A new political year began this week in the worst possible way.
No, I am not thinking of the portfolio of problems represented by Messrs
Clinton and Yeltsin, the Far East’s neutered tigers, Islamic
fundamentalism or Euro-madness in embarking on a voyage of single
currency discovery which would be hazardous on a calm economic sea.
Instead, I refer to think tank Demos’ plans to democratise and
marginalise the monarchy.
The proposals for stripping the Queen of constitutional power and
requiring the monarch to be endorsed by referendum have, of course, no
official standing. But Demos’ founder, Geoff Mulgan, is a Downing Street
adviser and one of the authors of Demos’ monarchy paper advised Foreign
Secretary Robin Cook on the rebranding of Britain until ’Cool Britannia’
became good for more sniggers than Mr Cook himself.
It could be argued that the fate of ’Cool Britannia’ is a sign of
Everything that Demos touches soon turns to dust. So why bother about
their Royal Report? Simple: Tony Blair is dead keen to reform the
monarchy and will go for anything if he thinks it will work. If it
doesn’t, then ditch it, like ’Cool Britannia’ by denying parentage.
But the monarchy isn’t just symbolism. It is made up of real people with
real national roles, marinated in history and tradition. And you tamper
with the constitution at the nation’s peril. Mr Blair should know this
by now. He’s landed himself with two political crises - one in Scotland
because his daft ideas about devolution have come gift-wrapped for
Scottish Nationalists and the other, in the House of Lords, promises to
make guerrillas of our peers. Advisers worth their salt would be telling
the Prime Minister to curb Demos’ irresponsible enthusiasms before they
land him deeper in the fertiliser.
More important, they would be asking serious questions about
What do we want to achieve? Sadly, the way this Government goes about
its business convinces me that what it lacks is not advisers - they are
two a penny and worth as much - but real strategists with PR nous rather
than vacant slogans. I am in a position to say this. From the very
beginning, I have been asking Mr Blair precisely what kind of United
Kingdom he really, really wants.
From his rag bag of devolution measures, his flirtation with ’Cool
Britannia’ and his opportunist approach to Europe, it is clear that he
simply hasn’t a clue. Not even now, after 15 months in office, can he
articulate his objective. His approach to reform is, babbling, to chuck
everything up in the air and see how it lands. As every self-respecting
PR person knows, this is no way to run a railway, still less govern