Monday, June 13, 2011

A defence of romanticism in politics

Steve Richards had an important column in the Independent last week in which he observed:
To his credit, and in spite of his instinctive pragmatism, Cameron is surrounded by a surprisingly large number of Tory romantics. They include his senior advisers, Steve Hilton and Rohan Silva, and influential ministers such as Oliver Letwin.
And at one time those romantics promised to have a strong influence on the new government:
I have notes from an address from Letwin in which he said explicitly: "If a service fails, an interview at ten past eight on the Today programme should be with the direct local provider of the service and not the Cabinet minister in Whitehall." He acknowledged, as did other aspiring ministers, how tough this would be in a centralised media culture. Cameron was in the audience modestly taking notes but ended the meetings by insisting that this was part of the Conservatives' big idea.
But as Richards argues, this approach has been hard to sustain in politics given the relentless political and media pressure demanding the centralisation and standardisation of services.

I think that is a shame, because as Richards said:
I do not describe them as romantic to be disparaging. On the contrary politics desperately need more like them on the left and the right, original thinkers driven by ideas, vision and with the courageous guile to follow through with policy implementation. Several senior Labour figures tell me they lack the equivalent now.
And I fear that British politics and British society as a whole lacks romanticism. The idea that anything other than the provision standardised services run by the state represents a return to the law of a jungle is deeply ingrained. It lies behind everything from the Children's Laureate's distrust of parents who teach their children to read to Archbishop Williams' bizarre intervention last week.

And we Liberal Democrats have to decide whether we are romantics or not. Are we offering the same centralised services as Labour (but somehow offering more of them or to run them better) or are we offering something different and a little more exciting.

Refer to The Theory and Practice of Community Politics in your answer.

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