Coffee House

The death of principle

21 November 2012

10:22 AM

21 November 2012

10:22 AM

If you only have time to read one full length newspaper piece today, read this one by George Bridges, the former backroom Tory guru and CPS director. It is a brilliant, scathing meditation on the damage caused by the professionalisation of party politics. And, of course, it is a humble confession.

If I had to pick one quotation from it (and there are many possible choices), it would be this one:

‘Opinion research is critical in politics, but only if it is used to tell a politician how to communicate, not what to believe – a point Lynton Crosby, the election guru who will advise the Tories’ 2015 campaign, repeats ad infinitum. It provides a map and a compass, but the leader must set the direction.’


This, it seems to me, gets to the heart of the matter at Westminster. As Bridges concludes, ‘The mindset of political strategy is now poisoning the well of politics.’

Bridges’ article prompts serious doubts about the sincerity of the Tories’ modernisation project. This is why I think it would be sensible for George Osborne and others to start using words like ‘principle’ and ‘conviction’ when talking about gay marriage and fiscal discipline,  as Ed Miliband has begun to in a different context. Politics is crying out to be re-moralised.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Rahul Kamath

    I thought the article was trite self indulgent crap. This is the first time that someone has discovered that its problematic that politicians can be un-principled? He did nothing about it whilst in power and now feels bad. Well boo-hoo for him.

    • Nicholas K

      This makes an article about an article even more self indulgent. Nor is it original; could Mr Bridges perchance have read our own Rod Liddle’s article in the issue of 17 November; as Rod says in his customarily trenchant style; “surely the purpose of a political party is not simply to whore itself out, wholesale, to whichever tranche of the population is deemed to be crucial at any one time? Isn’t principle supposed to come into it somewhere?”

  • barbie

    Remoralising politicians is a big job and God help those who think they can do it. Its greed that is rampant within their souls, self help politicians who care not one jot for honesty. Take the expenses scandel, they’ve not reformed at all, they are still taking what is not theirs. Taking taxpayers money which is in short supply. I know they pay tax too, but they certainly make up for it via the perks. Its not honest, and for ordinary people struggling on small salaries its an insult. The Lib Dems call for a mansion tax, but where would this stop? Yet, they never really understand wha they do within parliament with expenses is wrong. That’s what grates with ordinary people, the lack of understanding for poverty. Milibands speechs do not inspire me to vote Labour at all, in fact to run the other way as fast as I could. Not to fast at my age, but nevertheless I’d run. So really remoralising isn’t possible with these people, what they do need is to be thrown out, now that would really learn them humility, and make them understand what its like to lose ones job. They have created their own bubble, secure and free from stress, UKIP will eventually break the bubble and the sooner the better.

  • Theo Clifford

    What is interesting is that, while I think this post is madness and plays hard into the pundit’s fallacy (‘policies I support are the only way to political success!’) I completely agree that Gove and IDS are the most talented Tories in the cabinet.

    Call me a cynical unprincipled focus-group-worshipper, but I don’t think campaigning as UKIP would win an election. Having principles doesn’t win elections. Having principles PEOPLE SHARE win elections.

    I could start up the Economist Party and tour the country espousing my staunch, principled support of open borders and free trade and pension cuts and liberalisation of the justice system and higher VAT, but it probably wouldn’t be a recipe for a majority.

    And I think that’s the problem Bridges has here. He assumes that old Tory principles would be enough to win elections. But the party needs a set of *new* principles suitable for the modern era. For better or for worse, Thatcherism is over.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    This is why I think it would be sensible for George Osborne and others to start using words like ‘principle’ and ‘conviction’ when talking about gay marriage and fiscal discipline, as Ed Miliband has begun to in a different context. Politics is crying out to be re-moralised

    Is this some sort of joke article? Is it April 1st? Is Blackburn attempting irony? It reads like the moment that a drug addict realises all his problems are drug related and then asks for more drugs to fix his drug addiction.

    Blackburn really doesn’t get it does he? He proposes exactly the sort of insincere superficial posturing that Bridges is, I believe,WHat warning against (not that I think Bridges demonstrates that he fully understands the concept of conviction).

    What Blackburn, does is in fact demonstrate in this article everything that is wrong with politics today. How on earth can shallow spineless opportunists like Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Osborne expect to be considered as conviction politicians particularly by using such a superficially disingenuous and predictable line of spin as Blackburn suggests? They have proven time and again that they believe in nothing other than wielding power and bending whichever way the wind is blowing. They have no vision or conviction that will supercede their desire to amass and retain as much power as possible.

