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Donal Blaney: Make the steal more expensive than it's worth

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.

Cross-dressing is very much in fashion. I am not referring to transvestites as such, although there do seem to be more and more budding Eddie Izzards out and about even in spa towns today. I am, in fact, referring to the preponderance of political cross-dressing.

Who would have thought, even a few months ago, that it would be Labour politicians – not Powellite Conservatives – who would be calling for Muslim women to be lectured not to wear the veil.

Likewise who would have anticipated that it would be the Liberal Democrats, not the Tories, who would campaign for lower taxes for ordinary working and middle class families.

Similarly who would have countenanced that it would be the Tories – and not Labour – who would be advocating levying green taxes, opposing the expansion of grammar schools and calling for more distance in Britain’s relationship with the United States.

We truly live in interesting times when political alliances are being redefined with reference to national security, environmental issues, Europe and the economy. Many conservatives have more in common with Tony Blair on the War on Terror than they do with the approach adopted by the current Conservative Party leadership. Eurosceptic Tories have more in common with Bennite socialists in their attitude to the EU than with One Nation Tories (or, so it seems, many of their own MEPs judging from this week’s vote by the EPP in favour of all nation states adopting the Euro).

Much of the realignment of political parties in the last decade was thought of as being testament to the successes of Thatcherism. Thatcher’s great legacy was said by many commentators to be the abandonment of socialism by the Labour Party and the creation of “New Labour”, a political party that sought to embrace social democratic social policy with an acceptance of free market economic policy.

During Blair’s tenure of the Labour leadership and, most recently, the keys to Number 10, Labour has stolen more and more Tory clothes. During much of the period from 1997 to 2005, in particular, the Conservatives would come forward with an innovative policy and within days it would be passed off by Labour as its own invention. In an effort to retain a respectable veneer among the eyes of the predominantly conservative electorate of England in particular, New Labour recognized that it was essential for it to embrace as many Conservative policies as possible.

Attacking Labour as thieving magpies missed the point. While it was certainly a tribute to Tory thinkers’ ideas (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that) it could and should have been an opportunity for the Tory opposition to use Labour’s magpie approach to advance a truly conservative agenda so as to see how far Labour could have indeed be dragged into enacting truly conservative measures.

There is always a point at which a steal becomes more expensive than it is worth. The concessions required to be made – the policies required to be adopted – become so far removed from what that political party, its members and its supporters really believe in that it is simply not worth making the steal – even if it leads to temporary political advantage.

Thus Labour’s embrace of the neoconservative foreign policy advanced by the Bush White House – in part borne out of an interventionist ideology inherent in Labour’s own philosophical roots but also borne out of a desire to steal Tory clothes on national security, law and order and defence as policy areas – has seen a disintegration of the carefully crafted coalition that saw Blair elected in 1997.

Likewise there is a distinct risk that, in his pursuit of the Holy Grail of “the centre ground”, David Cameron will make steals of Labour’s (and the LibDems’) political clothes that are more expensive than they are worth. For what point is there in adopting policy platforms that are designed to appeal to Labour/ LibDem voters or the BBC/ Guardian if by doing so, those voters do not, in fact, desert their tribes and yet traditional conservative voters either look elsewhere or simply don’t vote.

There always comes a point at which a steal becomes more expensive than it’s worth. Ignoring bellwether issues that matters to core supporters on issues such as lower taxes, firmer law and order and choice in education and health care is a risky strategy to adopt.

Previous entry in this series:
All gains are incremental; not all increments are gains


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