The trouble with moderation, at
least in politics – or at least in British politics – is that compromise and
consensus-building and other ritualised forms of obfuscation almost invariably
conspire to reduce political discourse to point-scoring about tactics at the
expense of decision-making about strategy.
In other words, our leaders choose to overlook the objective because
they’re having too much fun sparring over the details along the way. In avoiding hard decisions, of course, they get
to keep their jobs a bit longer.
What the country needs is a hefty
dose of immoderation. Here are a few
examples of how moderation is reducing us to supine helplessness.
We Britons are always arguing
angrily about how many battalions or ships or planes our splendid but
under-funded armed forces need to function effectively, but we virtually ignore
the elephant in the mess-hall. The
elephant is Britain’s
independent nuclear deterrent, submarine-launched Trident missiles, a system which,
all by itself, consumes far more of the military budget than all the soldiers,
seamen and airmen and their essential accoutrements put together.
We become irate on both sides of
the divide about a proposed new high-speed rail line that will link London with
the north of England, but we do so not so much because it’s unclear that
Britain actually needs it to unite the nation, or to facilitate commerce, but
because large tracts of pristine countryside may well be destroyed if we build
it. Incidentally, the current budget is
£80 million, but everyone who can count change down at the newsagents knows
that this will become £200 million sooner than you can say “tickets please”.
We’ve been thrashing about for
decades over whether high levels of immigration into the country are good for
the economy or mark the impending doom of our ancient civilisation. The government, one eye on UKIP’s rise in the
opinion polls, mumbles about introducing greater border controls but doesn’t actually
get around to doing anything. That may
have something to do with the fact that the supervising agency, whatever policies
are adopted, will be functionally incapable of implementing them.
Radical solutions on these and
other problems may or may not be required, depending on your point of view, but
we should do something or stop talking.
What is certain right now is that little creativity is likely to emerge
from the incessant argumentation conducted through the media – which naturally
delight in provoking it as a source of news fodder.
At Westminster cocktail parties, much of the
dialogue seems to be about the process; the objectives rarely get a look in. “Ah, Mr. Fudge, I see you’ve meet Miss Status
Quo. You two seem to be getting on just
fine, so I’ll just leave you to it.”
Such diplomatic fencing is not
for me. Yes, siree Bob, I know
unequivocally where I stand on these issues, and more besides. Armed with the
proper information, I’m more than happy to make firm decisions and live with
the consequences. It’s what businessmen have to do every day – or at least are
supposed to do every day – and these days isn’t politics essentially about
running a business called The Country.
To get things started here are a
few of my model decisions.
I’m against maintaining
Trident. It’s patently, inarguably absurd
to spend this kind of moolah when there are no conceivable circumstances in
will have to launch nuclear warheads in anger.
We’ve gone to war in recent years in Iraq,
the Falkands/Malvinas and Afghanistan,
and not for one moment was our nuclear capacity considered a factor, strategic
or tactical. Not for a micro-second were
our adversaries remotely cowed by our awesome nuclear capacity because they
knew using it was never an option. Many
countries comparable, and some greater, in economic power to Britain happily
survive, and indeed thrive, without the ability to brandish weapons of mass
destruction. I realise, of course, that
abolishing Trident may irritate the Americans – especially as it is they who
supply us with most of the kit – but they’ve pretty much given up on us anyway. Yes, abolishing Trident might mean that we
will eventually have to give up our seat at the metaphorical ‘top table’ of
super-powers. But if the Treasury has
socked away scores of billions of pounds, who will care?
I remain far from convinced that
we need a new super-speed rail line.
Getting to Birmingham
10 minutes earlier will make not the slightest difference to commercial
travellers, or any others. As for 20
minutes off the time to Leeds, I don’t hear
yells of whoopee! But the existing
tracks, we’re told, are inadequate in the face of the soaring demand for seats. The trains are already filled to capacity. Well, not the last time I bought a ticket,
they weren’t. And another thing: while
we’re on the subject of trains filled to capacity, why do they keep losing
money, the owners demanding ever-rising fares? “They badly need the re-investment denied to
them by previous governments,” is the standard response. Mine is that I’ve been hearing that hoary old
excuse for most of my lifetime, and that now exceeds two-thirds of a century. Anyway, if we drop Trident we can bung all
that money into improving the existing rail network, in which the world’s
highest fares are charged to convey passengers – sorry, customers – in
conditions not suitable for farm animals.
Some railway people would have to lose their jobs first, but few would
shed tears for them.
As for immigration, I’m all for
it, not just because I’m drawing from a profound well of humanitarian
principles but because the majority of incoming workers – we can debate the abusive
minority later – clearly contribute significantly to our gross national
product. If there are abuses of the system, then the government should start sorting
out the Border Agency, which as long as five years ago a Labour home secretary was
moved to describe as ‘not fit for purpose’ and which evidently remains that way. Those who say “send ‘em all back where they
came from” clearly haven’t needed the services of a plumber or a cleaner
lately. And my friends in East Anglia are
not yet reporting workless Brits waiting in interminable rain-sodden lines
desperate to pick the brussel sprouts now harvested by migrants.
There, I’ve made my choices. If they are thwarted by the election of a
government that doesn’t share them, I’m fine with that, so long as it proposes
– and delivers – alternative policies that make some kind of sense. Either way let’s get those decisions out of
the way. Then we’ll have all the time in
the world to wrestle with the more pertinent, or at least more entertaining, issues
of the day – like how we remove Chris Patten from the chairmanship of the BBC
Trust; whether Scotland Yard really needs a commissioner who’s not a blithering
idiot; and what skeleton will next tumble out of Boris Johnson’s capacious
It has been said before, but is
always worth repeating: any large commercial enterprise run the way the
government runs the country, would soon be filing for bankruptcy. But then, come to think of it, the country