24 November 2006

More on ideology



Further to the previous post, Daniel Finkelstein has made some interesting comments in The Times on the issue of ideology, and Maurice Saatchi's complaint that it's being ditched in favour of incoherent opportunism. He argues that

the political success of a given place on the political spectrum depends hugely on the positioning of the other party. A Labour Party positioned near the centre cannot be beaten by a party positioned far to its right. So it's all very well urging the return of ideology, but it won't work for any one party unless all parties do it at the same time ...

Thatcherism was a timely crusade not a timeless revolution. Moderation at all times and on all things is impossible and wrong, but so is a passionate ideological approach.
Finkelstein's representation of Labour's current position as moderate is, however, misleading. The impact of the Blair revolution has been to change the ideological landscape so that we now accept New Labour's brand of interventionism as the norm. It may not be the same as Old Labour socialism, but there's plenty of ideology in it nonetheless. Ten years ago it would have seemed extreme, and I doubt many people expected Labour to become the party of anti-liberal authoritarianism when they voted for Blair.

To appear moderate themselves, the Tories now seem to believe they need to imitate Labour's ideology. I haven't heard the Cameroons question a single principle of current government policy, only the detail. I wonder whether this approach will win over voters on a sufficiently significant scale. A lot of people are fed up with the Blair programme. An outspoken attack on New Labour's values and methods might prove more successful than trying to look inoffensive. The anti-liberal tendencies of this government may well call for another "timely crusade", if we are not to slide into passive capitulation to authoritarianism.

George W Bush and friends may have brought neo-conservative ideology into disrepute, but that says more about the potential statism latent in neo-conservatism than it does about ideology in general. In any case, we have an ideology in Britain whether we like it or not, the only question is whether we should change it.