Tuesday, 21 November 2006

I find I’m in sympathy with a Tory peer

In today’s Independent Maurice Saatchi argues that the race for pragmatism and the centre ground has denuded politics of ideology. I cannot help but agree. This vacuous, idealess, opportunity-politics is killing us.

Ideology has a rather bad rap these days (for which Lord Saatchi is partly to blame). Of the three dominant ideologies of the 20th Century, socialism resulted in disaster and misery for billions, conservatism became ever more divorced from reality as it warped into a stereotype of itself (Angry from Tunbridge Wells calling for the return of the birch), while liberalism, though largely successful, lacked a pure voice.

Lord Acton noted in the C19th that liberalism was advanced by associating with auxiliaries who shared our intended outcomes, but warned that this provided ammunition for our enemies. So it was the Conservatives in the 1980s who positioned themselves as the voice of liberalism, and for a long time the ideology has been tainted by association with the less palatable aspects of conservative belief.

In the 1990s Labour dropped the socialist hot-potato. Now after ten years in opposition, the Conservatives are also distancing themselves from their ideological roots. But the result has not been a wholesale adoption of the proven ideology. Not, at least, in their hearts. Instead, they offer us pragmatism – which leads inevitably to flip-flopping and opportunism – and argue over who can manage the agreed processes best.

This is a tragedy. Ideology is the moral compass by which we guide our way through the maze of Government. A liberal politician can always ask the question “Does this enhance freedom?” The pragmatist, by comparison, can only ask “Does this serve our needs at the time?” There is no morality underlying that question.

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