Friday, November 25, 2005

Sit back to enjoy the fun

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. "You'll get letters," said the editor.

Teasing Tony

A Tory leader has finally worked out how to discomfort Tony Blair at prime minister’s questions. You agree with him.

For eight long years the Conservatives tried to persuade us that, deep down, Blair is a dangerous Bolshevik. Remember those Demon Eyes posters? They did not work for a simple reason. He isn’t.

Michael Gove gave the correct Tory estimation of Tony Blair when he was just a Times commentator. He wrote: “I can't fight my feelings any more: I love Tony ... as a rightwing polemicist, all I can say looking at Mr Blair now is, ‘What's not to like?’”

Which is why last Wednesday Michael Howard told Blair not to waste his time abusing those across the chamber who agree with him on education. He should worry about his own backbenches. They don’t.

The Independent’s Simon Carr has been urging this strategy on the Tory front bench for years. Praise Blair for enacting good Conservative measures and then sit back to enjoy the fun.

If they stick with it, we shall enter a new world. It won’t quite be Israel, where the prime minister is forming his own party. But Tony Blair’s education measures will probably go through with Tory support and in the teeth of much Labour opposition.

Which will leave the Liberal Democrats with some thinking to do. We shall walk through the No lobbies alongside the Labour rebels. Why not? We are not New Labour.

But we are not Old Labour either. And we should not sound like them.

A skilled and confident teaching profession must be central to our education policy. But too often the teachers’ voice, as heard through their unions, is the reverse. It is endlessly negative, opposing every government imitative – good, bad or lunatic. At its worst it is full of teenage nihilism. It’s not fair. I hate you. You’re not my dad.

This negativity has infected Old Labour with fatalism. There are good schools and bad schools, good students and bad students, and you can’t do much about it. Hence their interest in allocating school places by ballot.

We should be different. We need to talk about quality, innovation and choice, whatever the structures we favour to deliver them. In short, we need to sound more Liberal.


M74 said...

I'm increasingly of the view that we are not finding our Liberal voice. As I argue on my blog, the Liberal Democrat leadership are too timid and are not radical enough. In order to capture the public imagination we need to be brave and radical.

The Tories simply agreeing with the Government may cause Tony Blair and the Labour backbenches discomfort - but it will not unseat the Prime Minister, it will not help the public see how the Tories are different (because they won't be) and it will be mighty confusing for the Tories when Gordon Brown takes over and they have to do be volte face despite the fact that the policies will hardly change. Because like it or not Brown inhabits a very similar policy space to Blair - it is only rhetorically to please sections of his party that he appears to be more traditionally left-wing.

Peter Pigeon said...

I've had a go at putting this advice into practice, Jonathan (hopefully Simon won´t mind).

And I don´t think it can be said often enough that we are (and should not want to be) Old Labour.

Iain Sharpe said...

I'm not sure why allocating school places by ballot should be considered Old Labour.

Even in prime minister Calder's Liberal millennium where we have diverse, innovative schools offering a range of educational experiences and with greater parental and community involvement, we will still have to resolve allocation of school places. A ballot seems to me the fairest way.

Phil said...

I don't think it can be said often enough that we are (and should not want to be) Old Labour.

I'm confused. In my own area, John Leech got a lot of votes by being more Old Labour than Keith Bradley. Do you think this was a bad result?

Iain Sharpe said...

If Liberal Democrats can only beat Labour by being 'Old Labour' then it is a bad result.

First because Old Labour either in its right-wing (60s and 70s) or left-wing (80s) incarnation or proved so singularly unsuccessful in addressing the problems of the country, providing better public services or good economic management. It was paternalist, controlling and ineffective.

Second, because it is depressing to think that Liberals can only win elections by appearing as some kind of alternative incarnation of one of the other parties. I like to think that we should articulate a clear Liberal ideology and that it is possible to win elections by doing so.