September 29, 2005

BLAIRY-EYED (via Robert Schwartz):

Brown marching towards the sound of guns: Labour’s Left will not like it but the Chancellor made it plain yesterday that his eyes are fixed on the big picture (David Aaronovitch, September 27, 2005, Times of London)

The question of how Britain deals with the new world economy is the big question of modern politics. Other things count, of course, but nothing like so much. So at this point enters the leader-in-waiting of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown. The attitude he takes towards these issues defines where he really stands on the political spectrum. Forward? Back? Stuck in the middle, mouthing platitudes?

It had occurred to some on the Left, even before yesterday’s speech, that the answer was “forward”. The Statesman feared as much. Labour people might be longing, wrote the Editor, for “a true Labour politician, a man with socialism in his bones”, but he worried that “some of his priorities suggest that he would have to work hard to fulfil the hopes that many on the Left, with mounting desperation, are vesting in him”.

Characteristically the magazine then went on to give the Chancellor no clue at all as to what he should do, other than to run a long piece on the paradise that is Sweden. Which is always, in my experience, a bad sign. Lord, but it is difficult these days to find a publication that acknowledges the existence of a Left whose desperation is not mounting.

Back to The Guardian where some were trying hard to keep desperation under control. Yesterday one of its most astute columnists sought to reassure readers about the unexaminable leftness of Brown. He had to sound a bit Blairy, she explained, because, “he has many audiences to address when he speaks to conference this week — party, business, media. He cannot break free to articulate a vision that is truly distinctive without producing stories of a split with Blair and endangering the handover.”

Well, doesn’t a leader always have these pressures to contend with? Besides, it was instructive to see what Mr Brown had elected to put in his speech. Not the populist bits (which were good), nor the codas, but the stuff he wanted to have there. Like his assault on protectionism, his promise to abolish or reform the CAP, his refusal to countenance a return to protectionism in trade, his desire for a flexible Europe. There was China, “now producing almost half the world’s electronic goods and soon half the world’s clothes”, and together with India producing four million graduates.

Then this: “We must meet and master what is now the biggest global industrial restructuring in our economic history . . . Everywhere the pace of innovation is faster than ever before, everyday global competition more threatening . . . We will not make the mistake of the 1930s — there will be no retreat into protectionism . . .”

This is what the Chancellor sees, and he sees it as clearly as the man he is likely to succeed. The debates we engage in with such obsessive repetitiveness and attention to detail, are minor considerations set against the strategic questions of Britain’s stance in the world. Do we face the global competition by retreating into our shells and hoping it will go away, or do we march towards the sound of the guns?

The choice is not about principle versus political positioning, so as to garner short-term centrist votes. It’s about whether Britain is a progressive, successful country, full of plumbers, or becomes a backward-looking, defensive one. Gordon Brown has, I think, made his choice.

Meanwhile, just a whiff of grape and the Tories are on the run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 29, 2005 8:57 AM
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