Time for Labour to fill its policy vacuum

Returning to reality after a fortnight’s cruising from Mombasa to Athens, I found the world turned upside down. Up to then, I had only known politicians lay their troubles at the feet of their press officers. Tories always blamed their Governments’ presentation rather than policy for their problems.

Returning to reality after a fortnight’s cruising from Mombasa to

Athens, I found the world turned upside down. Up to then, I had only

known politicians lay their troubles at the feet of their press

officers. Tories always blamed their Governments’ presentation rather

than policy for their problems.



That is why I entitled my memoirs Kill The Messenger. Labour of old

tended to put it all down to ’the Tory press’.



Then I picked up a Daily Telegraph to find the recently-resigned Labour

Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle blasting off about a policy ’vacuum’ at

Labour’s heart. He warned against putting style before substance and

bemoaned the lack of an intellectual framework to New Labour. He also

criticised ’the tribes of these spin doctors’ populating Whitehall but

not, let it be noted, for their failure but for their success in hiding

the policy ’vacuum’ by giving ’a wholly erroneous impression of what’s

going on’.



It seems unlikely that Mr Kilfoyle will stop the present Tory Opposition

from wishing they could find a Conservative Alastair Campbell. Indeed,

they have a point when William Hague distracts attention from Labour’s

trials by causing a Right-wing eruption with a Shadow Cabinet

re-shuffle.



But let us recognise Mr Kilfoyle for what he is: the first sign of a

political movement away from the obsession with presentation back to a

concern for policy.



It does not take a genius to recognise why Labour is so preoccupied with

image, style and message. To return to office it needed to convince the

people that it was different from the old doctrinal, spendthrift,

inflationary and union-dominated party with a tendency to fragment. It

had to put Clause 4 behind it, distance itself from the unions, proclaim

its financial prudence and appear disciplined - ’on message’. Persuading

the people that things had changed required a well-oiled presentational

machine.



Mr Kilfoyle thinks Labour did all that rather well - as it did. But in

the process, he believes it has run to presentational excess. The

business of Government has become unbalanced. It worries more about what

it looks like than what it is - or, as Mr Kilfoyle would put it, what it

isn’t.



In three short years we have moved from the presentational vacuum of the

fractious Major years of Conservative decay to the policy vacuum - Mr

Kilfoyle’s words - of Mr Blair’s ascendancy.



Could it be that Mr Campbell will secure a place in history not for his

spin doctoring but for the effect of its excess in convincing Ministers

that political man cannot live by presentation alone? If so, he will

have served his purpose. There is, in fact, no substitute for a

coherent, intellectually underpinned philosophy from which programmes

and their presentation naturally flow. Presentation should be the

servant of policy, not a substitute for it.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.