Peter Hoskin

“Positioning over action”

"Positioning over action"
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CoffeeHousers sometimes chide us for getting a bit over-excited when we describe articles as "a must read", "essential" or "important".  But the opinion piece by Philip Collins, Tony Blair's former speechwriter, in today's Times, really is all of those things.  Collins' central point - that the Brown administration has elevated "political positioning over action" - is not a new one, but he expands from there to summarise the entire span of the New Labour years, and throws in plenty of healthy references to Sigmund Freud too.  Here's a key passage:

"When Mr Brown commends [Anthony] Crosland's idea of equality, he does so on the grounds that it provides the Labour Party with its main dividing line from the Conservatives. He doesn't like equality because it's a good idea. He doesn't like it because it's right. He likes it because it's politically useful.

This tendency to elevate political positioning over action will, in time, be the diagnosis of what went wrong. Labour had arrived at a series of defensible policy positions. It had a to-do list and a decent set of arguments about what it was for. On every issue it dropped them like litter to the ground.

The Conservative Party then moved gingerly across the spectrum and, behaving like an Opposition, Labour defined itself against what the Tories said. So it is that Labour now finds itself just to the left of sensible on everything." The most recent example of this is, of course, the "do-nothing Tories" attack.  Would Brown really have gone on an economic-initiative-a-day blitz if it hadn't been for this false dividing line, for the opportunity to define Labour against the Tories?  I doubt it.  And now it's rebounding on the PM in the form of the "headless chicken" counter, and Labour are the long-term losers.  Collins captures the position thus, towards the end of his article: "The truth is that Labour was never going to win on the economy".