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The moral of the Olly Robbins row? Don’t base policy on a lie

13 February 2019

4:09 PM

13 February 2019

4:09 PM

Olly Robbins will be trying to avoid the Prime Minister today after his hurricane strength gaffe was splashed all over the newspaper front pages. He deserves a fair share of the criticism that has come his way, but I’m sure most of us have mouthed off a little too loudly in the pub after a stressful day in the office. The PM will be especially frustrated because he has undermined one of Theresa May’s central claims – that the choice facing Parliament is a binary one between her deal and no deal. But she can’t blame Robbins for the fragility of her position. In fact this is just a specific example of a wider truth: it’s almost never a good idea to build a governing strategy around saying something that isn’t true. Government is too big and the truth will out somehow. As well as failing in your immediate aim you also undermine your own credibility and that of politics in general. Far better to confront the truth and build a robust argument that will last. In this case the idea of a long extension to Article 50 is being openly discussed in Brussels so it would have become public with or without help from Olly Robbins. Other examples that spring to mind include Gordon Brown refusing to acknowledge there would be cuts and the ‘tens of thousands’ immigration target that nobody in government, possibly with the exception of David Cameron and Theresa May, thought could be achieved. A basic rule for politics should be that honesty really is the best policy.

Rupert Harrison is a portfolio manager at BlackRock and former chief of staff to George Osborne. He tweets at @rbrharrison


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