This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
What can we learn from the West Wing?
Writing in this week's Observer Andrew Rawnsley states that Josiah Bartlet has a lot to answer for.
Rawnsley uses his article to criticise David Cameron and Tony Blair before him of trying to turn Downing Street into a mini West Wing.
Is Rawnsley right?
On one level he probably is. In the West Wing decisions are made by Josh, CJ and Sam as they dash from meeting to meeting at a breakneck speed. "Impromptu, informal, haphazard gatherings", as Rawnsley calls them, are probably not the best way of reaching decisions. He argues it was this sort of approach which led to some of the most disastrous periods of the Blair Government - like the dodgy dossier.
On this I tend to think he is right. Meetings for meetings sake are a pointless waste of time. But there is value in stopping a moment, weighing up the facts, listening to dissenting voices, considering the options and then reaching a decision.
But Rawnsley is wrong on another level because he fails to understand the point of the West Wing. It was about recapturing the idealism of politics. And it would seem to me that British politics could do with more of this.
A tight knit group of young, idealistic, talented and intelligent people helped turn around the Labour Party in the mid 1990s. But we have lost that magic now. We have lost that ambition and hunger and idealism that helps propel parties into power.
Unlike Josiah Barlet, we have also become afraid of our own liberalism and social democracy. Bartlet was a liberal lion who wasn't afraid to champion difficult or unpopular causes. In fact it was what gave him his authenticity. I think we try to triangulate too much and we forget our values.
The West Wing showed that you could be true to your values and still be politically skillful and electorally successful. It would seem to me that we should try to emulate this as much as possible.
In British politics we need more Josiah Barlets and fewer Francis Urquharts.