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Donal Blaney: Better a snake in the grass than a viper in your bosom

Blaney_1Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

US President Lyndon Johnson is famous for two political maxims. The first, when wishing to smear an opponent, was to slander him as being corrupt and homosexual and to respond to an uncomfortable aide: "Let's hear him deny it". The second Johnson maxim is that it is "better to have someone inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in".

This week's Law of the Public Policy Process begs to differ - namely that it is better for that awkward individual to be lurking in the grass outside the tent, rather than to risk having such an individual inside the tent. Essentially it advocates the need for collective responsibility and that if a particular person is unable to adhere to such a fundamental principle, no matter the risks of removing him from office or the campaign, it is better to do so in the long run.

All cabinets, campaigns, teams or organisations have individuals involved who are disgruntled. The real problem arises when that disgruntled individual poisons the atmosphere to such a degree that it is impossible for everyone else to move forward properly.

John Major's tenure as Prime Minister was hampered by the attitude of Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke in the same way that Margaret Thatcher was hijacked in Madrid in 1989 by Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe. The collective cabinet view accorded with the positions of both Prime Ministers but these vipers in the bosom made it clear that if they did not get their way, they would resign and destabilise the government.

The same can be said of the behaviour of some Conservative MEPs too. Rather than adhering to the wishes of the Party's leadership, they are prepared to put their own interests first. Thus Caroline Jackson (whose husband of course defected from the Tories) threatens David Cameron and allows public dissent to be seen by the public at the very time that the Party is finally making electoral strides.

Michael Portillo (the 1999-2005 vintage) was perceived as a viper in the bosom of William Hague. Following this week's Law of the Public Policy Process, it would perhaps have been better for Hague to have kept Portillo well away from the levers of power given that he was evidently disgruntled with the Party's direction at that time.

David Cameron has chosen a different route - the Johnson tent maxim. He has brought within the fold people who had the potential to cause him trouble - Clarke, Heseltine and Gummer from the Left and Redwood from the Right. Redwood and Gummer seem reinvigorated and it was evidently sensible to use their experience as cabinet ministers in shaping party policy in advance of the next election.

That said Cameron may be understandably nervous that some of those who have come within the tent - particularly the likes of the Geldofs of the world - may become troublesome if the policy groups in which they have an interest do not make recommendations that accord with their agendas.

It's always a tough decision whether to bring members of an awkward squad into the tent or to keep those who might be vipers away from your bosom. In truth there may be no hard and fast rule at all. However this week's Law of the Public Policy Process is that it is "better a snake in the grass than a viper in your bosom".

Previous entry in this series:
"The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure"


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