After an extended period out of contact (and extremely busy) I return to London to resume the blog. It has been a busy time in the areas in which this blog takes an interest- the issues of freedom, in both an international and a British context.
It is inevitable that I should acknowledge that my country has a new Prime Minister first, and to be honest I heaved a sigh of relief when Mr. Blair left office. His legacy will be examined in great detail over the coming years, but it is hard to avoid noticing how much he wasted. In the domestic field, his lack of understanding of management lead him to a studied informality in decision making that often lead to vast expenditure for virtually nil return. His failure to understand that the skill in reaching targets is not just about setting them was a clear example in his lack of managerial skills. As to foreign policy- his stubborn determination to back up President Bush's catastrophic Iraq fiasco cost the UK much life and much treasure, and weakened our position from any angle of foreign policy.
However it is not the outgoing PM that much concerns us now. Prime Minister Brown is an intriguing, indeed enigmatic, figure. Again a great deal has been written from the Blairite and from the opposition perspective, but although I think it clear that Brown is repelled by his predecessor- one only had to see the body language on show when he became party leader to see that, it is hard to know what he is actually repelled by, beyond the thwarting of his own ambitions for so long. If we indeed knew that, then clearly we would have a clearer understanding of his intentions.
From the perspective of the Liberal Democrats, the accession of Gordon Brown to the highest office has been quite damaging. Firstly, the identification of the Iraq War with Tony Blair has been complete, and his departure has removed a major problem for those who would not vote Labour on this point of principle. Naturally too, there is a certain curiosity as to what changes that a Brown premiership may bring. The overtures that he has made to Liberal Democrat figures, such as Paddy Ashdown, Julia Neuberger, Shirley Williams, and so on, reflect an opportunity for Brown to damage the Liberal cause- unless of course, he wants these figures to work as part of a major and very bold constitutional change. Without addressing the West Lothian question and a radical reform of the voting system, no Liberal Democrat would be prepared to serve as a minister in a Brown government, and though many may be being courted, the illiberal nature of much of what the Blair-Brown years have delivered would make few change their minds. That being said, I personally feel that Ming Campbell has not played this new position well, and any further stumbles will begin to try the patience of the party.
For the Conservatives, the advent of Gorden Brown has been even worse, the actual defection of Quentin Davies is a spectacular flame-out of the strategy of David Cameron and George Osbourne. Despite what several Conservatives have said, Davies is no maverick, he is close to the heart of the Conservatives on almost all issues, save that of Europe. It is a fact that political defections move with the political tide, and the fact that Cameron can not even keep his own members on side can only be seen by Conservatives in the bleakest terms. The coruscating farewell letter was truly poisonous, for it rings so true. If, as is rumoured, further defections are promised, then Cameron will have to return to the drawing board. The implosion of the "heir to Blair" strategy is clearly obvious.
I will not jump in to condemn Gordon Brown, although I personally feel that he bears co-responsibility for the failures of the last ten years. I am sceptical that he can deliver the kinds of reforms that are required, yet it may still be possible. After all only twenty four hours before enacting the single most successful policy of the Blair government- the independence of the Bank of England- he was formally opposing it. Perhaps he intends to be just as bold in his constitutional policies as he was then. The first hundred days will show whether Brown intends to leave the gimcrack and partial constitution we have now in place or whether he contemplates a genuine reform that will satisfy the English demands for fairness within the UK and the democratic demands for openness and fairness across the whole Kingdom.
The mechanics of the British constitution make powerful things plain, and give the pomp and ceremonial to the Royal symbols, rather than the Parliamentary powerhouse. Thus as the relatively low-key change of power takes place, we do not have dramatic inaugurations. Good! It was with a certain schadenfreude that we can see the symbols of Prime Ministerial power- the Jaguar and the outriders- removed from Tony Blair so immediately. However the underlying truth is that politicians gain their symbols of power at the behest of the people- a lingering message that I hope will not be lost upon the incoming Prime Minister.