Our Tone has delivered a very important speech
at the Labour Party conference. Here are some highlights, with my initial reaction:
Today, a nation's chances are measured not just by its own efforts but by its place in the world.
Influence is power is prosperity.
We are an island nation, small in space, 60 million in people but immense in history and potential.
We can take refuge in the mists of Empire but it is a delusion that national identity is best preserved in isolation, that we should venture out in the world only at a time of emergency.
There is a bold side to the British character.
And there is a cautious side.
Both have their time and season.
Caution is often born of common sense, a great British trait.
But there are times when caution is retreat and retreat is dangerous.
Now, at the start of the 21st Century, is a time for reaching out.
Interesting that he should appeal to "the British character." That's not very multicultural of him.
The world can go in two ways.
Countries can become rivals in power, or partners.
Partnership is the antidote to unilateralism.
For all the resentment of America, remember one thing.
The basic values of America are our values too, British and European and they are good values. Democracy, freedom, tolerance, justice.
It's easy to be anti-American.
There's a lot of it about but remember when and where this alliance was forged: here in Europe, in World War II when Britain and America and every decent citizen in Europe joined forces to liberate Europe from the Nazi evil.
My vision of Britain is not as the 51st state of anywhere, but I believe in this alliance and I will fight long and hard to maintain it.
I'm not saying we always apply our values correctly.
But I've lost count of the number of supposedly intelligent people who've said to me:
You don't understand the Serbs. They're very attached to Milosevic. No they weren't.
The Afghans are different. They like religious extremism. No they didn't.
The Iraqis don't have the same tradition of political freedom. No they don't but I bet they'd like to.
Our values aren't western values.
They're human values, and anywhere, anytime people are given the chance, they embrace them.
Around these values, we build our global partnership.
Europe and America together.
Good points, although I'd like to see evidence of "democracy, freedom, tolerance and justice" being long-standing continantal European values, as opposed to ones imposed by Britain and America in 1945 or later.
If he doesn't comply, then consider.
If at this moment having found the collective will to recognise the danger, we lose our collective will to deal with it, then we will destroy not the authority of America or Britain but of the United Nations itself.
Sometimes and in particular dealing with a dictator, the only chance of peace is a readiness for war.
Jolly good. Then he loses it:
But we need coalitions not just to deal with evil by force if necessary, but coalitions for peace, coalitions to tackle poverty, ignorance and disease.
A coalition to fight terrorism and a coalition to give Africa hope.
A coalition to re-build the nation of Afghanistan as strong as the coalition to defeat the Taliban.
A coalition to fight the scourge of AIDS, to protect the planet from climate change every bit as powerful as the coalition for free trade, free markets and free enterprise.
I'm all for a coalition to give Africa hope (a coalition to abolish the CAP would be the best you could get there -- any chance France would join that one?) but are we going to have security council resolutions on AIDS and climate change? I'd like to see what he proposes here. Well, actually, I don't...
Our friendship with America is a strength.
So is our membership of Europe.
We should make the most of both.
And in Europe, never more so than now.
The single currency is a fact, but will Europe find the courage for economic reform?
Europe is to become 25 nations, one Europe for the first time since Charlemagne, but will it be as a union of nation states or as a centralised superstate?
It has taken the first steps to a common defence policy, but will it be a friend or a rival to NATO?
The answers to these questions are crucial to Britain.
They matter to the British economy, our country, our way of life.
And the way to get the right answers, is by being in there, vigorous, confident, leading in Europe not limping along several paces behind.
That's why the Euro is not just about our economy but our destiny.
We should only join the Euro if the economic tests are met.
That is clear.
But if the tests are passed, we go for it.
As Whittam-Smith suggested, it's unlikely HMG will declare the economic tests met while the German crisis unfolds, so this may be empty rhetoric, but the direction of the logic is worrying.
And this is all set out in the next section, which is the Blairite Vision:
Interdependence is the core reality of the modern world.
It is revolutionising our idea of national interest.