    Furthermore, conviction is not something that can be turned on and off just like that. It is bred into people over decades and none of the leading political pygmies within our establishment parties seem to have a clue about what conviction actually is or alternatively their convictions just do not coincide with the needs of the nation.

    Furthermore,I am dumbfounded that Blackburn is so impressed by this article. Neither the ‘revelation’ that the electorate are sick and tired of politicians lying and want to know the truth, nor the revelation that a political spinmester practised ‘professional’ politics are hardly novel or hardly rocket science so the biggest question I have about this is which (and perhaps whose) orifice has Blackburn had his head stuck up for the last 20 years?

    Anyway here’s a hint for Mr Blackburn about what conviction is. ACTIONS not words communicate someone’s convictions.

    For example one of Cameron follies was to claim ” Power To The People” (which he did on a number of occasions) and then sanction an anti-democtratic policy that reduces the number of the people’s representatives in Westminster. You also cannot be truly Eurosceptic and be a cheerleader for what would be a massive European superstate on your doorstep and entering into a Coalition with a party that in many significant ways represents an antithesis of one’s party’s beliefs is hardly a demonstration of conviction either.

    SImilarly Clegg and his party should not have backed ” a miserable little compromise” as a critical issue for his party in terms of the Coalition and so forth.

    As for Miliband anybody who worked for Blair and Brown and stayed silent and loyal for all that time can’t claim to have any ‘morals’ or ‘convictions’ that would benefit this country at all!

    If you want to ‘remoralise’ Westminster (and Whitehall) then most if not all of the hierarchies’ and the current practises of the three major parties (and their vested interests) needs to be washed away as well as much of the paraphenalia of Westminster itself. After two decades the ‘culture of professionalism’ (a code word for systemic corruption perhaps?) is far too deeply ingrained for those most immersed in it to be rehabilitated either quickly or sufficiently to be able to continue at the top of their parties.

    If you ask me the price of restoring the electorate’s faith in the political classes is far too great (in terms of loss of reputation) for any of the party hierarchy’s to accept. For the time being I’m afraid it’s going to be more of the same contemptuous attitudes by politicians toward the electorate as we have suffered previously in the “Age Of Professionalism”.

  • anyfool

    That you feel the need to tell politicians that they acquire principles indicates that they do not have any.

    Do you not think that you could have done this years ago, they are also deficient in morals, honour and decency, how long before you feel the need to hold them to task over these traits or will you ever.

  • Daniel Maris

    It’s not as though these things haven’t been known since the dawn of history.

    What we need really is less involvement by professional politicians in our governmnet. There is no reason why “we the people” can’t decide on such matters as EU or EEA membership, gay marriage, voluntary euthanasia, legalisation or criminalisation of drugs, legal execution, student fees, basic taxation rates etc etc There should be a referendum system of democracy as in Switzerland.

    Politicians should be cut down to size, as the managers they are. It’s not exactly rocket science – most of these decisions they take we the people could take and where the decisions are difficult they are just as likely to get them catastrophically wrong (appeasement, attempt to hang on to colonies, Falklands, BSE, Network Rail etc) as we might be, or maybe (as I like to think) we may display “the wisdom of the crowd”.

    • Madame Merle

      I couldn’t agree more, Daniel.

      The time has come for an end to party politics, we need a parliament of independent, decent and directly representative people who listen to their constituents and are motivated by real principal.

      MPs trying to justify their expenses has become news once more. Many of those who represent us are motivated by personal gain and are likely to spend far too much of their time maximising their expenses instead of working on our behalf. Quibbling about whether a second home is necessary when a daily commute is reasonable should not be their priority.

      There must be loads of decent, experienced people out there who are more principled and altruistic and who would represent the wisdom of the crowd better than this venal lot we are lumbered with.

  • an ex-tory voter

    An interesting article by someone who actually knows the tuth about the “dross” which has recently risen to the top of tory politics.

    Mr Bridges explains clearly the reasons why I have come to despise David Cameron and his clique. It also explains why as a lifelong Conservative voter I took the decision not to vote Conservative at the last General Election.
    For me, “principle trumps pragmatism” every time. I expect idiocy, tribalism and downright evil from the political left, I am entitled to expect better from the leader of the Conservative Party.
    Having broken my lifelong allegiance, I will from now on vote for whichever party most closely echoes my own beliefs and principles. At present that is most definitely not one of “the three”.

