This is pretty poor stuff from the normally astute James Forsyth. In fact, his remarks about Dan Hannan’s recent blunt comment about the UK’s Soviet-model healthcare system smacks of cowardice:
The last week has been one of the worst the Tories have had in a while. As Pete said on Friday, a bad week in August is unlikely to do lasting damage. But the Tories should learn from the events of then past few days: they have been thrown onto the defensive not by clever Labour attacks but by their own unforced errors. Alan Duncan was a fool to say things to a prankster who he had never met before that he did not want made public and Dan Hannan should have realised that a Tory politician criticising the NHS in the context of the US healthcare debate was going to be grist to the left’s mill.
Oh I see. So Dan Hannan, and indeed any other Tories, are to be urged to only talk about the problems of state command-and-control healthcare/whatever in the most muted, domestic terms, without any reference to how such issues are handled overseas. Marvellous. Such timidity, when the Tories are way ahead in the polls, means that they will lack much in the way of post-election credibility in making any changes to the vast moneypit of the NHS if the Tories get into power. Hannan, by reminding Americans of the great mistake their elected representatives might make in going down the socialist path, is also doing his party a favour. One wonders whether Hannan, who famously raced up the YouTube rankings for his wonderful denunciation of Gordon Brown, has made some of his UK colleagues – Hannan is a Tory member of the European Parliament – rather jealous.
Then James Forsyth goes onto say:
“You can say that in an ideal world both Duncan and Hannan should have been able to do what they did. But however disappointing it is that people abuse a politician’s hospitality by breaking confidences or that policy debates get reduced to 140 characters, Duncan and Hannan should have behaved more sensibly. Their actions suggest that some Tories have yet to acquire the discipline that is needed if the Tories are to fully capitalise on the opportunity that the next few months will present them with.”
That Alan Duncan is a bit of a buffoon is true, but the Hannan example that James Forsyth seizes on worries me. Does he think that the Tories are going to win an election by saying as little as possible about their intentions, or by coming out with a relentless, mind-numbing set of Blairite soundbites, and hope that nobody notices or cares? The danger of Forsyth’s analysis – and this is something I have noticed from some of the Coffee Houser’s commenters in recent months – is to reduce politics to nothing more than a form of sport, like football or cricket. It goes a bit like this: “Mr X dropped a bit of a ball by saying Y the other day. Such unforced errors means that both parties go into the election/match/tournament with a point to prove”. There is no real difference between this sort of analysis and my reading about why Manchester United is a bit short of defensive cover or why Tiger Woods’ knee injury is proving a problem.
And of course, as some of our commenters like to point out, the politics-as-sport schtick is all part of a broader, “Metacontext” where the same, broad, statist assumptions about what is thinkable are ringfenced, with a supine MSM aiding the process, even driving it. Certain issues are “difficult”; certain comments by MPs or officials show they are “not team players” or mad, or whatever. It is terribly corrosive of serious thought about the problems that the UK faces, such as frighteningly high levels of public debt. If the Tories feel they cannot talk with any honesty about the huge cost of socialised medicine, it does not say much about the rest of their agenda, or suggest there is much chance of progress on any but the most superficial of fronts.
And people occasionally ask why we have little hope for any improvement under a Conservative government.