Forget about "vision." There are plenty of good practical policies Brown—or the Tories—could adoptby David Goodhart / January 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
How can Gordon Brown dispel the sense of drift and decay that hangs over his government? One response to the mix of bad luck and bad judgement that has laid him low is to carry on as if nothing much has changed. That is less silly than it sounds. Moods change, too much policy activism looks panicky, and in any case, the public does not yet seem fully convinced of the Tory alternative.
On the other hand, there is a feeling of political limbo, of the Blair decade having closed but no new story having emerged to replace it. Brown’s task going into 2008 is to change the political conversation, without the help of an election, and decisively enough for people to feel a sense of political momentum once more. And he has to do that without abandoning the broad contours on tax and spend and redistribution already laid down by New Labour, and more or less accepted by the new Tories.
There are plenty of things in modern Britain that don’t work very well; some of them are beyond the reach of politics in a liberal society. But fortunately for Brown, there are plenty of unused policy ideas lying around that could change the country for the better. This is not about a pompous political “vision” or nebulous questions of character, but rather a broadly centrist list of policies—familiar to anyone who keeps half an eye on these things—that are practical and potentially popular, and, in truth, could be embraced by any of the three main parties.
My imaginary programme of domestic reform can be divided into three: infrastructure, public services and constitution-plus-citizenship. (I am excluding economic and foreign policy, and focusing on things that are more directly in the gift of government.)
Britain is no longer very good at big infrastructure projects. One reason is that the country is very densely populated (England has the population density of the Netherlands), which makes most projects more expensive and legally complex than in comparable European countries. But big projects—when they clearly fulfil a useful purpose—appeal to the national imagination and give a sense that the country is speaking to itself across the generations.
There is one that we need badly. We are the only big country in Europe without its own domestic high-speed rail link. It is absurd that from London it takes more than five hours to get…