    • EJ

      You’re not alone there, friend.

  • Cassandra1963

    Politicians with convictions? The only convictions most of them should have are criminal convictions in a court of law, but in this perverted world its one law for us and one for them isnt it?

  • andagain

    This is why I think it would be sensible for George Osborne and others to start using words like ‘principle’ and ‘conviction’ when talking about gay marriage and fiscal discipline

    He can do that when talking about fiscal discipline, but not when talking about gay marriage. Too much of his own party objects to it. Any political coalition large enough to win power will include people who have different principles about something.

  • TomTom

    Marketing and Edward Bernays coupled with the role of State Propaganda in WWII have given these idiots a sense that they are Puppet-Masters when it fact they are Marionettes and we can see their strings

  • dalai guevara

    It must be hard for the supposed conservative readership to see clear steps taken towards the nationalisation of:

    1- rail
    2- energy
    3- tagging
    4- your pension

    …and not being able to do anything about the inevitable flow of history.

    • Fergus Pickering

      What on earth do you mean bu the inevitable flow of history? Are you a marxist, old fruit? History is the record of what happened and what happens. Nothing is inevitable, except death of course, but that is hardly a political matter.

      • dalai guevara

        Death and…taxes?
        Are you accusing me of emulating his life?

  • In2minds

    So an example of this is talk localism at election time then consider legislation changes to prevent local feelings being heard?

    • TomTom


      • William Blakes Ghost

        No such thing! Anything that is considered as political “centralism” inherently has anti-democratic properties because in essence democracy is about the redistribution of power from the centre outwards and downwards. The idea that it is democratic to do the reverse is nonsense.

  • ButcombeMan

    Re-defining marriage and therefore the meaning of family, as a matter of principle, is not a vote winner. It offends as many people as it gratifies. It offends much of Cameron’s core vote. Not just those of faith either.

    • TomTom

      You cannot “re-define” Marriage – they are simply trying to make people worship a Golden Calf because it makes them feel powerful when it simply shows them to be stupid and State Power to be oppressive

  • Vulture

    You are absolutely right, David. But its a bit late in the day to advise the current pack of jackals at Westminster to get some principles, let alone morality.
    Read Bridges’ mea culpa by all means, but look elsewhere in the Telegraph for the true two faces of our politics.
    As the new ‘Rentgate’ scandal which ( like ‘Expenses gate’) is currently being exposed by the Telegraph amply proves yet again, our political class at Westminster is hopelessly corrupt and needs a Cromwellian purge.
    Cameron, Osborne Miliband and Clegg are, in one sense, authentic: they are the real face of a decadent, stupid, crooked and doomed political class. We deserve them.

    • The_Missing_Think

      – Vulture,

      I notice you never direct your scathing ire towards the 19/20 people who voted LibLabCon, post ‘Expenses gate’, post ‘within the rules’ fob off?

      Do you think the voters have the moral right to heavily denounce and finger wag, whilst they forget about it all when voting?

      • Vulture

        @MIssing T
        Well, that’s why I say ‘We deserve them’ MT! I personally don’t vote LibLabCon – but for what its worth I would advise anyone who does to examine the expenses record of their Mps before they vote. Cameron, Maude and even the sainted Gove are all expenses troughers who have got awayu scot free.

        • The_Missing_Think

          Right sorry… I was misdirected by your typo.

          You deserve them”

          Good luck with the direction of your scathing ire in future comments.

  • Robert_Eve

    There’s nothing moral about gay marriage.

  • MikeBrighton

    “This is why I think it would be sensible for George Osborne and others to start using words like ‘principle’ and ‘conviction’” Er No

    It would be sensible for Osborne and Cameron TO ACTUALLY HAVE priciples and convictions but the don’t beyond winning the next tactical political spat tomorrow.

    The only people showing principles and convictions are sadly the liberal left led by people such are Tom Watson, Gordon Brown, the BBC and the sinister Common Purpose. Unfortunately those convictions are evil and they seek the destruction of representative democracy and the UK as it formally was to be replaced with a multi-cultural left liberal “paradise”, where EU style the differences between the political parties are non existent and they all expouse a left-liberal concensus.

    They are well on their way to victory.

  • Bob Dixon

    Now I understand why I no longer vote in any elections.

    • eeore

      Then the focus group gurus are having the desired effect.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    You wanna read below the line occasionally. You would have seen this before, a few thousand times.

