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Abolish the Welfare State and restore some Respect

It is not much fun being nearly sixty, but it does have some advantages, one of which is that you can just about remember political debates now long dead, of a sort which younger people may have little idea about.

And during the nineteen fifties, I recall, there was a debate, at any rate in Britain, engaged in by diehard free-marketeers, about the long term consequences of the Welfare State. The name of Anthony LeJeune springs to mind, but most of his recent writing nowadays seems to have been reviews of crime stories. Anyway, these diehard free-marketeers said that the Welfare State would corrupt the working class and turn then from the upstanding citizens that they then mostly were into barbarians. Diehard non-free-marketeers genuinely could not imagine this happening, and dismissed such fears as absurd. Most politicians, similarly unable to imagine that times might seriously change, concurred with the diehard non-free-marketeers.

Insofar as it was then acknowledged that the Welfare State would undermine the social pressures on people to be upright citizens, this was mostly regarded as a good thing. The Welfare State would enable people to escape from narrow-minded social prejudices and live freer and happier lives.

I consider the Prime Minister’s somewhat implausible attempts to civilise our current crop of barbarians to be evidence, if you need any more, that those diehard free-marketeers had a point. The essence of the Welfare State, as was well understood by the people who founded it, was and is that you get your goodies, meagre though they may typically be, as a right. Nobody can take your goodies away from you, unless you do something like rob a bank, get caught, and get sent to prison. Short of that, you have your rights, and you can behave as you please, which for some means behaving very, very badly.

In the decades before the Welfare State, you depended on the people around you – like landlords, employers, neighbours, etc., above all on your own family – for whatever goodies you managed to get your hands on, and bad behaviour towards these people was punishable, and was punished, with loss of goodies.

One should not exaggerate. These pressures still operate on most people in Britain now. Most people still know that if they behave very badly, they will be shunned by polite society, which for most people still exists, even if they now would not use that particular phrase to describe it. Most people have jobs, and many of them want better jobs. If they indulge, say, in football hooliganism at the weekend, they know that this might cause employers (or customers, which amounts to the same thing), potential and future, to look askance at them.

But, for a substantial minority, mostly the minority whose lives are dominated by the Welfare State, there is now no such thing as polite society to be shunned by. The remnants of such a society may still exist, but it no longer has power over the barbarians who prey upon it.

What Tony Blair is trying to do is to recreate a “modern” substitute for such informal social pressures with the force of the law and with the power of the state.

The difficulty with this approach is that it means attacking the problem with only a rather small number of quite large bludgeons, wielded from relatively few power centres, rather than with millions of little truncheons, wielded by millions of different persons of only moderate influence. And these bludgeons are all too likely to end up being a problem worse than the one they are being created to solve. The power of the police to arrest on sight, or the power of welfare bureaucrats selectively to withhold benefits, or of council officials to eject troublesome tenants, creates a world either of arbitrary political tyranny or of endless political and legal wrangling. In practice, both. It recreates informal, social power, but in the negative-sum arena of politics, rather than in the positive-sum world of the free society.

Against one tyrannical landlord, or against one malevolent neighbour who falsely accuses you of mayhem, you may have a chance. You can seek another landlord, new neighbours. You can retaliate by arguing with the community by which you are surrounded that your reputation deserves to remain spotless, and that it is your landlord or your neighbour whose name should now be mud. But now, for many people, there is no “community” within which to establish a reputation or to add a bit of black to other people’s. “Community” has become a euphemism for a mere aggregate of persons connected only by being classified in the same bureaucratic category

And if some marauding gang of barbarians has a “reputation”, so what? They now glory in this. If a surrounding community does still exists without the need for any inverted commas, it lacks the power to make its judgements of such mayhem stick. It now has no power to reward or to punish.

The state has takes away those resources and that power, at first because it either saw no need for such power or else because it regarded the power as bad, and now because it cannot imagine handing it back. (Who to? How do we “recreate civil society”? Etc.)

