Magazine article The Spectator

George, the Distractor

Magazine article The Spectator

George, the Distractor

Article excerpt

Sir George Gardiner should not be taken too seriously. After 23 years on the back benches he was deselected because he pushed his luck too far. He could have made his points without antagonising his constituency association. Instead of personally attacking John Major in the Express on Sunday, he could with a clear conscience have identified the dilemmas which plague the Prime Minister and suggested alternative means of grappling with them. His theatrical gesture of leaving the party in which he had fought so hard to retain his footing and joining Sir James Goldsmith's adventure, which the electorate will see on 1 May as an irrelevance, will provoke the comment that he did not leave it, it left him.

It may be objected: if Sir George is so unimportant, why are we writing about him here? Perhaps the best answer is: so that our readers do not allow his melodrama to distract attention from the issue which awaits resolution: the Conservative party's poor politicianship in handling disagreements over the European Union in general and the EMU in particular. A moment's reflection shows that Labour's intrinsic split is deeper than the Tories', to the point of unbridgeability. Tories are at present divided over Europe; Labour is permanently divided over Britain. The Tories' division will disappear in a few years' time, when the EU's core members - Germany, France, Benelux and Italy - push ahead with political and economic unification to a point where all but the most fanatical Euromanes agree that a multitier Europe is the only realistic alternative to complete rupture.

Labour's division over Britain will emerge after the elections, win or lose. A loss would confirm the Left's argument that the sacrifice of socialist principle imposed as an election winner proved the opposite. Election victory would, after a honeymoon enjoying the sense of power and fruits of office, ineluctably bring out the differences between socialists and revisionists, ideologues and pragmatists, utopians and realists, or whatever antithesis you prefer. Blair, like all revisionists since Edward Bernstein encapsulated the mood in a name 100 years ago, has earned plaudits throughout Middle England for relinquishing one tenet of socialism after the other. But unless he can ultimately offer novel ways of mitigating the myriad distempers of the human condition in turn-of-the-century Britain, his popularity will be short-lived. By contrast, a sizeable portion of his front bench, back benches and zealots remain unquestioningly convinced that socialism is the answer to all things, offering certain hope of equality, fraternity, peace, crimelessness and other millenarian aspirations. …

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