    • telemachus

      Yes but it bears telling again and again and again
      We must regain Gordon’s moral compass for all political parties.

      • TomTom

        Yes but can we dive deep enough to find it in Gollum’s cave ?

        • telemachus

          Come the next election we will be setting the stonehide salamanders on backsliders such as you

          • Hexhamgeezer


      • MikeBrighton

        The time period of New Labour in office both under Blair and Brown was th e most corrupt period in British politics. If Brown has a moral compass kindly explain the removal of the starting rate of 10% tax harming the poorest and most vulnerable members of society in order to fund a middle-class tax cut and kindly explain the role of Peter Mandelson a man who sources of wealth are unclear and should not have been allowed within a million miles of power.

        • telemachus

          We all need tools of Darkness to achieve ends of light
          Peter was nothing if not a competent economic operator
          The Leader had the moral compass

          • Colonel Mustard

            Oh dear. Such a different message to the extolling of Christian virtue and revealing your Stalinist soul. You are a tool of Darkness. Or, frankly, just a tool.

          • Noa

            You are right. He was nothing. And except for himself not a competent economic operator.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I wonder if the vicar, pious Peter, voted for women priests ?

        • telemachus

          He’s one of the Orthodox Mob

          • Fergus Pickering

            ” Orthodox mob,” does that mean he’s all for gay bishops then ?

      • William Blakes Ghost

        What you mean the compass that directed Brown to do so much to make the noughties ‘the rotten decade’ and Labour’s 13 years “the rotten government’?

        None of us is tricked by the Fool Britannia narrative anymore. If I was you I’d stop drinking the foolade for a while. You’re beginning to babble….

      • barbie

        You are joking of course, aren’t you? Brown, may be a nice man but his financial doings nearly backruppted this country. However, Cameron is just as bad when it comes to giving away our money, which they so openly believe its the right thing to do. I’d stop all foreign aid and get this house in order first. Treat our own citizens with more respect especially the sick and the disabled. I’ve learnt today if you’re a diabetic, type 2, you now cannot have testing blood strips anymore, only if you’re taking insulin. Its this kind of action that makes people angry, while they give our money away to foreigners. Of course that people may die is not questioned. Even the old have been targeted; take Attendance Allowance, they cannot claim unless their condition as been with them for six months prior to a claim. How can you predict a stroke or heartattack six months prior to having them?
        This from the ‘Caring Tories’ who could afford to give the richest £40,000 back in tax relief. We are obviously, not in it all together. I for one would like to see the back of all of them, I shall vote ukip.

    • EJ

      If the Tories want to win in 2015, they need to:

      Ditch Cameron
      Give us an IN / OUT referendum on the EU
      Radically reduce immigration right down to the tens of thousands
      Stop the Left-ification of all our institutions
      Stop the Islamisation of our country
      Stop giving our money away to other countries
      Get ruthlessly tough on crime
      And abandon all easy-headline trendy causes (gay marriage etc)

      This will require a cabinet where EVERYONE has the principle and work ethic of Gove or Duncan Smith.

      Or they can carry on shuffling the deckchairs and spinning out their lies and deceits and see where it gets them…

      • telemachus

        I shudder to think of a room filled with Goves or IDS’s
        Would that mean Armageddon and entry into Hell?

      • Madame Merle

        It’s nice to see someone has got their priorities right, EJ.

  • HooksLaw

    I think you are talking about the Labour party here.
    Look at their opportunism over the EU budget and the comments following from I think Hodges.

    • MikeBrighton

      Unfortunately I see not much more than a cigarrette papers width between the Tories and Labour

      • Fergus Pickering

        Well.Labour want to borrow lots more money and the Tories don’t. That seems rather more than a cigarette paper. Michael Gove wants to improve schools and Labour want them to stay as bad as they are. The Tories want to pay out less in welfare and .Labour want to pay out more. I see quite a lot of diffferences. I suppose you are talking about gay marriage. I don’t really see that as any of my business. For what it’s worth I think that adultery is more of a threat to the institution of marriage than a pair of gays getting hitched.

        • MikeBrighton

          Fergus – I think you need to check your stats on the borrowing. The Tories are borrowing more than Gordon Brown did and will leave office in 2015 with the largest debt ever held in the UK. You are wrong on this point. Schools I’ll happily concede to you and am delighted at what the Tories are doing here, one diamond in the deep and dark coal mine. The Tories are paying out more in welfare than Labour, ignore what they say look at what they do.
          I wasn’t actually talking about gay marriage, and I agree with your point here, if two gay men want to get married then as a libertarian i feel they are welcome to do so.

