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Donal Blaney: In politics, nothing moves unless it is pushed

Every 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.

When Britain truly ruled the waves, the sun never set on the Empire and a quarter of the globe was coloured pink, the country was governed by a civil service the size of a District Council and by parliamentarians who saw their role as being part-time. As our global status and responsibilities declined, so the civil service has grown by a frightening degree and our parliamentarians are now expected to be full-time legislators. If home-grown laws devised by bureaucrats and poorly scrutinised by the new class of professional politicians are not enough, it is also necessary to factor in the fact that over three-quarters of our laws are drawn in Brussels by the unelected European Commission.

Rather than having time to consider great issues of state, most MPs today find themselves acting out the role of glorified social worker and in redirecting complaints to local authorities or the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, much to their chagrin given that many of them thought that becoming an MP would see them getting the chance to shape the future of the nation.

With so many competing demands on the time of parliamentarians, it is no surprise that it is difficult to get them to focus properly on issues that matter to their constituents. This is even more the case when those issues are not being promoted aggressively by the media and cultural elites who have seemingly unbridled power and influence under this government.

And yet even the BBC, Guardian and the fellow-travellers in the self-styled progressive movement realise that nothing moves in politics unless it is pushed. For too long the right, which I still believe represents the silent majority in the country, has assumed that its values and agenda would be pushed by the Establishment without realising that that “Establishment” no longer exists in the form it did a quarter or half a century ago.

The only way for ideas that matters to conservatives to be advanced is for them to be pushed, and pushed vigorously. It was once remarked that only when the political classes are getting sick of a particular mantra being chanted seemingly ad nauseam (eg “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”) will that mantra only be beginning to permeate into the minds of electors. I fear that the same is true of politicians, few of whom are as well-read or principled as their predecessors (the sheer intellectual clout of a Healey, Benn, Powell, Jenkins or Lawson stands in stark contrast to the comparative opportunism and cynicism personified by Tony Blair and, dare I say it, even some on our own side).

For the issues that matter to us, the core of committed conservative activists, to be advanced up the political agenda requires those issues to be packaged in easily understood sound bites (backed by facts and research). All too often think-tanks and pressure groups focus too much on the research (which is of course crucial if arguments are to stand up to examination) but too little on how to sell those arguments. In the United States, the Heritage Foundation translates the language of the wonk into readily accessible English so that activists and legislators can grasp the issues and then can campaign on them to the benefit of the conservative movement and, ultimately, the country. If existing think-tanks in the UK do not learn that lesson, they can publish as many worthy policy papers as they like but they will not shape the debate to the degree that they deserve to – and they will only have themselves to blame.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance and Migration Watch are examples of organisations that push their agenda more skilfully than has hitherto been the case on the right in Britain to date. They understand the importance of the maxim that nothing moves in politics unless it is pushed. They understand the importance of repetition. And they understand the importance of repetition. 

All of us know anecdotally what the opinion polls confirm. This government is on its last legs and the Conservatives stand the best chance for over a decade of winning an election. Brown’s policy of throwing money at public services has failed and is seen to have failed. Conservatives have the best chance in a generation of shaping the terms of the political debate if only we had the courage to argue our case. We do not want a repeat of Butskellism – the orderly management of national decline where the Party’s platform was essentially that we could manage the country slightly better than our opponents. In a time of crisis – and let us not kid ourselves, the state of our underlying social fabric is such that no other word is appropriate – requires bold leadership based on principle. If the conservative movement wants to reshape the country and to exercise its influence properly, its components and members need to learn from this maxim. Nothing moves in politics unless it is pushed. It is now time for the conservative movement to push.

Previous entry in this series:
In politics, you have your word and your friends; go back on either and you're dead


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