Peter Hoskin

A political hybrid?

A political hybrid?
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Thanks to Rachel Sylvester over at Three Line Whip, Tim Montgomerie’s tortoise-and-the-hare analogy has now been mapped onto the Labour Party. Sylvester characterises the Blairite reformers as “hares”, whilst those who stand in the way of reform are “tortoises”. On this account, she argues, Brown is increasingly acting like a hare: 

“Now, there are increasing signs that the Prime Minister is turning from tortoise to hare. David Freud has been appointed to implement welfare reforms that Mr Brown tried to block (or at least delay) when he was Chancellor. This former banker is a hare on speed - he wants to hand large sections of the benefits system over to the private sector and get tough on those claiming incapacity benefit and lone parents. He is convinced that the Prime Minister is now fully on board with the plan - even though he admitted to Alice Thomson and me last week that he had a fight to get it past the Treasury last year.


If he is right, this is a huge moment, the first time Mr Brown has faced down his party's left-wing tortoises over public service reform. Until now he has been wary of doing so but a spell at Number 10 seems to have convinced him that this is the only way to win an election.


There has been a parallel development in education - a review of city academies, which was spun by the Brownites as a sign that the Prime Minister was going cold on the Blairite policy, has found that the programme of semi-independent schools should continue and intensify. Meanwhile, the post-Peter Hain reshuffle was a victory for the hares (such as James Purnell and Andy Burnham) over the tortoises.” 

Myself, I’m not sure whether Sylvester’s quite correct.  Brown isn’t so much “turning from tortoise to hare”, as he is alternating between the two.  After all, welfare has been consistently reformed since the start of Brown's government, but this has been far outweighed by centralising measures in other areas.  Indeed, Brown's got such a see-saw approach to reform that we can't take recent developments as indicative of any positive trend.  Next week there'll most likely be some "Brownite" measure to redress the balance.

At the risk of complicating the neat "zoological observations", then - is there a scientific label for a tortoise with a hare complex? Or for a tortoise-hare hybrid? Answers on a post-card please…