Conviction politics

Conviction leaders…where are they?

The world needs leaders with conviction, what I call a gut politician. New Zealand desperately needs the same. Leaders like Margaret Thatcher who did what was required because it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately we get the limp “aspirational” politicians.

The nostalgia of the past week following the death of the former Conservative prime minister has shown that voters want a sense of moral mission.

The magic word of the week was “conviction” – which replaced “aspiration” as the one every political leader had to utter as many times as possible in every public pronouncement. There was no longer any question, apparently, about whether “conviction politics” was a good or a bad thing, or whether it was an optional extra for political leaders. (How did that notion ever get off the ground, anyway? After all, what is the alternative: lack-of-conviction politics?) Convictions are simply strongly held, principled beliefs. What business would you have pursuing power if you had no strong principled beliefs about what was right for the country?

Unfortunately, until about 20 minutes ago, it was fashionable to imply that there was something faintly demonic about being a conviction-led leader: that it was tantamount to demagoguery or just implacable bloody-mindedness. And no one was more guilty of perpetrating this fiction than the present generation of Tories. But let’s not go over that ground again. I have said it before and I repeat it here: the great Modernising Terror is over.

The events of this past week, when the ragged anti-Thatcher protest failed to gain any traction, and the nation seemed united in respect and admiration (to the manifest surprise of the BBC), snuffed out any remaining flicker of doubt. It is safe now to speak with reverence about what the Conservatives accomplished in the 1980s. Something like real politics is back. Even if nobody is absolutely sure what it might consist of, we have a pretty clear idea of what it should look like. It is fairly crucial that the people who espouse it sound as if they believe in something. Using the word “convictions” all the time without embarrassment is not quite the same thing as having them. But it’s a start.  Read more »

Who is National’s Jesse Norman?

The Telegraph

When will someone in the National caucus put principle, not promotion prospects, first? When will they stand up to John Key and say “Borrowing $300m a week is not what I signed up for?” Or “Why are we subsidising businesses, farmers or the well off through government programs that we are ideologically opposed to?” When will there be a man or woman of conviction who realises politics is so much more than a shameless search for the baubles of office?

Then again, you may have taken quite a different view of last week’s events. After all, the right side won. That is to say, the side that actually believes that government should be accountable to the people’s wishes and concerns. There was an inspirational revival of conviction politics, and some truly splendid displays of individual courage and determination by MPs who – in the great British tradition – would not be cowed. That infamous toe-to-toe encounter between the rebel leader Jesse Norman and the Prime Minister took on the semblance of a tableau of Political Virtue vs Dishonourable Conspiracy. So, it was the best of weeks and the worst of weeks. The contrast between deal-makers and “Here I stand” refuse-niks was dramatic enough to provide a lesson in the true value of the parliamentary system.

Who is our Jesse Norman? Who will man up, tell the whip to stick it and to do his worst when he comes carrying a big stick that he actually can’t swing?

Who will tell Steven Joyce or Gerry Brownlee that they won’t “keep quiet or it will hurt your career prospects?” Who will be brave enough to tell Joyce or Brownlee that maybe they should think about who will make decisions about their futures when this government falls? 

Commanding respect

The Telegraph

Respect isn’t garnered by commanding it, nor by placing a fake title like Hon. in front of your name. Like that title, respect must be earned and cannot be commanded. You earn respect through your deeds and your actions. We have precious few conviction politicians these days.

Nowadays, however, politicians do not command automatic respect. It is not that we live in an age where deference is dead: look at the way celebrities are given red-carpet treatment, wherever they are. But we do expect politics of conviction. Perhaps precisely because so few people today subscribe to a clear and unshakeable set of values, or live by a traditional moral code, we seek principles, ideals, and vision in our elected officials.

Conviction politics, alas, has been in short supply from this Coalition. Instead of deeply held beliefs, the Government has been capable only of quickly executed U-turns.  At first, as an enthusiastic fan of the Coalition, I had seen the Cameron-Clegg ability to rethink positions as welcome proof of their honesty: when something did not work, the Coalition was prepared to hold up its hands and say, sorry, back to the drawing board. But a couple of U-turns at the outset of government is one thing; quite another is the long series of retreats and rethinks we’ve seen, on everything from child benefit to petrol duty. When a government is built on a flim-flam set of interchangeable principles, it vacillates, and risks teetering into the abyss. I fear Fraser Nelson was right when he wrote in the Telegraph that there’s more than a whiff of Groucho Marx about the Cameroonians:  “These are my principles,” the great comedian once declared. “And if you don’t like them: well, I have others.”