Tony Blair (the current British Prime Minister) has announced his resignation. And Gordon Brown is about to take over as his successor. And he is talking about a more honest and more accountable government.
There is much talk now whether Gordon Brown is the man for the job? Just as we asked this question about Tony Blair in 2002.
And the question is: “Will Gordon Brown succeed in making the British Government truly honest, responsible and accountable?”
The issue of honest, responsible and accountable government has loomed over Tony Blair's Government from the time Blair was first elected and to this very time.
The very reason that Tony Blair was elected in 1997 was that the then John Major Government was seen as not sufficiently “honest, responsible and accountable”, and the British electorate hoped that Tony Blair's New Labour would provide a better alternative.
And immediately on their election the Blair Government introduced a law criminalising taking of bribes by Members of Parliament. And serious and sincere attempts were made to make the British Government more open and accountable in the earlier years of the Blair Government.
But in the second term of the Blair Government the issue of honesty in government came back again. And this time it was the honesty of the Blair Government that began to be questioned.
And in 2004, according to the British Press, 51% of the British people wanted Blair to resign, and again the issue was honesty in government, this time of Tony Blair himself.
And, when we suggested to Tony Blair, that, if he gets rid of his tendency to “pull a fast one”, he could remain Prime Minister “not just for the next term, but for the next two, three, or four terms, or even longer … until he retires due to old age”, his reaction was to announce that he does not want to “go on and on and on” as Prime Minister, but would resign before the end of his next term. And he has kept this promise.
Also, recently, Tony Blair made the observation that to be successful in government one needs to do what is right. And in his resignation speech said that he did what he believed to be right. Very few people in general, and especially in government, do deliberately what they believe to be wrong. Even people who commit acts which are obviously wrong find some justification for their acts, at least in their own eyes.
Tony Blair is right that to be successful in government one needs to do what is right. The problem is that what people think (or politicians “passionately believe”) to be right only too often turns out to be wrong.
Still at the times of John Major there were inquiries and reports into abuses of government powers — but the problem is still with us. And it did exist still in pre‐Thatcher times. And all the prime ministers, with different personalities have not succeeded to solve this problem.
Because today's democratic process, while allowing to change governments at regular times, does not ensure that those elected will not abuse their powers, but will perform their duties honestly and competently. And there is not even a clear definition of what the duties of government are.
Gordon Brown did speak about a constitutional change. But does he realize the magnitude of the change required? A written constitution will not be enough. Many other countries have such documents. But their existence does not ensure that government powers are not abused.
In addition to the magnitude of the change, Gordon Brown will be faced with such obstacles as Establishmentarianism, Public Opinionism, “The Events”, and his own Political Instincts.
Jack Straw, who is known for his support for the Blair Wars, has recently gloated about the Blair Government having become “The Establishment”. And the meaning of it is that once a British institution becomes “established”, then anything it does becomes seen as important and it can get away with anything. Any crime committed by such Establishment will be either justified, or ignored, or, in the worst case, admitted as error — but never a crime. And as long as the phenomenon of “The Establishment” exists, so will incompetence and dishonesty in government.
Will Gordon Brown go against the Establishment, now that he himself is part of it?
The issue of honesty and competence in government was a topic of conversation with a Chairman of the British Conservative Party in pre‐Thatcher times. He agreed with everything that was put to him, saying: “This is true, but we are not free people. We are slaves of the Public Opinion. Write a book. Change the Public Opinion, and we shall follow”.
The reason that the issue of incompetence and dishonesty in government is overshadowed by the issues of the NHS and “our schools” is that “ordinary people” are believed by the politicians and the Media to be more worried about their health and the education of their children than about the internal workings of the Institution of Government who provide these services. Yes, it is common for people to be preoccupied with symptoms of a disease, rather than with its causes. An alcoholic will prefer a liver transplant to giving up his habits — the cause of his liver disease. But are not all the “problems” that bedevil the NHS and the education system the result of misgovernment?
Is Gordon Brown ready to confront the Public Opinion and deal with the causes of the disease, rather than with its symptoms?
There is a common belief among politicians, that once they get into power, they will be able to do all the great things they are dreaming about. So, they concentrate their efforts on getting elected. But to do really great things requires decades of preparatory work, which they neglect. This preparatory work cannot be done when politicians get into power, because they have to react to “events”, which are often the result of their own or their predecessors' incompetence. And being unprepared to deal with these events competently, they begin to rely on their “political instincts” and resort to quick‐fix solutions aimed at saving their “political skins”, rather than solving the real problems, like “stone‐walling”, denials, cover‐ups, doing‐something‐aboutism, diversion to other (usually bogus) issues, patriotism, etc. We saw examples of this both in John Major and Tony Blair times.
Has Gordon Brown done all the preparatory work for his great reforms? What will he do, when, to use the words of John Major, the fate of the government (that is the career of Gordon Brown himself) will be at stake? Will not his political instincts come into play once he is confronted with the events?
The problem of honesty and competence in government has never been as acute as it is today. And so is the public and Media awareness of this problem. Gordon Brown is aware of this and he is poised to solve this problem. But to do that he would have to stop being a politician and become an honest and competent elected civil servant. Is he prepared for such transformation?
If he is, then may he succeed in his endeavours.
But, if he is not up to the task, then he will still play a positive role, just as John Major and Tony Blair did. It was them who showed to Gordon Brown and “the rest of us” the need for a major constitutional change. By following in the footsteps of Major and Blair, Brown will prepare the ground and provide the opportunity for those who will come after him. And this in itself is a great thing, and a more likely course of events. And may be, God willing, by that time we shall write that book that a Chairman of the British Conservative Party suggested to us still in pre‐Thatcher times, and change the Public Opinion, as he suggested, and then, at last, the Tories will rise up to the occasion, follow the Changed Public Opinion, and do what needs to be done.