Nor would the people from whom this power has been taken away necessarily welcome the upheavals involved in it somehow being re-established. Just as it was impossible in the nineteen fifties for people to imagine the harm that the Welfare State would eventually do, so now, it seems impossible for most to imagine a world without the Welfare State, or how on earth such a world might be contrived.

By the way, I am a libertarian rather than a conservative (of the pessimisitic British sort) because I believe that people respond quite rapidly to incentives, and not just in a bad way. Abolish the Welfare State with a magic button right now, and you would be amazed (and British conservatives amazed) by how very quickly a lot people would at once start behaving better and how quickly they would then infect most of the rest. “Human nature” is not all bad. Most people instinctively want to be good, and many more have at least been raised to be good. If they did not want to be good, the voters would not be telling Tony Blair that there is a problem, and he would not even be going through the motions of trying to solve this problem.

As it is, there definitely is a problem, and those who merely say that “these people need to be helped rather than threatened” are being idiotic. Those libertarians who emphasise only the bad things (basically the civil liberties angles) about Blair’s answers without confronting the problem he is trying to confront are likewise rather missing the bigger picture. ASBOs may indeed threaten the integrity of the the criminal justice system, but in the meantime, many an abused neighbour or gang-terrorised estate is surely thankful for them.

So Blair is by no means totally wrong about this stuff. But the answer to his problem is a whole lot more complicated than most Labourites, and I suspect, the majority of anything-else-ites, are now willing to acknowledge.

More from me (and from Theodore Dalrymple) in a similar vein here.

24 comments to Abolish the Welfare State and restore some Respect

  • Quite right,

    Libertarians (including myself) are too easily excitable about civil liberties (it’s only because we care of course) and miss the positive message.

    I’m not sure that human behaviouris as quick to change as you hope although I agree it’s much quicker than most think. Certainly it’s always been a problem for proponents of the Laffer curve, deficit hawks and critics of the minimum wage that the ill effects always come later. I suspect that the “barbarians” (isn’t that an un-PC word – I don’t want to offend any Visigoths here) will probably take some time to adapt to the fact that the safety net wasn’t there.

    In some instances it could be a generational time-frame. Kids who grow up in families of welfare dependents are more likely to become welfare dependents. Of course the survival mechanism always kicks in. I doubt many welfare dependents would actually starve if their benefits were cut off. A good example of what would happen if you pressed the magic button is the former Soviet bloc, rapid change but with consequences.

    I would press the button if I could – but I think I’d have my fingers crossed behind my back (the fingers not pressing the button obviously).

  • Paul Marks

    You put your finger on a key question – given that a Welfare State leads to dependency and moral decline, will getting rid of it restore the old ways?

    Like Edmund Burke I suspect that social traditions (the capital of morality) are painfully built up over time and, once undermined, are very hard to recreate.

    Of course this does not mean that the Welfare State should not be abolished (if it is not, both moral and financial breakdown will occur and there will be, eventually, mass starvation).

    But it does mean that one should not look to see a vast network of mutual aid (such as the British Friendly Societies or the American Fraternities) or benevolent (what used to be called “charitable” before this became a dirty word) action (for example stong active Church or humanist associations) on day one after the abolition of the Welfare State.

    The left always claim that “if you abolish the Welfare State people will die in the gutters” – of course people did in the gutters right now (in spite of, or because of, a Welfare State that takes up most of government spending – spending that itself takes up almost half the economy). But that does not mean the left are not correct.

    The end of the Welfare State might well see an increase in the number of people dying in the gutters (for example very elderly people who have no other source of income apart from the government “pension” and have no children), but (as stated above) that does not mean the present system can be maintained.

    In the United States the government has vast assets (not only the interstate road system, but about one third of all the land in the nation) these assets could be used to “pay off” the dependents (for example the very old) so that they would at least have something to live on till their natural (as opposed to starvation induced) death. Of course younger people would have to change their ways (and learn to save and to value family and voluntary association).

    In Europe things might be more difficult.

    Of course as the population of all Western nations (inculding the United States) has been taught to regard the Welfare State as a sacred the above is not relevant (i.e. the voters would not tolerate the end of the Welfare State).

