Roy Hattersley: In Praise of Ideological Politics, EIBF 2012, Review

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Roy Hattersley
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Roy Hattersley is a regular visitor to the Edinburgh Book Festival and a prolific author in his own right, so it is always well worth hearing what he has to say as he is also a most entertaining speaker and might almost be classed as a showman.

Anyway, we were all expecting Nick Barley, the Director of the Book Festival to introduce the speaker, but we found that this task had been allocated to Sir Menzies Campbell who happened to be in the audience. Roy Hattersley was quick to point out that this apparent "togetherness" should not be taken as the make-up of the next government! For good measure he said that like the Olympics, this event had been sold out, however, here there were no empty seats!

Hattersley went on to open his remarks by telling the story of an article he wrote about the then Prime Minister Tony Blair which ended by inferring that Blair had abandoned the fundamentals of Labour ideology. He wanted to clear this with the PM or his office, but could not get an audience and ran out of time before publication. There was a very quick invitation to see the PM that same afternoon and Hattersley was told "these people (indicating a passing group who just happened to be a troop of Horse Guards) don't want all this ideological stuff, they want good government."

Of course, Hattersley is also in favour of good government, he just feels passionately that you also need ideology as the basis. He agreed that any government would have to make difficult choices and he felt that doing something for the "general good" was an unrealistic myth. He alluded to the election of the new Mayor of London and said he wanted "to save London from politics" and for people to actually say what they would do when in power.  

He continued to stress that politics - ideological politics - was  a "noble profession" which should have as its aim to promote equality.

He felt it essential that politics should be "rehabilitated". Having himself been a candidate in 1963, he deplored the degrading of the profession, as he saw it. He did not see that politicians "owed" constituents anything and should not be expected to vote as constituents directed. He made a plea that politicians should be elected on their manifestos and this should allow them to vote for the general good of the country; the key is to get the manifestos right.  

He admitted that he admired Margaret Thatcher because she stuck to her ideals and defended these staunchly in the House of Commons.

Hattersley looked back to 1945 when the Atlee Government was elected and they had the freedom to do things and to work on behalf of the working class. He wanted to see those in need being cared for properly with better state education and that would have to be achieved by higher taxes on the rich, but this should lead to greater opportunity for the disadvantaged. He said he was not against  privatisation and that certain private sector companies did well and made a legitimate profit, but in some areas such as care for the elderly, the state really had to take responsibility.   He said that surely "market forces" had simply lost credibility as a result of the recent economic problems.

As for Gordon Brown, he felt that he should have set out his own policies and should not have tried to follow Tony Blair. Hattersley thought that if he had "been his own man" he would have appeared a much stronger leader.

On Iraq and Afghanistan he said the invasion of Iraq was palpably wrong and that the Government had been misled about weapons of mass destruction.

In questions Hattersley admitted to being a supporter of Obama and said he would be campaigning fervently for him if he was in the States. He thought Labour under Milliband were doing much better and their economic arguments had proved correct - the Coalition had cut too deep.  Finally, he confessed to being a strong supporter of House of Lords reform which he had advocated from the day he was elevated to the Lords from the Commons.

It was fascinating to hear such an experienced politician with a clear command of his subject talk so passionately about his beliefs.

Event: 14 August 2012, 1:30pm