The year ends with the Tories well up, and Labour well down. It’s been an exciting few months, from the point of view of the horse-race. But how far have we really moved forward in the battle of ideas?
The horse-race matters. It’s not always edifying, but it’s not a trivial part of the democratic process. The politicians’ need to add percents to their score, point by point, is the only fuel for the progress of policy when vision fails, and sadly we can’t expect our politicians to have visions every day. They have to do something, whether it’s a photo-opportunity, a row, or a nice little tit-bit like the inheritance tax cut. What works and what fails gives them some sense of where they might go next, in the absence of any inner drive.
I suspect that if either David Cameron or Gordon Brown could find a real inner drive, a genuine vision for how they might change the country, then their support levels would grow with more solidity. That’s their challenge for 2008. Maybe something in their Christmas crackers will trigger a series of thoughts and emotions that grips their imaginations and leads us somewhere new.
We seem to be in singularly un-visionary times, whether here in the UK, or in the US, or in Europe. We have branding campaigns, and policy-tinkering, but no mission. Many will think this a good thing. Missions and visions can do great harm as well as great good. The last thing we want is a revolution when things are pretty much ok as they are.