Tuesday 18 May 2010

Are they really all the same?

Once again I am proud to bring you a column that is spectacularly out of touch with the mood of the region, the nation and quite possibly the entire human race.

I fear this must be so because I spent last Tuesday evening doing a badly co-ordinated jig of glee in front of the television while the helicopters hovered over Downing Street. Between swigs from my celebratory glass, I loudly enquired why the departure of the Browns could not be more like that of the Ceausescus, while my wife murmured soothingly “He’s gone now, love. Just let it go.”

Then David Cameron arrived outside the famous front door and blow me down if almost his first words were not a glowing tribute to his predecessor: “Compared to a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for.”

Really? More open to all those immigrants who hoovered up most of the new jobs created in the New Labour years, certainly, but how else? And what exactly do our major foreign policy initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan have to do with compassion?

My mystification only deepened when I turned, for light relief, to a social networking site, and found a friend reporting that she had wept over Gordon Brown’s departure, even though she is not a Labour voter. It must have been those well-scrubbed children that brought a lump to the throat, I guess. At least Lord Mandelson and Alastair Campbell have not lost their touch.

A myth is being constructed in which Gordon Brown was all along simply a dedicated public servant who strove to do his best for his country, was unluckily wrong-footed by a global financial crisis that blew up on his watch, and finally departed with dignity. This is untrue in every particular.

Right from the start, with the cut-price sale of our gold reserves, the destruction of our private pension system and the introduction of divided, “light touch” financial regulation, Mr Brown’s 13 years in Downing Street were a disaster. Only one great service to the nation stands out to underpin his claim to a place in Westminster Abbey, and that is his success in keeping Britain out of the euro, without which our financial predicament would be even closer to that of Greece.

While giving due credit for this, it should perhaps be qualified by the suspicion that it owed less to sound economic principles than to a determination to deny Tony Blair his bizarre but sincere wish to go down in history as the man who abolished the pound.

Now, it can be argued that I should indeed let all this go. When the Titanic was sinking, it doubtless made more sense to focus on saving as many lives as possible, rather than sitting down in the crazily tilting first class saloon for an in-depth discussion of who was responsible for the ship’s defective design.

Given the depth of the financial hole in which we find ourselves, it is perhaps right for our politicians to put aside their differences and pull together, as Messrs Cameron and Clegg have already done. Were Dave’s emollient words uttered with a view to the possible need to draw Labour into a new National Government if the crisis should deepen, as it well might?

The downside of this, along with the clustering of every party around the “centre ground”, taking their core supporters for granted so as to focus on luring in the wet and naïve floating voter, is that it fuels the suspicion graphically put to me by one elderly neighbour: “They’re all the same. They’re all in it for what they can get.”

Because if no major issues of principle divide our mainstream political parties, what other explanation can there be?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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