Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. Whether he shall be put into the main road by constables, or by beadles, or by bell-ringing, or by force of figures, or by correct principles of taste, or by high church, or by low church, or by no church; whether he shall be set to splitting trusses of polemical straws with the crooked knife of his mind or whether he shall be put to stone-breaking instead. In the midst of which dust and noise there is but one thing perfectly clear, to wit, that Tom only may and can, or shall and will, be reclaimed according to somebody’s theory but nobody’s practice. And in the hopeful meantime, Tom goes to perdition head foremost in his old determined spirit.
This is from Bleak House, and I couldn’t agree with it more. We need less thinking and more doing.
The British have a habit of going into their big changes as if under anaesthetic.
—Lord Richard Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary
When making this quote, which I discovered whilst reading Peter Hennessey’s latest brilliant offering, The Secret State, Lord Wilson had in mind two major policy decisions of the last 40 years: Britain’s accession to the European Community in 1973 and devolution plus human rights legislation in the 1990s.
To this, I think we can potentially add a third “big change under anaesthetic” if the British public votes for a change in the voting system to the Alternative Vote.
This post isn’t the place to discuss the merits or otherwise of AV. But it is the place to register the fact that there hasn’t been very much debate at all about the referendum, and that we’re a matter of weeks away from a vote that would have a considerable effect in the short, medium and long terms on the conduct and effects of politics in this oldest of parliamentary democracies.
My apologies for not blogging much over the last few weeks. The most ridiculous combination of events has conspired to prevent much else other than work. There are no signs that this will change soon, but fortunately my esteemed and brilliant fellow blogger Phil is keeping us going.
In the meantime, how about this quote from a Lib Dem Minister, when asked what he would do about taking messages he was getting from party members to his Tory counterpart (who happens to Andrew Lansley):
We cannot operate by negotiation, but I will take the messages back.
I know we’ve not historically had many coalition governments is the country, but isn’t that exactly what coalition government is?
I’m not sure why, but this quote from General McClellan – a sort of antihero in the American Civil War – stood out for me when I read it a few days ago:
It has always been my opinion that the true course in conducting military operations, is to make no movement until the preparations are as complete as circumstances permit, & never to fight a battle without some definite object worth the probable loss.
To know enough about many things is vital. It is how we stay broad in our vision while building intellectual capital and deepening the conversation[.]. But it also means being painfully aware that behind the level of insight we need to have there is so much more we would love to be able to understand and explore.
— Matthew Taylor, writing on his continually excellent blog
Sometimes politicians talk as if government and society were in a zero sum game: more government necessarily means less society, and less government means more society.
— Geoff Mulgan (writing about the Big Society here)
How we deal with these things will affect our economy, our society – indeed our whole way of life. The decisions we make will effect every single person in our country. And the effects of those decisions will stay with us for years, perhaps decades to come.
— David Cameron.
(It is at this point in time that I’d like to point out it’s David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg making these decisions that will stay with us for years, perhaps decades to come. Good luck to us, eh?)
If you wanted to talk to the Lib Dems about electoral reform they were absolutely open to the conversation.
If you wanted to talk to them about public service reform. If you wanted to talk to them about the hard issues on the economy. If you wanted to talk to them about the difficult questions that government is actually about.
They weren’t up for it. That was the problem.
Electoral reform doesn’t change the nature of the decisions: on the economy, on public services, on welfare, on anything.
Before I tell you who said that, just consider first whether you agree with it.
Now, it was this chap speaking on Newsnight on Tuesday.
[O]n the economy, they seem to be buffeted this way and that, depending less on where they think the country should be, than on where they think public opinion might be.
— Tony Blair, speaking on the Tories during a speech he gave in Sedgefield this week.
Marbury picked this particular line up, and he’s right to emphasize the key distinction between responding to public opinion and shaping it.