Roy Hattersley wrote a very insightful piece in The New Statesman recently about New Labour's obsessive desire for consensus. The hubris of 'The Third Way' was the belief that it was possible to keep everyone happy, all of the time. The truth is, as Hattersley recognised, politics is about conviction, and sometimes you need to take unpopular decisions.
This was something that Margaret Thatcher understood implicitly. When unemployment spilled over the 3 million mark, a statistic that should have been a one-way ticket to electoral death, Thatcher simply shrugged and said that it was not part of government's role to regulate employment levels.
Monetarism was callous and dysfunctional, but the principle is sound - politics is not always about "consulting the electorate". Throughout the Thatcher period, millions of voters repeated the same mantra: "I don't agree with her policies, but she's a strong leader." From the beginning, New Labour has been petrified the press would see it as returning to Old Labour, "reverting to type", and has worked using Clintonesque 'triangulations' i.e.
- What we would like to do
- What the public finds it acceptable for us to do
- Find a 'triangulation' point between the two
If Labour is to have any hope of winning the next election, it needs to give up this facile wish to be liked, to appease all. Forget triangulation, just decide on a project, and follow it through.
Blair's third election win was a case in point. By that stage, the public were utterly disillusioned with him as a person but, crucially, continued to belief that he had an idea of where the country should go.