Byline: PETER OBORNE
BROADLY speaking there are two ways of understanding politics. There is the view, shared by 19th century liberals and 20th century conservatives, that politicians do more harm than good and individuals are best left as much as possible to their own devices.
Then there is the Utopian leftist tradition that human nature is perfectible and that the job of politics is to change the world and create a better society. This belief has animated both the most noble and the most evil thinkers and politicians - Lenin, Stalin and Ceaucescu, as well as Keir Hardie, Sidney Webb and Orwell.
Both traditions are open to criticism - conservatism that it lacks compassion, and leftism that it can annihilate the freedom and privacy of the individual. The great and noble historical claim of Tony Blair and New Labour is that it can unite both traditions to create a society where freedom and compassion can coexist. It has embraced some traditional conservative and liberal insights while shedding many of the most egregious dreams of state control entertained by the old left. It has done this with some success, most particularly in the economic field, and has been in many respects one of the most successful governments of recent times.
But it has yet to get the balance entirely right. This is understandable enough.
New Labour retains, for complex reasons, the old Utopian leftist belief that all human life at the end of the day is political. It is this deeply embedded attitude that explains so many of its most distinctive features and, above all, New Labour's sub-Marxist dogma that institutions are ideologically loaded. That is why the Government constantly infringes the independence and neutrality of the British civil service. The Mittal, Ecclestone and Hiinduja passport affairs all derive from New Labour's reckless willingness to plunder or adapt the machinery of state for party political advantage.
It also explains New Labour's problem with the Royal Family. It fundamentally cannot recognise or accept that there is a giant space in British public life which is above politics and which symbolises the nation as a whole, regardless of party. It was this failure to understand the role of the monarchy that caused Downing Street to make a hash of the Queen Mother's lying in state.
It has a similar kind of problem with the press.
Labour has convinced itself over the past few months that it is the victim of a sinister plot by a small group of right- wing newspapers which are determined to bring down Tony Blair. This belief is mistaken. Last night, watching Channel Four News, I listened to one of Labour's special advisers claim that the "rightwing press" are involved in a "campaign" to "pick off" victims like Stephen Byers and Alastair Campbell before moving on, or so he seemed to infer, at some stage to Tony Blair. Perhaps I shouldn't be harsh on this particular speaker, because pretty well all of his former Government colleagues are parroting the same sort of thing. …