Anyone watching Manchester United lose to Fulham yesterday should know that there is a lesson for politicians everywhere in their performance: lose your discipline and you’re dead. Talent, training, application – all are useless if your team doesn’t keep together. Man U finished the game with only nine men; arguably they were lucky that it wasn’t eight.
That lesson has clearly been taken on board by the Tories. Today’s Andrew Marr Show featured an appearance by a very disciplined William ‘Ague, giving the Shadow Cabinet line with no frills or flamboyance added. This performance explains why David Cameron has given a mere grammar school boy the number two slot. Young William can be relied upon to focus on the approach and the message. The Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth baronet, may not.
Could the Tories carry this discipline into government? The cabinet of the sustainable, medium-term, prudent defender of the colour Broon try their best, having learnt the same lesson as the Tories. But it’s not easy, as all the so-called “briefings” show. Especially over the succession question: one moment the rumour mill has young Millibroon about to wield the knife, this dies down and is later succeeded by the frankly potty idea that Hattie will take over.
Thus the additional lesson for the Tories. It’s one thing being a disciplined team when you’re in opposition, but something of an order of magnitude bigger once you get hold of the levers of power. Cabinets leak – Blair’s did, although often at the deliberate behest of Alistair Campbell. And it would be easier to talk about when Major’s cabinet didn’t leak – you might have blinked and missed it.
To find a leak-proof cabinet, you have to go back more than a generation, to Sailor Heath’s Tories in the early 70s. The loss of discipline they suffered was elsewhere: they changed tack in the face of rising unemployment, leaving the economy for Wislon to sort out, much as their Tory predecessors a decade before. Back in 1964, it did not take long for Jim Callaghan to find out that when Reggie Maudling said “sorry to have left things in such a mess”, he wasn’t talking about the furniture.
Moreover, the idea that the Tories bequeathed a uniformly healthy economy to allegedly “New” Labour in 1997 ignores slow burning problems to which, as someone who majors occasionally with things transportation, I will return.