    As, the longer the “entitlement programs” continue the more people depend on them (and the more the pre Welfare State traditions of mutal aid and benevolence decay) this devotion to the Welfare State is unfortunate.

    It may well be that there will be no planned end to the Welfare State (either a gradual phasing out, or a cut off date after a certain period of time), governments may simply try (by whatever means) to keep the system going until final economic and social collapse.

    In such a case the rapid recovery of civilization would be unlikely.

    As I have often said, I think we need an “example” – i.e. a Western Nation facing up to the Welfare State problem (so that it can be seen that it is possible to face up to it – and to show the public that there is life after the Welfare State).

    Such a nation need not be very large – as long as the example was clear.

    Sadly I see no such examples at the present time. But I do not know what the future may bring.

  • Exguru

    Welfare worked better when the bishop was given arbitrary power, and could ordain things like, “no goodies for Stephen, because he is no damn good.” With government welfare there must be written rules about it, which allow the chisler an opening. This is the principal reason it is so inefficient. Once you codify the dos an don’ts for receiving goodies, the bad people inevitably start getting more than their share.

  • A society prospers or declines depending on how the majority treats the violent and amoral fraction that always exists. As in the Islamic world and among American blacks, most people are good and honorable, but the violent criminals are too often condoned. US welfare reform in the Nineties had an immediate beneficial effect. Those in the British working class who don’t wish to put up with the amoral fraction need support from their government and their culture (I almost said “their betters” naughty me!) instead of the “don’t be a troglodyte – anything goes!” mentality that prevails today.

  • guy herbert

    I’m both less and more pessimistic than Paul and Brian.

    I don’t think society is either as badly damaged as they do, but I suspect also think that people are more adaptable than they allow and that institutions can grow up very quickly with modern communications and modern levels of wealth: I’m not so sure about the idea of moral capital, any more than I think there is social action at a distance.

    However, though I think that society would adapt quickly to abolishing the welfare state; the likelihood of abolishing the welfare state quickly is very small indeed. You can’t get there from here.

  • This chimes with my thoughts in a number of (well put) ways.

    I do think that the majority of miscreants will rapidly know which side their bread is buttered. As for the rest, well, we have always had a small section that are beyond repair and when the burden of dealing with the now huge volumes of lawlessness subsides the proper authorities and the community can deal with them effectively as they have always done. I think the problems will heal very quickly. Once benefits to fund unlimited children as a right is removed (see Roger’s Manifesto) we will see a reduction in problems in a very short while. I would also say that we do not need new laws, but the repealing of recently created, dysfuncitonal ones!

    One point is key to me – power. Before, as you so rightly say, power was distributed. Socialists don’t like individual power but want collective power and only when that power is under the direction and control of the State.

    TB is glad to see the removal of deference but wants to keep respect. If ever there was a case of ‘baby and bathwater’ this was one. I feel that many do not realise that these things are not black and white but shades of grey.

    As to “dying in the gutter”, that is something that now threatens us all whenever we are in a high street at the wrong time of day or night.

    My answer to the “dying in the gutter (from poverty)” brigade is dip your own hand in your own pocket and/or create a charity to deal with the problem. Don’t wangle your way into a position of power and dip your clammy hands into MY pocket!

  • michael farris

    My own opinion is that welfare (not a bad concept in and of itself) only works when at least one of the three following is true.

    1. The assumption is that it’s temporary

    2. The recipient feels grateful

    3. The recipient feels ashamed at having to accept it

    When none is true, you’ve got trouble.

    Also, family-fare societies (no safety social net besides the family with maybe some private charity) are very far from the civil society that most here take for granted.

  • HJHJ

    A very thoughful piece, Brian. As for whether behaviour would change quickly if the welfare state were taken away – we don’t need to wonder about this. We can look at Eastern Europe, especially those countries with relatively little corruption and democratic governments and see how they are responding (Czech republic, Baltic states, Poland, for example).