It is forcing us to locate that interest in the wider international community.
It is making solidarity - a great social democratic ideal - our route to practical survival.
Partnership is statesmanship for the 21st Century.
We need now the same clarity of vision for our country.
International interdependence is a worrying concept. It seems to be too easily confused with complete dependence, which is what British membership of the Euro would be.
Blair then goes into the achievements of his government, which he casts in relative, rather than absolute terms. He can say "we're better than France" but he can't say "we're better than we were in 1952" (although, of course, he could in some things). Then comes the Tory-bashing:
That's what the Tories hate.
They sneer at the investment.
Pessimism about Britain is now the official strategy of the Tories.
The purpose is not just to undermine the Government, but to undermine Government, to destroy the belief that we can collectively achieve anything, to drench progress in cynicism, to sully the hope from which energy, action and change all spring.
Now they've gone "compassionate".
Know what it means?
We are going to run down your schools but we feel really bad about it.
We're going to charge you to see a GP but we really wish we weren't.
We're going to put more children in poverty but this time we'll honestly feel very guilty about it.
In Opposition, Labour was trying to escape policies we didn't believe in. It was a journey of conviction.
Today's Tories are trying to escape policies they do believe in.
Theirs is a journey of convenience and it fools no-one least of all themselves.
Although he's wrong about the Government part (a proper Tory policy would strengthen civil society -- "the belief that we can collectively achieve anything" without a need for Government auditors, performance targets and regulation), he's probably right in the conclusion...
He then elliptically bashes Old Labour by talking about the move from "The Big State" to "The Enabling State". I'll give this to him, he is demonstrating true leadership in taking on the opposing forces within his party and telling them that they can't go on the way they have done. His arguments about PFI (interesting that he's using the Tory name, not "public-private partnerships") are good ones, and his calls for reforms in the professions well-warranted. Then he comes to crime:
We have increased the numbers of police to record numbers, toughened the law on everything from rape to benefit fraud.
Does that mean everyone feels safer? No.
Why? Because the problem is not just crime.
It is disrespect.
It is anti-social behaviour.
It is the drug dealer at the end of the street and no-one seems to be able to do anything about it.
This is not only about crime. It is about hard-working families who play the rules seeing those who don't, getting away with it.
The street crime initiative has been one of the most successful exercises in partnership between Government and police in living memory.
Not my words, but those of the Chief Constables.
But what was fascinating was not the initiative itself, but what it uncovered.
Outdated identity parades taking weeks if not months to organise. Defendants who didn't answer to their bail and never got punished for it.
Police officers told it was a breach of civil liberties to check whether defendants were obeying bail conditions.
It's not civil liberties.
Drug addicts with previous offences routinely bailed though everyone knew what they would be doing between bail and trial.
Magistrates unable to remand persistent young offenders in custody because no places existed in prison or secure accommodation.
The whole system full of excellent people, worn down and worn out.
Step by step David and his team, working with the police are putting it right.
For 100 years, our Criminal Justice System like our welfare system was based on a messy compromise between liberals and authoritarians.
The liberals tended to view crime as primarily about social causes and the welfare system primarily about giving to the poor.
The authoritarians wanted harsh penalties and as ungenerous a benefit system as possible.
The compromise was a Criminal Justice System weighted in favour of the defendant but with harsh penalties for the convicted; and a passive welfare system with mean benefits.
In short, the worst of all worlds.
This is a pretty fair summary, although the proposed solutions are ill-thought out in my opinion.
And then the peroration. The Blair vision is still paternalist, giving away more taxpayers' money and demanding things in return -- something he characterizes as partnership rather than paternalism. It may be strict rather than lax, but it's still paternalism. And that's the opening the Tories have. To say that Britain needs to be a country of mature adults working together voluntarily rather than receiving carrot and stick from the man in Whitehall.
Blair has improved markedly over the last couple of years. He's a true leader, internally and internationally, but his ideas are still confused and often misguided. And that is dangerous for Britain.