Wokingham Times

What a mess! The financial sector is in meltdown. House prices are falling. People are losing their jobs. Labour MPs are wrangling over who should be Leader.

Spare us the lectures to be united at a time of national crisis, Prime Minister. Weak leaders make speeches about loyalty, and the need for discipline. Strong leaders listen to intelligent criticism or ideas about better ways of handling problems. Strong leaders unite enough followers by doing and saying the right things about the issues. Weak leaders create division by boring everyone with platitudes and silly spin.

We are still prisoners of Labour spin. It is amazing just how long a shelf life New Labour’s simple minded misconstruction of 1990s politics has enjoyed.

In the 1990s the New Labs told the media that a divided party could not govern, and was not electable. They told us the Major government would fall because it was divided.

They also told us an anti EU party could not be elected, and said the Tories problems came from being divided over the EU and for being too anti the EU.

Both these soundbites were wrong.

The Thatcher government was deeply divided, between wets and dries. Their arguments regularly appeared in the press, but it did not stop them winning 3 elections in a row. There were regular threats to Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, with Michael Heseltine wanting the job. The Thatcher governments wrestled with the big issues of the day – Trade Union power, poorly performing nationalised industries, high unemployment – and found contentious but lasting solutions.

The Blair government was deeply divided at the top. The press was full of stories of rows and splits between Blair and Brown, but it did not stop them winning 3 elections in a row. There were pressures for a leadership change, with Brown seeking promotion. The huge political goodwill and the powerful position they enjoyed was frittered away. They failed to control the credit bubble or to run the national finances well.

Governing parties are usually divided, and some healthy debate about the way ahead can be helpful, as long as the Leader communicates a strong sense of direction at the same time as allowing the public debates about it.

The polling throughout the Conservative years showed that Euroscepticism was always more popular than Euroenthusiasm. Indeed, at the nadir of Conservative polling fortunes it was only our Euroscepticism that was popular. Under William Hague we won the European election where we were able to express our scepticism.

The Conservative government fell for one main reason – it adopted the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on the advice of the other two parties and the CBI, and it proved to be a very damaging economic policy. In that sense it was Europe that destroyed the Conservative party in the 1990s – because it was too European, not because it was too sceptical.

If the Labour government falls, it will fall for one main reason – the poor economic policy it has followed, and the way it has made the Credit Crunch worse in the UK.
Its enthusiasm for all EU bureaucracy is a further irritant. Far from helping an unpopular government, its love of the Lisbon treaty and its refusal to honour its promise of a referendum has made it worse.

I am fed up with all the interviewers challenging Labour rebels with the nonsense that they are making the problem worse by daring to want a debate and a change of leadership. They are not the problem. The problem is the government and its policies. The interviewers should start asking the rebels instead, what they would do to make things better. That’s what the public wants to know.

The depressing thing about the Labour rebels is not that they are showing some life at a time when the government is performing badly, but that they are not yet offering an alternative strategy that makes sense and might ameliorate the economic crisis. We need to have lower interest rates, control over public spending, an end to off balance sheet government financing, and a programme of private sector led works to build us the power stations, energy facilities and transport links we need.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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