May 28, 2009


Flail of the left: The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost Its Way by Peter Hitchens (Anthony Howard, 21 May 2009, New Statesman)

If there is one thing that can be counted on from the reconstructed Hitchens, it is his eagerness to go tooth and nail for political timidity wherever he detects it – and, in his view, “compassionate Conservatism” is every bit as vulnerable in this respect as was New Labour back in 1997.

He writes with much of the verve and brio of his elder brother and with a greater regard for detail and accuracy. (He is plainly, however, slightly overawed by him – witness his uncharacteristically rueful admission that he is not prepared to pick any further quarrel on the family front.)

But what is it that he is really trying to say?

That his subtitle should appear in one form on the dust jacket (How British Politics Lost Its Way) and then in quite another on the book’s title page (How Left and Right Lost Their Meaning) argues a certain confusion of purpose – and not only on the part of the publisher.

For what we are eventually served up with is a hotchpotch of separate essays – some addressing familiar targets such as the group of Westminster journalists who form the parliamentary lobby, others drawing on the author’s experience as a foreign correspondent, and all culminating in almost a cry of despair at the lack of a confrontational element in contemporary British politics.

On this last, unfashionable point, Hitchens may well discover that it commands assent in surprising quarters. Whatever may be true of scripture, in politics there is something repellent about the notion of the lion lying down with the lamb.

Indeed, many would go further and argue that, by turning the old poster colours of interparty combat into pastel shades, Tony Blair performed a singular disservice to British democracy. It is not, after all, only governments that have to “choose” (to borrow Pierre Mendès-France’s phrase); so do voters – and they can only do so if confronted with a real choice.

With what I take to be Hitchens’s core argument I confess, therefore, to having a sneaking sympathy.

...but that choice is generally between the party that was denied power because trapped in the 1st or 2nd Way and the party whose leader forced it into the 3rd Way. Eventually the ideologues always react and reclaim the party for the Way that voters have rejected and then the opponent seizes the opening, though always unwilling on the part of the party faithful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2009 7:41 AM
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