Magazine article The Spectator

'Progress Centres' Could Be a First Step towards Radical Progress

Magazine article The Spectator

'Progress Centres' Could Be a First Step towards Radical Progress

Article excerpt

On Wednesday, the spinning was respun. Tony Blair chose a mass rally of the Women's Institute to adjust the government's tone of voice. There was to be no more raucous class-warring and elite-bashing; it would be replaced by a modulated appeal to the middle ground. The PM insisted that we could have modernity and innovation while preserving the `best of Britain': we can enjoy the Internet and home-made jam.

It would seem to have been a cunning choice of venue and audience; in the advance press briefings you could hear Mr Blair's spokesmen chuckling at their own cleverness. But were they right? Over the past three years, ,the Blairites have grown accustomed to discussing their PR tactics in public, and the voters have not appeared to object. But now there may have been a change in public mood, towards a more cold-eyed, even cynical, appraisal of the government's methods.

Mr Blair may yet discover that you can fool a lot of people for a long time, but not if you give them advance notice of your intentions. There are signs that the electorate may be growing bored with the Blairite political diet: limitless quantities of portentous waffle. Even when everything was going well for him, Mr Blair has often seemed tense because of his fear, never far below the surface, that one day the voters would stop buying his act. That has not yet happened, but the box-office queues are not what they were. The Prime Minister will never again enjoy the easy rhetorical triumphs of the past three years.

In the other corner, Mr Hague must hope that the Terrible Sonnets phase of his career is now over. `No, worse there is none' - but there always was. It is easy to forget how bleak Mr Hague's prospects seemed just before Christmas, when the Archer imbroglio reduced a large number of Tories to despair. It seemed that every time the party began even a minimal recovery, there would be another disaster to drag it to yet lower depths. Mr Hague got most of the blame for this: there was a widespread feeling that he must be in the habit of kicking black cats on Friday the 13th while walking under a ladder. For whatever reason, he seemed doomed, and his party with him.

This is no longer the case; it has ceased to be inconceivable that Mr Hague could eventually reach No. 10. So now that the worst is over, we ought to pay tribute to his resilience. There must have been moments during the past three years when he wondered whether he had made the most foolish mistake of his life by deciding to run for the Tory leadership, and instantly transforming himself from an immensely promising young politician into an interim leader, saturated in unelectability, who would have a brilliant future behind him before he was 40.

But if William Hague had such thoughts, he kept them to himself, or to Ffion. When Mrs Thatcher was leader of the Opposition, her staff often felt the lash of her nervous tension; she did not regard speechwriting sessions as complete until she had tossed and gored several persons. For the past three years, however, Mr Hague's office has been an island of calm in a storm-tossed party. In circumstances which would justify intense stress, Mr Hague's aides have often been awed by his imperturbability. That quality could yet assist him to shoulder greater burdens, such as creating a decent educational system in this country.

He has made a sound start with his call for disruptive pupils to be sent to `progress centres'. …

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