The received wisdom of the political pundits is that 2005 will be an election year. It doesn’t need to be, of course. Constitutionally Tony Blair can go on to May 2006; but prime ministers often like to put themselves to the vote after 4 years – especially if they think they are ahead of the Opposition and/or they think things are likely to get worse.
The Labour Government looks tired and no longer so sure of itself – particularly in terms of policies. (For example, House of Lords reform is bogged down and the fox hunting ban is a mess.) Blair is unpopular with much of his own party and much of the country – tainted by his unremitting support for the American war on/in Iraq. The media continue to speculate on just how sour relations are between Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown. And the Prime Minister’s unequivocal public support for Home Secretary David Blunkett right upto the morning of his forced resignation has once again brought into question his judgement.
With the Government seeming to stumble from one poor/unpopular decision to another, you would think Blair would want to hang on as long as possible in the hope of things somehow improving. That to go to the polls sooner rather than later would invite sure defeat.
But, like Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party in the 1980s, the mess the Government is in is balanced off by there being no credible Opposition. For sure the Liberal Democrats are talking up a lot and behaving more like a serious political party than at any time since the end of the Second World War; but they still seem unfocussed and lacking policies that are both distinctive and populist. As for the Tories, Michael Howard may be a sharper debater in the House of Commons but he’s no more a leader who’s captured the popular imagination than his two predecessors, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
So, bad as things may be for the Government, they could still be a lot worse. The pundits may be right and Blair might be tempted to go to the country a year early while there still is no sign of a credible opposition policy.
But, in fact, the Tories do have at least one credible policy and one that could do Labour a lot of damage were the Opposition to learn how to exploit it.
A Real Debate?
I realised this from listening to several broadcasts of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme back in November.
You might recall then-Education Secretary Charles Clarke caused quite a kerfuffle one morning by lambasting Prince Charles for views expressed in a supposedly-private memo. Clarke called the Prince “very old-fashioned and out of time” for writing about a “system which admits no failure”.
HRH had expressed concern at the education system encouraging young people to aim at careers beyond their natural capability. The memo had gone on to say, “This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history.”
The Minister’s unprecedented attack on the heir to the throne played on the Prince’s own theme by making an indirect reference to the desire to be king being an example of over-ambition.
The ensuing media furore culimated in HRH backing off and making conciliatory noises of an egalitarian nature and the Minister saying rather grandly he hoped that would end the matter.
Whether he had intended to create this furore in advance or he had merely seized opportunistically on the flow of the interview, Clarke’s comments and the media-fuelled public row they created benefitted him in 3 ways:-
a) They were so startling they actually distracted interviewer John Humphrys – a rare thing! – from the point he was pressing home;
b) They presented the Prince’s views in such a jaundiced way that the outcomes of any debate he was interested in generating were automatically prejudiced;
c) The media speculation about a potential consititutional mini-crisis effectively ensured the ‘new’ Tory education policies launched publicly the following week were given little in-depth coverage.
It was a piece of grand theatre on Clarke’s part that, to all intents and purposes, stifled real debate.
The Minister had gone on ‘Today’ to talk about the Government’s new policy of obliging schools to share out equally between them the unruly and disruptive students in their area – including those permanently excluded from one or more schools and those placed in secure units. An underpinning principle, it appeared from Clarke’s rhetoric, was that everyone should play a part in reintegrating these students into mainstream education.
The point John Hymphrys was pressing when the interview suddenly/miraculously/fortuitously diverted onto Prince Charles’ memo was that the ‘Middle England’ voters Labour needed to retain to win a third term would hardly be impressed with this policy. Competing with each other to buy houses – often at grossly-inflated prices - in the catchement areas of the best-performing schools, Humphrys contended that these voters would be hugely disappointed at Government policy dumping highly-disruptive pupils into these best-performing schools and causing mayhem.
Integrated SocioPsychcology Perspectives
In Spiral Dynamics terms, Clarke’s policy of everyone playing their part in giving equal/ mainstream opportunity to the highly-disruptive element is rooted in GREEN thinking – both in the desire to benefit the disadvantaged element and in the concept that everyone should take a share of the pain of doing that.
What Humphrys was identifying effectively was that this egalitarian dream would not sit well with the blue/ORANGE thinking of the aspirational meritocrats trying to get the best education money could buy for their offspring.
It was a classic major vMEMETIC clash Clarke ducked out of via his diversion.
The Conservative Party’s ‘new’ education policy launched the following week and largely lost in the Charles vs Charles furore was much closer to the values of Middle England.
According to Michael Howard and Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins, a Tory Government would enhance a school’s ability to pluck unruly pupils out of classrooms and exclude them permanently, if necessary – with the independent appeals panels often blamed for overturning permanent exclusions being abolished.
Howard said: “How can the majority of pupils, who want to learn and get on, do so if they are disrupted by one or two unruly yobs their teachers are powerless to discipline or expel? School discipline is not some optional extra. It is the starting point. If our children are to get the decent education they deserve – and our country is to have the skilled workforce it so desperately needs – proper discipline in our schools is essential. Children learn best in a safe, secure and structured environment. They cannot learn in classes where loutish behaviour and disrespect for others are the norm.”
