A Party without Ideology Is a Party Unfit for Government
Brown, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
AS THE Conservative and Labour parties consider what theme tunes to choose for their respective election campaigns, Annie Get Your Gun should provide the clearest suggestion for both: "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you. No you can't! Yes I can!"
Except that the Conservatives seem intent on merely squabbling with Labour over who can find more unspent pennies down the back of the Treasury sofa with which to tempt a sceptical electorate to the polling station. And, with his war chest overflowing as he presents his Budget in a fortnight's time, it will be Gordon Brown who is certain to end the campaign tune, successfully, with the words "No you can't!".
William Hague's approach to tax cuts, announced this week for married couples, is a classic example of how this approach is doomed for the Tories. He let the cat out of the bag when he confirmed that the Conservatives were no longer an ideological party - reinforcing a view already expressed recently by Michael Portillo. "We're not claiming to have an ideology," said Mr Hague on Wednesday's Today programme, emphasising that "the Conservative Party is not based on ideology; it is based on doing what is best..."
I think Mr Hague has provided the reason, here, as to why he cannot dent Labour's unassailable poll leads - even though the Government is palpably failing to deliver its 1997 election promises. He sees "ideology" as a pejorative term of political abuse rather than a compass-point for a strategic set of policies that follow naturally, once a course has been set.
But what is so wrong with being perceived as "ideological"? Is it not from an "ideology" that coherent and logical principles and ideas flow naturally? My Cambridge International Dictionary of English has "ideology" as "a theory, or set of beliefs or principles, especially one on which a political system, party or organisation is based", and an ideologue as one "who believes very strongly in particular principles and tries to follow them carefully". Sounds OK to me, William.
But his new watchword, according to the Tory loyalist MP Julie Kirkbride, is "pragmatic". This, my dictionary defines as, "solving problems in a way which suits the present conditions rather than obeying fixed theories or rules". Many politicians take fright at being labelled an "ideologue". I suspect Mr Hague confuses being ideological with being dogmatic ("one who is certain that they are right and everyone else is wrong").
Mr Hague and Mr Portillo certainly cannot be accused of being either ideologues or even dogmatists when it comes to their plans for married couples. Once upon a time, a very long time ago (all of 14 weeks ago, in fact) on November 6 last year, Mr Portillo promised, in a letter to a Mr Bradshaw, a pensioner from Banbury, that "the Conservative Party will have a manifesto commitment to reintroduce a married couples' allowance for all". This promise has now been subject to Mr Portillo's usual U-turn treatment, to apply only to married couples, with children aged under 11, where one of the parents is not working. Well, that's pragmatism for you.
Now, this latest "pragmatic" minnow of a tax break focuses attention on the Tories' general timidity, giving them the worst of all worlds. When they came up with the proposal to abolish tax on savings for everyone, a fortnight ago, there was at least the welcome basis of a return to first principles anchored to a coherent ideology. One step forward, I thought. But now it's back to reverse gear again. Married couples who are childless will receive no tax benefit. And those with children starting secondary school, with all the expense this incurs, will be angry. …