    One other point – lack of a Welfare STATE, doesn’t mean no welfare or welfare organisations. Welfare of various types existed prior to the welfare STATE, it was just organised and funded differently and would have evolved further without state control. Welfare organisations organised at a lower level, more locally, more responsive to need and encouraging a greater sense of personal responsibility (not just for recipients, but also for contributors such as the higher earners that currently pay their taxes and think that they have discharged all responsibility for the less fortunate) would likely be much more efficient than state controlled welfare. People need to understand that advocating abolishing the welfare state doesn’t make you against welfare of any sort – it just means that you think there is a better way

  • rob

    hey, an interesting and thought provoking post. i can tell in advance that this point probably wont go down well here, but i make it with no intention of being faciecious (or however its spelt).

    does anyone thing that there is a possible correlation between not just the rise of the welfare state and bad behaviour, but also between the demise of trade unions and bad behaviour?

    whether you agree with their politics or not, they were strong working class forms of collective identity which definately exerted many of the same social pressures as those mentioned in the post. also the defeat of the unions by the government was a humiliating experience for many, and collectively having undergone that would not endear many to the society that they rightly or wrongly considered to have attacked them. i dont suggest that this is operating on a particularly concious level for average hooligan, merely that this sentiment is possibly a kind of folk memory.

  • There is an example of these social controls in the movie version of George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra flying which has always stuck in my mind.

    The Orwell character gets drunk, gets into a fight, gets arrested and gets fined. His landlady finds out and without so much as a by-your-leave turfs him out on the street.

  • Dave

    In years gone by, people needed to have big families in order to support each other and to support the parents as they got older, the welfare state has stopped that need and as such is literally killing the Western world as most if not all Western countries have below replacement birthrates.

    I don’t think it would be as easy to recreate these communities as you think Brian, 50-60 years ago not many people had cheap personal transport. Communities really were local and people knew each other, these days its possible to live on a street and hardly know any of the other people, while working a long distance from home.

  • veryretired

    The same mentality that rejects individual responsibility and the legitimacy of voluntary action also rejects many other conceptual parameters with which those ideas are associated.

    Thus, the value of the earned vs. the unearned is dismissed as irrelevent, the concept of cause and effect is brushed aside as something outmoded, and the free market rule that taxing something means you get less, and subsidizing something means you get more of it are shrugged off as non-applicable.

    It is not surprising, then, that so many of the assertions of the “social justice” or “progressive” movement about how things will turn out simply don’t happen.

    Instead of cushioning the blow for a few unwed mothers, for example, within a few decades the majority of births in communities enmeshed in the welfare system are single parent, and the end result is two generations of children raised without male parents, or the stability of a two-parent family committed to a long term relationship.

    Repeated studies have found this to be disastrous for all concerned. Any serious attempt to reform the system, however, such as the welfare reform measures of the mid-90’s, are met with outraged screams that the “social safety net” must be sacrosanct, and a flood of new measures to undo the reforms, all in the name of compassion.

    The obvious, demonstrable fact that these programs are the worst disaster to have struck the weakest and poorest in our society is dismissed when mentioned as evidence of meanness and lack of compassion.

    The underlying assumptions and “theology” of the social justice movement (which is very clearly a sub-sect of Judeo-Christian social theory) has had over a century of labratory experimentation in several different societies.

    If a strategy of devolution from these systems can be developed, justified by their clear failure in not just the economic, but also the practical and moral spheres, then it requires a clear, compelling explanation that will show the ever-increasingly burdened taxpayer how we can dismantle these monstrosities in a rational, careful manner, without leaving piles of dead, starved babies in the street or some such “boogeyman” result.

    This is the challenge that our children face. They, and their children, will confront the collapse of these fanciful Ponzi schemes in a few decades.

    In order to deal with the situation successfully, they must be provided with the intellectual and moral foundations from which to construct a solution. This is an intellectual conflict, and it will be won or lost in the forum of ideas, both academic and practical.

    The ideological debris of a century of collectivist lunacy litters the globe. That is the past. The future belongs to those who can explain the advantages of a moral society based on individual resposibility and freedom.

  • Rob,

    I would say that union ‘bad behaviour’ was occuring just as the bad behaviour in society was rising. “I know my rights!” was the call then. People had a right to walk out and the company be damned, which it often was.

