Monday, 13 October 2008

I think he (Ken Livingstone) got it almost totally right

It's not often that will say this but I agree with Ken Livingstone after reading a recent on-line interview with him published in 21st century socialism. I think he got it almost totally right when he identified the problem with British Politics today. The same problem that New Labour had in 1997 will also be applicable to the Tories should they win in 2010. Anyway in Ken's own words....

"I actually think a lot of the problems of New Labour come not from the ideology, but the lack of experience of government. If you look at American politics, with the exception of this year and Kennedy in 1960 - whoever is elected this year is going to be a Senator, without ever having been a Governor or a Mayor. And there was one other election in the past, it was Harding in 1920; only three American elections where someone has gone from the Senate to the Presidency. Every other election they had been a Governor, a successful military commander, in one instance a Mayor. And if you look at Germany, every Chancellor since Adenauer, and who was briefly his successor? Ehard. Every other Chancellor since then has successfully run a Länder. Everywhere else in the world, people are Mayors, Governors, and you are not allowed to play with the national state unless you demonstrated you could run the local one.

Here in Britain, the local government experience has been squeezed right out. Everyone leaves university, works in some PR firm or as a researcher for a MP, and the first experience they have of managing anything is when they find they are a Cabinet Minister or a Prime Minister. So I watched Blair and Brown and everybody, except for Blunkett and Dobson and Chris Smith, who'd had strong local government experience - all these people learning and making the sort of mistakes that I made when I was a councillor in Lambeth my 20s, but on the national stage. Blair would honestly say to you that he spent his first term as Prime Minister learning how to do the job. That's a luxury. Boris is now spending his first term as Mayor learning how to do the job. This is a luxury that you really can’t indulge. It is really only in Britain with this obsessive centralised state, that you've got to be Prime Minister, or virtually nothing else is worth doing. It has got worse under New Labour; in Mrs Thatcher’s time, being a Cabinet Minister you had a real air of responsibility, and were left to get on with it.

Now everything is run centrally, and it will be under Cameron I suspect, if he gets in, and this is a terrible weakness. You need to have demonstrated administrative experience. Now to my surprise, I expected a lot more casualties of people who turned out to be incompetent ministers. But it was still a wasted first term. A lot of the errors that were built in were that. There were the ideological errors of saying we are not going to increase taxes on the rich.

And then were just the errors of omission. How long does it take you before you realise those civil servants aren’t yours, and they have their own agenda and they are just very good at seeming yours? I learnt that when I was in Lambeth Council in 1970s before I was 30. And then Blair had to learn it in his premiership."

When I said I think he got it almost totally right rather than completely right I meant he was showing his own bias in that he obviously believes that only experience in local government is valid experience. I think it also needs people from industry and commerce to bring their view points to the table. However, I have no problem agreeing with Ken on his basic premise which seems to be that going direct from University into Westminster politics might make you a very able politician but it in no way equips you to run the country.

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