One of the drawbacks of writing a book is that I’ve felt
compelled to read Gordon Brown’s recent tome.
And it’s truly execrable. Pretty much everything about it is awful.
Start with the title, Moving Britain Forward.
Sadly, this is not a progress report on his efforts to winch us nearer to Iceland. What he means – and it’s the start and finish of the book – is that he wants us to have a shared national purpose, a mission:
Unlike America and many other countries, we have no constitutional statement or declaration enshrining our objectives as a country; no mission statement defining purpose; and no explicitly stated vision of our future.
But is it the job of government to
act like company managers, moving us towards a common goal?
There’s an important tradition which says it isn’t. Countries shouldn’t have shared objectives, and it’s just projective identification to believe otherwise.
Instead, we all have individual goals. It’s the role of government to reduce the conflict between such goals, to set laws so we can live together in liberty. Here’s Michael Oakeshott, in On Being Conservative:
The office of government is not to impose other beliefs and activities upon its subjects, not to tutor or to educate them, not to make them better or happier in another way, not to direct them, to galvanize them into action, to lead them or to coordinate their activities so that no occasion of conflict shall occur; the office of government is merely to rule….The image of the ruler is the umpire whose business is to administer the rules of the game, or the chairman who governs the debate according to known rules but does not himself participate in it.
What irks me about Brown is
that he nowhere so much as recognizes this alternative, let alone argues
This is a remarkable omission. Brown is, supposedly, one of our better-read and more cerebral politicians – though this is as much of an accolade as the claim that I’m a better guitarist than Abu Hamza*. And yet he shows no awareness of the most basic political question: what is government for?
Which raises the suspicion that Brown’s reading is not an expression of his curiosity about ideas, but rather the search for support for his own prejudices, a mere confirmation bias.
* But I’m not quite as good as this fella.