    Maybe we need a new Maggie Thatcher to “privatise” welfare into a philanthropic mode. We have the Internet to allow charities to promote their cause cheaply. We also have political parties who can set up “unit trusts” of charities according to their beliefs into which people can subscribe.

    As another has stated, taxation allows abdication, which further disconnects those in true need from those who can help. More isolation. More disconnection.

    As a p.s., can we have a campaign to get rid of the word ‘deprived’? It gives the impression that something is being withheld or denied, which is patently untrue.

  • pommygranate

    I have spent the last three years working with a London charity that takes in violent but intelligent black boys and tries to turn them into decent human beings. Their results are staggering. My time there has given me an insight into the Welfare State and has convinced me of a number of indisputable facts

    i) children respond rapidly to a change in their personal circumstances. If incentivised properly and disciplined fairly, they are capable of complete change.

    ii) the older they get, the less the magnitude of change possible. By 14, attitudes are set for life.

    iii) 95% of the boys we accept have no adult men in their lives. This is the single largest contributing factor to a slide into an anti-social life.

    iv) people do not value what is for free. We charge the parents £2 a week for their boys to attend class. It is a nominal fee but a crucial part of the program.

    apologies for the shameless plug but go to eyla.org.uk for those wanting to find out more (and helping out, especially if you are a successful black male)

  • Paul Marks

    On the point about trade unions.

    Such things were of no importance (about 1% of the workforce in labour unions) in the United States in the late 1920’s (i.e. the time when fraternal mutual aid was at its hight) so clearly fraternal clubs and societies can exist without any connection to trade unions.

    On the Ponzi scheme nature of entitlement programs – quite correct.

    These schemes will not survive the retirement of the baby boomers.

    Such things as Medicare and Social Security will not survive in the United States over the next decade or so. Europe will see the same thing (although our peak year of births was somewhat later – 1965).

    So the choice is not “can we keep these things” – the question is “do we think out how to get rid of these things whilst keeping human suffering to a minimum – or do we just try propping them up till they collapse”.

    Now James B. may make many small mistakes in his published work (over dates and so on), but his basic thesis is correct – we have to accept that these schemes can not last for ever and think about how we are going to get rid of them in a civilized manner (keeping in mind that the longer they last the more harm they do).

    I heard him this morning on B.B.C. Radio 4’s Today Programme. And then I heard Mr Ian Duncan Smith for the Conservatives.

    This latter interview proved the truth of Guy’s postion (over the poor chances of any rational reform before collapse – rather than his rather rose tinted view of the prospects of radical improvment in human behaviour).

    I.D.S. said how much he admired James B. – but then he waffled.

    Just as Mr Cameron will waffle tonight.

    In fact it is worse than waffle.

    The whole “social justice” group in the Conservative party have got a simple point radically wrong.

    They believe (and state again and again) that the breakdown in society causes the expansion of the Welfare State, and to deal with this expansion government has got to repair society (for example by working with the independent sector – which would mean that charities are even less “independent” than they are now).

    Actually it is the Welfare State itself that causes the decline of society – a decline that government is (therefore) the cause, not the cure, of.

    The basic assumption that government must be provider of last resort for basic income, and for such things as health care is not just wrong, it is fatal.

    As for the finanial side, the facts (which I make no apology for stating again) are simple.

    The government spends almost half the total economy – and most government spending goes on the Welfare State (health, education, pensions, income support and so on).

    And yet the poor often live on tiny amounts of money (the old on tiny “pensions”, the disabled on less than most people would spend on a night out, and so on), the National Health Service allows many thousands of people (who could be saved by prompt and good treatment) to die every year, and the education system fails vast numbers of children.

    The costs of the Welfare State are exploding and the outcomes it provides (in spite of all the government disinformation) are not improving.

    This will end in tears (or worse).

    I accept that the welfare reform in the United States was an improvement on what went before (at least it put a time limit on income support and demanded work in return for it) but the problems in the income support area have not been solved (for example the earned income tax credit, has evolved into just the mess that Milton Friedman finally understood and predicted that his “negative income tax” would turn out to be).

