Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Haughey, Blair and the dangers of compromise in politics
The death yesterday of Charles Haughey, aged 80, prompts reflection on a critical problem in democratic politics: the need for elected representatives to be free from the sin of avarice. Haughey, the son of a soldier, was apparently devoid of ideological values as he assiduously climbed the Irish political ladder, determined to charm and woo the Fianna Fail party. His granite profile communicated strength and honesty but while the former quality was there in abundance the latter was not. Over a 17 year period he took £8.5 million from businessmen, to fund a millionaire lifestyle.
But his problems were those of many of us. Wanting to live well is a natural, understandable desire and the temptation to exchange favours for discreet payments is omnipresent in politics and must be hard to resist. Yet if it is not, the whole purpose of democracy is confounded. If we were all saints there would be no need for politics of any kind; it is because we are so woefully short of saintliness that democracy is required. Which leads on to the present leader of the Labour Party. Like his wife Blair seems to enjoy the good things of life- especially those freebie holidays in the homes of the mega-rich- but no-one has suggested he is personally on the take as was the former Taoiseach. His problem is closer to that of Hamer Shawcross, the poor boy from Manchester in Howard Spring's wonderful Fame is the Spur who advanced politically but at the expense of once firmly held principles.
The problem with principles in politics is that they have to be compromised on a daily basis so that they can eventually become so eroded they almost cease to be regarded. Labour's fundamental ideological mission has been to be on the side of-to mix my metaphors- the underdog against the fat cats. Blair did not start out with the rich lifetime's stock of Labour principles of a Kinnock or a Brown but derived his from the possibly less fertile soil of his religious beliefs. Blair compromised with capitalism- and it was a necessary one if wealth was to be created and redistributed- but once that fox is let into the chicken coop it is hard to limit the damage. The problem now is that the principles with which New Labour embarked on its journey are too compromised after nearly a decade and need urgently to be re-examined and renewed.
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