Tuesday, January 27, 2009

today : things not to do

I remember the feeling of euphoria when the Blair Labour Party was elected in May 1997. Everyone I knew and worked with stayed up most of the night (most people agreed that watching Stephen Twigg beat Portillo was the moment most people started to bed), yet somehow were not tired the next day. I was working in a school and even amongst the pupils there was an upbeat feeling. It was an enjoyable day. There was a TV in the staff room and during break and lunchtime people congregated together to watch replayed images of the victory rally and the Blairs greeting the crowds outside number ten.

Of course, the American experience is different. There is the election and then the inauguration. Two separate events. I guess in 97 we in England had this a little, although the time lag between us getting rid of Thatcher & managing to get rid of her government was several years, we still got to celebrate twice.

So even on the TV it's easy to sense to the overwhelming sense of euphoria amongst the crowds swamping Washington DC. I feel it too. A black President - who'd've thunk it?

I just hope the Obama administration doesn't fall into the trap that the Blair Government did - which was to believe that the euphoria was wholly to do with them, and not the fact that the people had got rid of a tired, morally bankrupt set of idiots. This led to the one major error that 'New Labour' made, and continues to make.

I am generally a supporter of Labour, and think that they've done okay in government. You can't get everything right, but the general drift of policy has been to my liking. But it could have all been so much better had they not spent so much time chasing the news cycle. This obsession with presenting a relentless come-what-may positive PR face began, I think, with the unprecedented honeymoon period. Labour had done an excellent job of presenting a unified PR front in the lead up to 1997 and for 18 months after the election they could apparently do no wrong in the polls. The spin machine, it seemed, began to believe in its own importance. Diana's demise helped Labour in the same way a World Cup victory helps whomever is in power. There is no denying that the economy was on an upswing in May 97 and Labour inherited a decent outlook. They did well to keep it going for so long.

But the problems began early on. Labour began with their habit of issuing bitty statements day after day after day in order to try and hijack the headlines. They began to try and bolster decent poll numbers with frivolous policy ideas designed to steal the clothes of the opposition parties. It's an easy trap to fall into, and, as a consequence, much of their policy has lacked focus and got stuck in the mud.

If I had one thing to say to Obama and his people, it is to ignore the polls. Take the honeymoon as simply that - a honeymoon, and not a huge validation of everything you are and stand for. When it starts to fade, let it fade but keep on with your policy goals. Otherwise you might end up like Blair - almost a great leader.

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