    Also such things as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have not been touched (they continue to explode out of control).

    As for Britian and the rest of Europe – well I prefer not to think about this area (it is too depressing, even for me).

  • Verity

    pommygranate – I think I have read about the man who started this charity. He sounds absolutely wonderful. He gives these boys the first intelligent, fair-minded guidance they have ever encountered from a black authority figure. If it’s the same man, he tells them the only time they can open their mouth is when he tells them to. Apparently the response to this discipline, fair-mindedness and intelligence is boys who were formerly hopeless cases continuing their education and staying off the streets. God! The energy and commitment it must take!

    If I’m right, he also forces the mothers (insofar as he is able to do so) to be involved (there are no fathers in evidence, of course). I think Melanie Phillips wrote about him. I can’t remember his name, but he is a lifesaver for intelligent but rootless black boys who skip school and roam the streets. It must be the same man.

  • pommygranate

    It is. Melanie Philips visited the school last year.

    His name is Ray Lewis. He is an inspiration.

    Boys in class are not allowed to speak unless asked or asking a question, mobiles are banned, uniforms are compulsory. Parents have to attend a Saturday class once a month (faliure to do so results in automatic expulsion for their son). Given how dramatically their sons have changed, attendance from parents is invariably 100%.

    I am helping a small group who want to work in the City – three years ago one of them burned his school down and others were expelled for attacking their teachers. Now they are preparing for University entrance in four years time – they will make it.

    Ian Duncan Smith is the main political supporter.

  • Verity

    The existence of people like Ray Lewis (yes, I remember that is the name) are the reason the state should remove itself from education (and everything else). Things done privately, on individual initiative, are more effective. And good for IDS, as well. I still think they shouldn’t have turfed him out as leader. He has more backbone and a clearer sense of direction than any of the rest of them.

  • Paul Marks

    I do not deny that Mr Ian Duncan-Smith is a kind and decent man.

    Indeed I helped with his campaign (I went down to London and manned a telephone – etc).

    However, I still hold that he lacks some basic bits of knowledge (that is not an attack on his morality).

    The very words he uses, “social justice”, indicate he does not know very much about these matters.

    He is not cynical enough to try and give the words a new meaning (as some sort of confidence trick – although he may have been told, a couple of years ago, to use these words by rather cynical people), he simply does not know what the words mean (and why should he? – knowing about political philosophy would not have made him a better army captain).

    I do not deny that he supports charitable action – and he may well do more than I would on his income level.

    However, he thinks (or seems to think) that government can help the “independent sector” – whereas, in reality, voluntary action has often already been corrupted by government “help”.

    I have never called Mr Ian Duncan-Smith a shit (as I have called Mr Cameron), but I do not believe that he has a good grasp of political economy.

    Perhaps he will prove me wrong in a a year of so, when his proposals come out.

  • Verity

    No, Paul Marks, but he appears to have a good grasp of what’s right. As the CEO, you don’t have to be able to do everyone’s job. You just have to know where you’re taking the company. I think IDS knew that. But he wasn’t exciting and fizzy and trendy enough for Westminster Village. He was just middle England, attached to financial responsibility and freedom. So now they’ve got the exciting the trendy David Cameron.

  • Paul Marks

    That is the point Verity.

    I do not hold with a politician being the C.E.O. of Britain (or any country).

    If a politician wishes to help – he should do so in a personal capacity (which, no doubt, Mr Duncan-Smith does).

    It is not for a political party to have a “policy” on the independent sector – to see how (if it returned to office) it would “help” charitable action.

    Of course I would understand “negative” help (i.e. removing burdens on voluntary action) by reducing (or eliminating) taxes and reducing (or elimination) regualtions on such action.

    But as for “postitive help” the government provides lots of that already – indeed most of the income for many “voluntary” groups comes from the government (i.e. they are not independent at all).

    On the tossing out of I.D.S. from the leadership – of course I do not defend it.

    But after the removal of Mrs Thatcher in 1990 I should not have been surprised by anything the Conservative party did (even though I was often still surprised).

    I justifed my staying in the Conservative party after 1990 by claiming the decent ordinary party members were betrayed by an elite.

