I’ll bet the Prime Minister would give his butler’s left leg right about now for a moratorium on the expression “U-turn”. Well actually given the choice, he’d probably rather expunge the term “omnishambles” from our shared lexicon but one fire-fight at a time.
Before we try to defend the government, let’s briefly plumb the depths of its incompetence. As Ed Balls, puce with poorly concealed glee, reminded us last week, the list of high profile government U-turns currently counts among its illustrious members: churches, pasties, caravans, charities, skips, petrol and as recently as yesterday Dave backtracked on the expansion of Heathrow.
Now a U-turn, in and of itself, is not an inherently negative thing if you accept (and I admit this proposition may entail a radical departure from popular opinion) that politicians are fallible creatures. I think that we can all just about entertain that notion, if only for the sake of argument. So, it follows that if they are fallible, they will make mistakes. Another novel concept, to be sure, but bear with me as we negotiate this labyrinth of abstraction.
If a politician has dropped a proverbial bollock in the noodles (to borrow Armando Iannucci’s joyous turn of phrase), the course of action implied by a U-turn would require the ability to recognise his error, hoik the offending organ from the bowl and give the contents a courtesy rinse. Now surely, this is a more commendable course of action for a statesman than someone who, to pursue what I now realise was an ill-chosen analogy, simply grits his teeth, liberally applies the Dolmio and pretends he is serving you up an extra meatball with your repast. Not exactly cutting off his nose to spite his face but…well, you get the idea.
If we accept that a U-turn is not an intrinsically bad thing, then it just comes down to an all-out dog fight between principle and pragmatism for the right to govern the conduct of our fearless leaders. Do we want someone who will stick steadfastly to their chosen path even when it leads them through the bramble patch of backbench revolt, the minefield of contrary public opinion and into the quicksand of political oblivion? Or would we rather elect someone who will kowtow to the baying media mob and toss principle to the pollsters at the merest whiff of antipathy? As ever, of course, the happy medium lies somewhere in the middle.
The Tories’ problem (Ed Miliband’s adenoidal hysteria notwithstanding) isn’t the relative merits of each individual volte-face but the sheer volume of them in aggregate. The solution, though, is a simple one (and by “solution” I mean something which definitely wouldn’t work but would be bloody hilarious). In fact, if you’re quiet enough, you can probably hear Steve Hilton bellowing it at his TV in California: change the terms of the debate. You idiot.
The expression “U-turn” drips with the disdain of leaders past and whimpers cowardice, venality and indecision. What Dave needs is a term which conjures to mind the image of an intrepid rally car driver slaloming along a succession of increasingly perilous hair-pin bends at break-neck speed as he navigates the treacherous topography of an economic landscape hand-sculpted by his incompetent predecessors.
So when the government executes its next courageous climb-down, don’t be surprised to read about a “stalwart swerve”, a “plucky pirouette” or a …… “gallant gyration”. Yeah I didn’t think this through.
Also posted on Huffington Post.