Magazine article The Spectator

Perhaps Philip Gould Should Have Stayed in the Wardrobe

Magazine article The Spectator

Perhaps Philip Gould Should Have Stayed in the Wardrobe

Article excerpt

To judge by the extracts which have already appeared, Philip Gould's new book, The Forthcoming Revolution, to be published on 29 October, will be much the most important guide to New Labour that has yet appeared. Mr Gould is a successful advertising man, who. was introduced to Peter Mandelson in the mid-Eighties by a common friend, Robin Paxton, a television executive. That was an important moment in modern British political history, for Messrs Gould and Mandelson instantly realised that they had an identical world view. Together, they became the principal architects of New Labour.

They invented Blairism while Neil Kinnock was still Labour leader, and that was their problem: Mr Kinnock could not play the part they had devised from him. But at least he tried, unlike John Smith, who had little time for ad-men's ruses. Like most Labour modernisers, Mr Gould is convinced that Labour would have found it hard to win the 1997 election if Mr Smith had been in charge. We shall never know, but there are reasons to question the modernisers' thesis.

To be fair to them, they were not only worried about John Smith because he refused to appease their vanities. Still traumatised by the unexpected defeat in 1992, the modernisers were convinced that any suggestion of tax increases would be ruinous for Labour; they recalled the damage which the Tories' `tax bombshell' had inflicted. John Smith had devised some of the tax measures which the Tories' propaganda had exploited so ruthlessly, which is why John Lloyd, Barry Cox and one or two other Labour modernisers tried to persuade Tony Blair to stand against him after Neil Kinnock had resigned. Mr Blair wisely refused; he had too good a grasp of political realities, and of his own longer-term interests, to be seduced by such blandishments.

Anyway, John Smith won, and, despite 1992, he continued to believe in the socially therapeutic effect of higher tax rates for the rich. If he had still been leader, Labour would certainly have been committed to a SOp top rate, and possibly more.

Would this really have impeded Labour's chances? Mr Gould, for whom politics is primarily 'a question of presentation and media and public acceptability and the need to win the South', evidently believes so, a belief reinforced by his focus groups. On the other hand, Mr Smith did have great authority and formidable debating skills; he was rarely seen in public without a twinkle in his eye. As I am Scottish, it may be hard for me to judge, but I would have thought that John Smith was just the sort of Scotsman who would appeal to the English, despite his private conviction that the Scots were morally superior to the English because they were happy to pay higher taxes (a questionable assessment: most Scots who support higher taxes do so because someone else would be paying them). Mr Smith would have been a considerable electoral performer, with moral weight. But moral weight is not a topic which figures in Mr Gould's focus groups.

Along with Peter Mandelson, and with Mr Blair's eager complicity, Mr Gould has invented post-moral politics. For him, politics has only one purpose: to win elections. Mr Gould admits that he himself is often bored between elections, and he is not alone in this. Half the present government are only happy when they are refighting the last election; they find the process of governing much less interesting.

Since the weekend, however, most ministers have been enjoying themselves, because of the arrest of General Pinochet. …

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