    However, (as you point out) I can not play that card now.

    I predicted for months that Mr Cameron would win the leadership. However, in my gut, I think I did not really believe it (at least that he would not win big – a small win I could blame on the media).

    But the vast win proved that the “decent party members” were a fantasy of mine.

    “But the British people do not want a smaller government” (as Mr Cameron and co would say).

    Then one should try and convince them of the case for controlling the size of government.

    “That is ideological, and all “ism”s whether communism or capitalism are extremist and wrong”.

    Well then, Mr Cameron, you are a shit.

  • Verity

    I don’t think the prime minister should involve himself in social policy, Paul Marks. I used the term CEO to illustrate that the head of an organisation shouldn’t be trying to do everyone’s jobs for them. He should be mapping out strategy. Otherwise, like Dave, he will be a Tony cloney.

    But I agree that social policy should not be on the agenda.

  • pommygranate

    IDS is a good man, but is a poor leader. Strong leaders need to inspire, to command respect from the faithful, to be feared by the enemy, to be agents for change.

    Cameron has proved an effective leader to date. His job is to get the Conservative party back in power. Nothing else. He is a natural with the media, a genuine charmer and is proving a shrewd tactician. The only unknown is what he actually thinks about policy.

    Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (the best book ever written about leadership), stresses the distinction between virtuous characters and effective leaders – IDS and Cameron.
    The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers

  • Paul Marks

    I agree with pommygranate that I.D.S. was not a good leader – his key mistake was to believe various “modernizers” and sack David Davis as Chairman of the party (whatever may be said of Mr Davis, the very people who forced him out of the Chairmanship soon turned on I.D.S. himself).

    However, I do not believe a leader has to “inspire” or be “feared by the enemy”.

    Respect from the people you need is needed, but what you also need is the ability to explain what you what to do and why it should be done.

    The job of the leader of the Conservative party is NOT about putting the party “back in power”.

    Politics (if it is worth getting involved in) is not about being Machiavelli’s Prince (out for power for the sake of power).

    The job of the Conservative party (if it has a purpose for existing) is to safeguard the nation’s independence (which can be done by effective opposition, as well as when in government), and trying to roll back the size and scope of government to something closer to it tradtionial role.

    Oddly enough one can sometimes work well for that whilst out of office – changing the climate of opinion, but not just this.

    For example, the dereguation that occured (against the will) of a Democratic party Contolled Congress and Preident in the late 1970’s (airlines, natural gas and so on). Or the Welfare Reform that took place (although it was no part of President Clinton’s plans) in the 1990’s (certainly this was helped by the Republican victory in the elections of 1994, but the basic battle was won before then – indeed the victory led to problems).

    One can also point to the problems of the victory of 2000 and 2004 – winning an election without winning any arguments (indeed winning by ducking the arguments) leaves people in a terrible position. Far from cutting back government (he had no mandate for that – because he had not even tried for one) President Bush has seen a vast increase in domestic government spending. Such things as the Medicare extention or “No Child Left Behind” might have been blocked by Congress if Mr Gore had won (as Mrs Clinton’s health care nationalization failed in a Democrat controlled Congress), but they could harldy block their own man (and he had not argued with the principles involved).

    Of course being in office is nice – but only as a means to and end (the end being restoring the nation’s independence and rolling back government to a more traditionial role).

    Certainly one must convince the voters and one may only be able to convince them to a certain extent – but that is the job of a poltical party. The job of a politician is to make the “politically impossible” (but needed) measures “politically possible” (as far as their ability can achieve).

    “Adapting policy for the times” and power for its own sake is criminal (and I mean that word litterally).

    If that is what is to motivate the Conervative partythen it should be eliminated.

    Certainly the style and method of argument must be adapted for the times, and one may only get “half a loaf” (some useful measures, not all one would like), but the objective must always be kept in mind.

    And that objective is not things like “the first duty of a politician is to be elected” or “without winning an election we can do nothing” or all the rest of the dodges by which corrupt politicians seek to justfy their corruption.

    It would be better for such men if they had never been born.