          • Coffeehousewall

            So as a libertarian you are willing to allow two people to do something that will cause great harm to every one else? That is libertarian in which way?

            • MikeBrighton

              We are going off topic biut I’m not sure in what way two men getting married will harm everyone else. I understand that some people won’t like it but I’m not clear how it will harm them. If you can demonstrate harm then gay marriage should not be allowed. Similarly I’m puzzled why gay men would want to undertake a hetrosexual designed ceremony explicitly to facilitate the legal union of a man and a woman in order to raise children in a stable environment but I wouldn’t stop them doing so if it is their wish. Please explain the “harm” and I’ll happily concede if I agree and adjust my view.

              • Colonel Blood

                It will certainly harm someone else if a priest who refuses to marry them is banged up in jail. But I suppose the political strategy is that such cases will suppress dissent and cause enough fear to coerce compliance. Ironic that in liberating themselves from persecution and prosecution gays will have contributed to the persecution and prosecution of another minority. Their right to sexual and societal liberation will trump the right to conscience and Christian beliefs. Which tells us everything we need to know about the real nature of the “equality and fairness” being imposed upon us.

            • Fergus Pickering

              What harm does it do me? Or you? Of course if you THINK it does you harm then I suppose it does. Hamlet was right about that. But I prefer to oppose what actually does do me harm, like a hike in the price of alcohol which will supposedly stop young people rolling in money getting pissed every weekend but which will certainly pick my pocket.

              • TomTom

                Fergus it doesn’t affect me if you get your head kicked in by disgruntled yobs nor if you have your car torched, but I do pay taxes for your protection and expect them to make sure you are kept safe from the rest of us

          • TomTom

            Gove is undoing the mess made by the last Conservative Government which debased Universities, destroyed Polytechnics, brought in appeals against Exclusion to comply with ECHR and debased school exams…….Labour simply continued where Thatcher/Major left off which is why they survived longer than any other Labour Government

          • Coffeehousewall

            Government ministers have already said that teachers will lose their jobs if they refuse to promote the state’s redefinition of marriage. This seems to me to be a real harm. It is also clear that no dissent will be allowed and the rejection of ‘gay marriage’ will become a criminal offence because defined as discriminatory and a hate crime. This is also a real harm. Religious leaders will be prosecuted for preaching against ‘gay marriage’. This is a real harm.

            A libertarian would insist that two men should be able to live together. A libertarian would not support the subversion of language, culture, tradition, religion and normal family life for the sake of two men doing what they want.

        • Colonel Mustard

          I agree. But I would be concerned if a priest were to be prosecuted for refusing to marry two gays and I feel that will inevitably come through the door with gay marriage because it will be discriminating against them. The minority lobbying on this and other issues appears to have become less about tolerance or equality and more about condemning (and prosecuting) disapproval as “homophobia” – or, if you like, about coercing approval. We seem to be set on a path of creating Christian martyrs again.

          • Coffeehousewall

            Government ministers have already stated that teachers will be sacked for not promoting ‘gay marriage’. This is the most anti-Christian Government we have known in recent times.

        • TomTom

          Labour wants to borrow more money but Osborne is doing it…….Labour gave us 15% VAT but Osborne thinks 20% is better…..Osborne has raised Taxes dramatically and collapsed the economy……..Osborne is in the wrong party

          • MikeBrighton


      • Heartless etc.,

        And, as the ludicrous (current) DPM said, there’s only that much between me ‘n ‘Dave’!

        As to Direction, – why, straight towards? ….. (a) Brussels (b) oblivion (c) both

    • Noa

      ‘My party, right or wrong’, just doesn’t cut it when the spin doctor says he messed up.

    • Dimoto

      I think it would be “sensible” for Osborne to just stop talking about trivial issues like gay marriage and actually DO his day job.

      “Fiscal discipline” ?
      Is that Osborne’s code for endlessly introducing new stealth taxes whilst refusing to reform a Labour legacy tax system full of massive loop-holes, and allowing public spending to rise relentlessly ?
      After today’s borrowing figures, Osborne should be replaced by Hammond.
      I am not worried by Osborne’s “lack of principles”, just his basic competence to do his job !

      Mind you, it is always entertaining to be lectured by journos on “lack of principles”.
      They don’t do irony, do they,