Michael Brown: Why our party leaders need political satnavs

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The Independent Online

With the political world now shut down at least until the party leaders' new year messages are issued political journalists are reduced, this morning, to wondering what our political masters got in their stockings.

No doubt gifts to the Prime Minister included interminable tomes about political philosophy. He has presumably had his nose buried in them since yesterday morning oblivious to his son John's frantic entreaties to play with the Hornby train set or whatever Father Christmas delivered down the Chequers chimney.

But, if books were on the Downing Street letter to Santa, I hope someone gave Mr Brown a copy of Peter Oborne's The Triumph of the Political Class. Oborne shrewdly analyses the reasons for the disconnect between the political class and the voters. He contends that the long tradition of integrity and duty that characterised British public life for much of the 19th and 20th centuries has now been abandoned and replaced by crony capitalism, casual corruption, venality, nepotism and mendacity.

With an array of devastating evidence, most of it already in the public domain, this book describes our current politics as a reversion to the 18th-century system where a ruling elite of Britain "is characterised by its professionalised attitude to politics rather than old-fashioned ideology and which has made party-political differences non-existent in its pursuit of power and patronage". This is a book that should be taken seriously by political journalists who are also included in Oborne's definition of the political class. He refers to the species as "client journalists" and makes a powerful case that we should keep our distance from, rather than seek tomake contact with, politicians.

But in case Oborne is too depressing for Mr Brown, he might hope someone popped in his stocking a copy of the recent book Ringing the Changes A Memoir by Lord Luce, the recently retired Lord Chamberlain and a former Tory MP whom my mother served as constituency chairman. Richard Luce served in Parliament for 23 years honourably resigning with Lord Carrington as a Foreign Office minister over the Falklands in 1982. Returning as Arts Minister, he then left the Commons to become vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, followed by Governor of Gibraltar and then Lord Chamberlain. A finer example of old-fashioned public service would be harder to imagine. The memoir is short, pithy and insightful.

Of course it may be that Mrs Brown has decided that gadgets offer a more exciting prospect as a way of getting the Prime Minister to lighten up. Certainly, it was gadgetry that got me excited yesterday. The wise men were provided with a star to guide them to the Bethlehem stable but I can get there myself now that Father Christmas has sent me a satellite navigation system for my Vauxhall Corsa. I only drive 2,000 miles a year now that the days of flogging up and down the A1 to Cleethorpes are a decade behind me. But I have never been able to fathom the streets of south or east London, where some of my friends choose, inconveniently, to live. If, however, recent newspaper stories about the inaccuracy of these devices are to be believed, I will probably end up in East London, South Africa, so I will keep the trusty 1990 Esso map in the seat pocket.

But the thought occurred to me that perhaps all three of our party leaders could also have done with a political satnav system in their stockings to guide them to destination victory at the next general election. It may be, of course, that someone has already given the Prime Minister such a device. This may explain why he has landed up in a political cul-de-sac.

Deliberating on whether to buy one for Mr Cameron presupposes that he knows the whereabouts of his destination. For several months, it was impossible to glean where he actually wanted to take the Tory party. But since the autumn party conference when he tapped in "inheritance tax cuts" as his latest destination, maybe a political satnav can help to plan a route to electoral success. Of course, the journey will involve negotiating difficult terrain such as reductions in public expenditure, which the shadow Chancellor still refuses to countenance.

Nick Clegg could certainly do with a political satnav, but he has only to make one of two choices of journeys: to get to ministerial corridors and red boxes by the Labour route or the Tory route.

There will, no doubt, have been the usual array of light blue ties for the Prime Ministers. I get the impression that, now the tieless Tories like Zac Goldsmith and Francis Maude are in retreat, it was safe for Father Christmas to deliver, once again, bright true blue Tory ties to Mr Cameron.