Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Michael Howard Gets It Right

An unlikely headline for a post, but Michael Howard's launch of the Conservative campaign was an excellent speech, intelligently crafted to be utterly reasonable and laudable. of course, some of the policies behind his campaign are neither, but I do think he should get a pat on the back for two pigeon holes he kept repeating: "hard-working people" and "people who play by the rules".

While the fact I could find it reasonable is a reflection of the skill with which this speech, of aspirations, banalaties and generalities, was written, it is only fair to acknowledge credit where credit's due. The idea of working for "people who play by the rules" is an excellent sentiment, although, of course nobody would actually disagree with it.

However, Howard has found a clever and interesting niche in politics here. Whilst I would doubtlessly disagree with the ways in which one should help "people who play by the rules", the 'responsibilities' part of 'rights and responsibilities' gets forgotten too often, and those of us who would often get labelled as liberals are prime offenders. There should be no apologies or retrenchment in attempts to argue that crime isn't just a moral fault on the part of individuals but also a social problem, but in emphasising the latter it has perhaps been too easy to forget that we should have no doubts in asserting that playing by the rules is the ideal and what a fair society should be able to accept. In criticisng faults, it has become too easy to lose the moral compass.

Now, given that Michael Howard's "playing by the rules" seems to be an excuse to whip up populist ire against travellers and asylum seekers, his own moral compass is clearly spinning freely in the wind, but he brings up an interesting question here. On this one piece of rhetoric, though, there's a kernel of intelligence. Selling political ideas under banners of 'fairness' and 'a level playingfield' is a powerful tactic no matter your political stripe, because it speaks so universally and passionately. I never thought one of Lynton Crosby's dog whistles would prick my ears, but this is a valuable line for any politician to take, even if I will never reconcile myself to Michael Howard's answers.