For once the Tories have a policy that addresses the needs of several vMEMES at once. Not only would it protect the achievement-oriented classroom environment BLUE and ORANGE relish but, in its emphasis on removing the threatening and potentially dangerous, it would meet PURPLE safety needs and thus have an appeal to many in the traditional working classes.
Moreover, the Conservatives wouldn’t just abandon the delinquents. They say they would fund the 24,000 most disruptive students going into ’Turnaround Schools’ where discipline would be strict and they would face a curriculum based on reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as instruction in social behaviour and civic values. These students would be allowed back into mainstream education when they were certificated as having reached a minimum level of both skills and behaviour.
So it would appear their strategy would also facilitate GREEN’S need to help the disadvantaged.
(This element of the Tories’ education policy is not really ‘new’ but dates back to at least William Hague’s time when the Turnaround Schools were to be dubbed ‘Progress Centres’.)
Some people might consider the sheer scope of the Conservatives’ policy to be 2nd Tier. However, to be truly a 2nd Tier policy, it would need to link in with addressing the environmental factors which engender the development of such problematic youngsters – eg: parenting, neighbourhoods, employment prospects, etc. The Neurological Levels model shows us that Identity and Values & Beliefs – and, by implication, the vMEMES that shape them will adapt in relation to the Environment (Life Conditions).
There is also the question of financing the Turnaround Schools. They will be expensive. Indeed, it may well take some real 2nd Tier thinking to persuade BLUE and ORANGE to fund the re-socialisation of delinquents!
When I first entered the workplace in the early 1970s, a middle class boy from a fairly-protected environment, with my late-hippie-era GREEN values of equality and tolerance, what used to pass as the manual working class was a real shock to me. I found it hard to equate the racism and sexism I found to be pretty much the norm with the values preached by the Labour Party that claimed to represent them.
Years later, through my training in Spiral Dynamics, I came to see that traditionally there were two distinct strands running through Labour’s politics.
One was the GREEN of the intellectuals – students, lawyers, teachers, etc – who colonised much of the Labour leadership. The other was the PURPLE of the tribes – working class communities and shopfloor unions – and their leaders. These were often working class people whose self-expressive RED had driven them to become union stewards and local ward councillors.
These two strands wove together into an uneasy alliance, bound together by their mutual hatred of the class capitalism produced by BLUE and ORANGE thinking – and the Conservative Party which represented them.
However, as ORANGE technology and the spread of its globalist meme virus has changed the economic realities of the world we live in, including an 18-year reign of Tory governments and the end of the Communist fantasy, so the manufacturing base of this country has declined significantly, reducing the influence of the working class and their largely PURPLE values.
To end its isolation in the political wilderness, Labour had to acknowledge the new realities and, in the person of Tony Blair at least, adopt BLUE/ORANGE values. Thus, the vMEMETIC roots of the ‘Old vs New’ conflict which is yet a further twist in Labour’s multiple dichotomies.
That twist, however, stole much of the Tories’ natural constituency from them and left them to drift into an ever more narrow-minded extreme right direction.
Judging from the multiple vMEME education policy now on display, however,some Conservatives have been doing some pretty ‘big big-picture thinking’.
Meanwhile Charles Clarke’s education policy – at least on school discipline issues – looks decidedly Old Labour. Will that mistrustful alliance of GREEN with PURPLE and RED yet vanquish the BLUE-ORANGE interloper memes? (Many do suspect that the New Labour Project – at least as we know it – will indeed evaporate with Tony Blair’s eventual departure.)
If Labour does succumb to more Old Labour memes and the Tories can come up with more policies that are as multi-vMEMEd as the education one, then Labour may yet be denied its unprecedented third term in office.
But the Biggest Big Picture Issue is…
Prince Charles may indeed be where he is through birth and heritage. He may indeed, as many have suggested, not be the ‘brightest button’ on the planet. He is undoubtedly abysmal at managing his public image!
But for years this King-in-seemingly-endless-waiting has studied some of the world’s greatest thinkers and used his influence to ask questions that the standard-issue politicians, with their 5-year Parliamentary seat life and their buy-me-and-get-these-certainties soundbites, often don’t ask.
So, if the Tories have managed a Big Picture multi-vMEME education policy – and let’s hope there is more where that came from! – then Charles is asking the really Big Picture questions.
The questions he asks are often concerned with the paradoxes we face in trying to determine what kind of society we want to be and how we accommodate our ever-growing diversities.
There is nothing in what I have read of Charles’ speeches and/or writings that hints at any desire to inhibit opportunity in this country – and, as his defenders have pointed out, his Prince’s Trust operations represent some of the most potent work amongst the disadvantaged in this country.
Of course, we can’t pretend that Charles is an egalitarian – so real GREEN thinking will always have a problem with who he is – but he does seem to have a genuine passion for our country being a society which better serves the needs of its diverse citizenry.
So he doesn’t seek to inhibit ambition but rails against a one-size-fits-all education system and suggests we need a sytem – or systems? – which will equip as many as possible to make their way through life as best they can with what they have in terms of natural abilities.
Certainly not egalitarian. But hardly classist either.
I wouldn’t be so bold as to declare Charles a 2nd Tier thinker but I can understand why people like Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck are so keen to talk to him.