I don’t like personalising politics. Politics should be about debating what the right and wrong aims are, what the best or least bad option open to us is and how to achieve them – with everyone getting a chance to put their point of view forward and contribute any expertise or knowledge they have that could help.
Instead most of the media have decided that ‘politics is about personalities’ and this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy too much of the time. So to oppose certain policies it becomes necessary to point out what policies the people the media selects as favourites have actually done or which policies they support – and what the results of those policies are.
John Reid is one example. He’s come across well recently in press conferences and speeches. A couple of his jokes were pretty good as well. I don’t know if someone wrote them up in advance for him if he came up with them himself but either way he delivered them well. His comic timing is excellent.
He’s intelligent and quick witted with a good sense of humour. In every one of the ministerial posts he’s occupied he’s delivered good public relations for the government and the party. The media have decided on this basis that he’s a ‘safe pair of hands’.
His presentational abilities are unquestionable.
Yet what exactly has John Reid ever achieved as a Minister? If you look at the actual results left in his wake the fact is John Reid doesn’t seem to have changed policies at all – and in many cases has left disaster in his wake.
As defence minister John Reid was responsible for British policy in Afghanistan. As a cabinet member for the last 7 years he could have pushed for a change of policy at any time – or publicly resigned if he felt unable to support its policy.
Instead he allowed the continuation of the disastrous policy of pressuring the Afghan government to destroy poppy crops without providing any alternative source of income for Afghans – many of whom are still starving to death as I type this.
This inevitably pushed many farmers in Southern Afghanistan into the arms of the Taliban or hiring gunmen to protect their crops.
If our government , former Defence Minister John Reid and current defence minister Des Browne were really supporting our troops surely they’d be questioning this policy though? In fact they haven’t. ‘Outspoken’, ‘straight talking’ John Reid never uttered a word , never changed the policy.
It seems when it comes to clashing with the Prime Minister or the Bush administration over strategies which are bound to fail and so lead to out troops dying for nothing he just isn’t willing to speak out or talk straight – and isn’t a safe pair of hands at all.
Then there was Mr Reid’s job as Health Minister. When Monklands hospital in Mr Reid’s own constituency faced closure he joined the sadly failed campaign to keep it open. However he hasn’t once criticised or opposed the over-priced public private finance initiatives (the new euphemism for PFIs) which were a major cause of its closure – and if Monklands hadn’t closed another hospital would have closed because of the exorbitant costs of the same PFIs.
As Home Secretary his latest speech referred to the need to put the rights of British citizens above those of terrorists who sought to kill them. The problem with this is that any British citizen could be a suspect. The ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid was born in Britain and grew up here. Equally the police frequently arrest the wrong people – whether citizens or not. Mistakes are inevitable. That’s why we have (or had) a criminal justice system in which people are innocent until proven guilty – so we’ll only send people who are guilty and actually are a threat to the rest of us to jail. If we lose the right not to be jailed without a fair trial – if the government can jail anyone simply by claiming it has secret intelligence proving them to be a terrorist threat – then we’re risking losing democratic rights that took centuries of struggle to get. I’m not saying this government would jail opposition leaders , human rights activists or whistle blowers – but if we bring in these kind of laws what’s to prevent a future government from doing so.
As an orator or a public relations man John Reid excels. If you look at what he’s actually achieved as a government minister or the reality behind his sound bites there’s not really much to say though. Nor does he live up to his reputation for standing up and speaking his mind when he needs to – not when it comes to defending our troops or our NHS patients and staff. He moves from one ministry to another delivering positive tabloid headlines and that’s about it. Disastrous policies like Iraq, PFIs or poppy eradication in Afghanistan aren’t changed but John Reid, like Tony Blair, manages to make speeches which avoid taking any responsibility for the decisions they made to begin and continue those policies.
The only candidate for Labour leader so far who’s been willing to oppose these policies so far is John McDonnell MP. Some of the media seem to have decided he doesn’t have a chance. If they get off with ignoring his campaign that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Anyone who actually wants a change of policy – and for the better - could do worse than support JohnMcDonnell for Labour leader – and make it clear that any party that won’t scrap PFIs, bring our troops home from Iraq and oppose the self-defeating strategy developed by the Bush administration in Afghanistan won’t be getting their vote.