Magazine article The Spectator

Why Eurosceptics Should Be at Least as Worried about Westminster's Sleaze as New Labour's Voters

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Eurosceptics Should Be at Least as Worried about Westminster's Sleaze as New Labour's Voters

Article excerpt

The disadvantage of bandwagons is that they attract the wrong kind of passenger. This has been the fate of the Conservative party in recent years. Because it has for so long been seen as unstoppable and a safe bet to pass the winning post first time and time again, every dubious political careerist in the land was eager to climb on board, with results that are likely to become ever more apparent with each new edition of the Sun. How could it be otherwise? For those attracted to politics largely by the prospect of glittering prizes are bound to hanker more to be on the winning side than on the right side, particularly at times like these when even idealists can be forgiven for finding it difficult to tell one from t'other.

Initially, of course, Thatcherite Conservatism was indeed a great cause as well as a winning one, no less attractive to the idealist than to the careerist. But as time went on and what had begun as a moral crusade and an adventurous exercise in intellectual pioneering settled down into becoming little more than a vehicle for an easy ride, the supply of careerists increased and then, on the principle that birds of a feather flock together, increased still further, while the supply of idealists, more and more put off by the company they found themselves keeping, first dwindled and then disappeared.

Of course, none of this necessarily results in sleaze. Not all careerists are sleazy, any more than all idealists are unbribable. But it is surely fair to say that a party in power for a very long time, which is pretty well bound over the years to have accumulated more than its fair share of careerists, is likely to be more prone to sleaze than a party out of power for years, which is pretty well certain to have accumulated more than its fair share of idealists. In short, if it is true that rats proper are more prone to leave ships which are sinking than those which are riding high, so are their human variety more prone to joining political bandwagons which are going at full throttle than those which are slowing down or even grinding to a halt.

In time, of course, if the Labour party wins not only this election but the one after and the one after that, a surfeit of careerists more interested in what they can get out of politics than what they can put into them will become its problem to the same degree that it is now the Conservatives'. But that is not likely to happen at once. At least for one parliamentary term a sleaze-mongering media is likely to find slender pickings. For however much it may suit New Labour's opponents to paint the Blairites as being themselves from the word go careerists of the worst possible kind, prepared to jettison all their principles to be on the winning side, this charge strikes me as grotesquely unfair. At the time they cast in their lot with Labour, that party looked more like a hearse than a bandwagon. That they did not join the Labour party out of any idealistic faith in socialism, so much has now become obvious. But that is not at all the same thing as having joined it opportunistically only to further their careers.

A more likely parallel, it seems to me, would be with the generation of young men who came to prominence in the Tory party after Labour's landslide victory in 1945 the Macleods, Heaths, Maudlings and even Enoch Powell. With the exception of the last, not one joined because he believed in true-blue Toryism, i. …

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