Real Leadership, Mr Hague, Requires Political Principles ; `Mr Hague Is, I Believe, Capable of Employing the Moral Compass Necessary for a Conviction Politician'
Brown, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
AT THE end of a week in which Labour politicians surrendered the rule of law to the rule of the mob, it was refreshing to hear BBC Radio 4 stage a debate, in its new series Straw Poll, on the subject "Winning elections is more important than political philosophy". Anthony Howard, the broadcaster and journalist, convinced a studio audience and a wider telephone poll to reject this motion in favour of politicians who held true to a political philosophy or principle.
Tony Blair has led the way by setting the winning of elections as the primary purpose of Labour politicians. This is fine as far as getting into government goes, but it leads, inevitably, to rule by focus group and to the failure of leadership on issues such as the paedophile debate. Last week's ugly scenes in Portsmouth, for example, are a classic result of an abdication of political responsibility by those in government who have no fundamental political principles other than to follow the perceived view of public opinion.
It was reprehensible that the local Labour Member of Parliament, Mr Syd Rapson, should have shrugged his shoulders and mouthed his support for "democracy in action" as the rabble took charge of the streets. His behaviour was a disgrace to parliamentary democracy. But Mr Rapson is a classic example of the type of MP spawned by New Labour's abdication of a guiding political philosophy of the sort which would once have resulted in unreserved condemnation of mob rule.
I dined last Thursday with the Tories' Gillian Shephard, who faced a similar situation in her own constituency of Norfolk South- west earlier this year, when an angry village was up in arms over the Tony Martin case. While there was a wide public debate over the issue, with talk of vigilantism in the absence of rural police, Mrs Shephard was faced with angry villagers threatening to turn ugly. In her mumsy but forceful way, she addressed their concerns at public meetings but squashed, stiletto-style, the more irrational of her constituents.
The more I see of Mrs Shephard, the more I wish that William Hague would abandon the cult of youth and put her wisdom and experience to good use in his private office. She could do wonders for ensuring that a restraining hand is put on those who think that he has to copy the focus-group and lifestyle-magazine method of Blairite politics. I am convinced that her bucketloads of common sense (the party's guiding theme, after all, is "the Common Sense Revolution") would have urged caution over the 14 pints and the 32 rum-and- cokes attempt to sell Mr Hague as more "blokeish" than Mr Blair.
But Mr Hague does not need to do any of this. As it becomes obvious that Tony Blair is showing a regal detachment from ordinary voters after only three years, Mr Hague looks more genuine, by comparison. Gentle reminders of his South Yorkshire upbringing and the gritty determination to work his way from Wath-upon-Dearne comprehensive to Oxford are enough to convey the natural image which the public will contrast with the lofty remoteness of the privileged Tony Blair.
In fairness to Mr Hague, the August silly-season interview in GQ magazine has given undue prominence to his drinking prowess while obscuring the growing emergence of a political leader who is, I believe, capable of employing the moral compass necessary for a conviction politician. His article, in a Sunday newspaper yesterday, made an attempt to address, responsibly, a public concern, without the overt populism of his earlier foray into the asylum issue. He deserves credit for recoiling in horror at the rule of the mob and is the first party leader to have the courage to even express a view as to a possible solution. …