The Politics of NO; Once, British Statesmen Were Defined by Their Ambition. after Clegg's Proud Conference Boast of What the Coalition HASN'T Done, a Rueful Ref Lection On

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Politics of NO; Once, British Statesmen Were Defined by Their Ambition. after Clegg's Proud Conference Boast of What the Coalition HASN'T Done, a Rueful Ref Lection On


Byline: ALLISTER HEATH

WHEN John F Kennedy stood in front of the American people in 1962 to justify the space race, he spoke with characteristic passion and eloquence.

'We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,' he said.

The US president had a vision for his country and humanity: he wanted to change the world, get the best out of people and, of course, shoot for the stars.

He didn't pretend challenges were easy when they were tough. He was determined to push civilisation's boundaries and show the free world was capable of unimaginable greatness.

The contrast between such idealism and the bitter, introspective narrowness of contemporary British politics couldn't be any starker.

The defining political event of the moment is the publication of Gordon Brown's former spin doctor Damian McBride's memoirs, a sickening expose of the venomous internecine battles that tore the previous Labour government apart.

It's perhaps the most extraordinarily cynical political biography since Machiavelli's The Prince, the classic 16th Century guide on how to hold on to power at any cost.

McBride's guiding principle, like Machiavelli's, was that the ends justified the means. He recounts being 'sucked in like a concubine at a Roman orgy' to a 'dark' world of politics, where binge-drinking, vanity, duplicity, greed, hypocrisy and cruelty are encouraged.

It was all about power, personal alliances and rivalries; ideas and principles didn't even get a look in, let alone morality.

But the reality is that while McBride has left front-line politics, and with him some of the worst excesses of spin, little of substance has changed since 2010, when Brown was defeated.

Unlike in the 1980s and even 1990s, British politics remains hopelessly unambitious and uninterested in grand visions. At a time when the country desperately seeks statesmanship and renewal, Westminster remains dominated by tacticians.

POLITICIANS can either devote their energies to fighting for a great cause, or to fighting each other. In the main, they have chosen the latter. Labour is run by bruisers from the previous regime, not least Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. With a few exceptions, such as Michael Gove or Iain Duncan Smith, the Coalition is driven by love of office, not a burning passion to reboot Britain.

The Lib Dems are now explicitly interested by power to the exception of all else, and hope to sell themselves to the highest bidder, Left or Right, after the 2015 Election to retain their ministerial limos.

We are stuck in a rut of selfinterest, negativity, pessimism and small-mindedness, where politicians define themselves according to what they can prevent, rather than what they and the country can achieve. It's the Politics of No, and it has infected much of our polity. You will hear plenty from the No Coalition this week as the Labour Party meets, promising to block all of the Coalition's attempts at reforming the country; and we heard lots from it last week.

Nick Clegg defined himself as the roadblock to a number of major initiatives, such as cutting inheritance tax or reforming the Human Rights Act, many of which would have been popular in the country. It was a depressing indictment of a leader who has lost the ability to dream.

As for UKIP, it seems more interested in bemoaning social change than in explaining how it would build a global Britain, free to trade with the world and no longer in the grip of Brussels.

As we shall yet again see this week, Labour has failed to adapt to an age of limited economic growth and high debts. The magic money tree it relied on during the bubble has stopped bearing fruit, and Labour doesn't have a clue what to do next, apart from stoking the politics of envy. …

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