I will build a government that uses all the talents; I will invite men and women of goodwill to contribute their energies in a new spirit of public service to make our nation what it can be.

And this is what David Miliband wrote in his Guardian article last week:

I disagreed with Margaret Thatcher, but at least it was clear what she stood for. She sat uncomfortably within the Tory party because she was a radical, not a conservative. She wanted change and was prepared to take unpopular decisions to achieve it. The problem with David Cameron is the reverse. His problem is he is a conservative, not a radical. He doesn't share a restlessness for change.

Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few.... New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again.

Remarkably similar, no?

Of course, the change Gordon was offering last year was a different sort of change from the change Miliband is offering. Brown was offering a change from Blair; Miliband is offering a return to Blair: his change is (we are meant to infer) is the change that there would have been had Brown not spent ten years blocking it. But for that reason it carries even less conviction. Memories are goldfish short, and a recent opinion poll suggests that Labour's popularity would improve by ten points were Blair magically restored to office. I don't believe it. Blair might have wanted to leave, as a bizarre leaked memo had it, with the crowds begging for more. But that's not what happened. One day he was there, a seemingly omnipresent figure in all our lives, grinning at us from every TV screen; and then he was gone.

I well remember the relief. Don't you? No more spin, it briefly appeared; no more superficiality; no more stories about Cherie's non-spending habit or Tony's rich pals lending him their yachts; no more government by press release. At last, a serious and honourable politician who may have schemed his way to the top, who may have "psychological flaws", and who certainly wasn't as charming and charismatic as his predecessor, but who could at least be trusted. In a word, change.

Well, it didn't quite turn out like that. Gordon Brown has dithered (and thank God he dithered long enough not to call a general election when he would have won it) and he has made mistakes. He hasn't been an effective leader. Worst of all, he has continued the process of centralisation, nannying and ever-expanding bureaucratic control that had been such an insufferable hallmark of the Blair/Brown years.

But Miliband is explicitly promising a Blairite restoration. What kind of change is that? In the Guardian he defines the "challenge to society" as "to build a genuine sense of belonging and responsibility on the back of greater protection from outside risks and greater control of local issues." Which, being interpreted, means more nannying interference and more red tape. As he himself says:

The Tories... say they have adopted "progressive ends" — social justice, better public services and fighting climate change — but they insist on traditional Tory means of charity, deregulation and lower spending to deliver them. It doesn't add up. If people and business are to take responsibility, you need government to act as a catalyst. High polluting products will not disappear unless government regulates...

In other words, far from offering change (except a change of face) Miliband is offering even more of what made people heartily sick of Blair, and has now made people equally sick of Brown.

We need a change, all right. We need a change of government.

1 comment:

Ala Abbas said...

From Miliband, "If people and business are to take responsibility, you need government to act as a catalyst. High polluting products will not disappear unless government regulates...".

This has nothing to do with centralisation, not this time. When dealing with an issue as serious as climate change, you need to regulate; charity is simply not good enough.