Monday, June 02, 2008

Be bold and stick to your principles, except when I don’t agree with them

Andrew Rawnsley, whose columns I generally rate pretty highly, performed an interesting two-step yesterday. He has some advice for our beloved PM:

Gordon Brown has been a much more impressive leader, even to those who object to where he is leading, when he has taken a principled position and argued for it. In the pages of The Observer a fortnight ago, he wrote a passionate appeal in support of the government's legislation on fertilisation and embryology. He didn't hedge and he didn't trim. He made his case and he did so rather persuasively. The government went on to win on a free vote.
… Conviction convinces. Drift encourages the sort of anarchy that is beginning to break out in his party as various factions try to pull the government in different directions. The mass of Labour MPs in the middle would be grateful simply to be given a clue where they are supposed to be heading.
When Mr Brown addresses his troubled backbenchers tomorrow, their greatest yearning will be for the Prime Minister to articulate a clear sense of purpose and direction.

Brown clearly agrees, for in today’s Times he does exactly that:

Some have argued that I should drop or significantly water down the 42-day limit. But having considered carefully all the evidence and arguments, I believe that, with all these protections against arbitrary treatment in place, allowing up to 42 days' pre-charge detention in these exceptional terrorist cases is the right way to protect national security.
That is why I will stick to the principles I have set out and do the right thing: protecting the security of all and the liberties of each; and safeguarding the British people by a careful and proportionate strengthening of powers in response to the radically new terrorist threats we now face.

Huzzah! One may well “object to where he is leading”, but there’s no doubt that he’s articulating “a clear sense of purpose and direction”. Rawnsley must be delighted.

But wait! What’s this I see towards the end of Rawnsley’s column?

Where there are principles worth defending, he should do battle for them. Where he finds himself besieged because he has made a miscalculation, he should mount the most graceful retreat that he can manage.
In my view, he would be right to listen to those of his colleagues who are arguing that he needs to rethink the anti-terror legislation. A good case in principle has never been made for extending the detention of terror suspects without charge from 28 days to 42 days.

So that’s clear, then. Be a bold, principled leader when the commentariat and your backbenchers will allow you to.

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