When wanting the best equals plagiarism

I think Kevin Donnelly probably has a point when he suggests in The Australian today that Rudd Labor is borrowing a bit from Blair Labour on education (not sure this is necessarily a bad thing anyway). This point, however, is just a bit silly:

Even the rhetoric is the same.

Just compare Blair’s exhortation, “Our goal: to make Britain the best-educated and skilled country in the world education, education, education”, to Kevin Rudd’s statement: “We need to lift our vision and start to imagine an Australia where we turn ourselves into the most educated economy, the most educated society in the Western world.”

Frankly I would be much more concerned if a political party was not interested in making their nation’s education system the best humanly possible, than about any supposed plagiarisation of rhetoric. Of course, Donnelly seems averse to any education agenda that involves the state providing solutions to problems, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the Rudd Government’s agenda has stuck in his craw. To the wolves, public school students; to the wolves.

Talks with masked men; peace in our time?

The Guardian refers to it as Tony Blair’s one great unquestionable success; the attainment of peace in Northern Ireland. Great Hatred, Little Room, is a new book from senior Blair aide Jonathan Powell focusing on the heavy negotiations between Blair and the IRA, and follows in the footsteps of Alastair Campbell’s epic but gripping The Blair Years. Showcasing as it does one of the great diplomatic success stories of the modern era, Powell’s book offers renewed hope for peacemaking, and serves as a reminder of what can be achieved through talking to your enemies and trying desperately and doggedly to work towards common ground. At one stage, as The Guardian breathlessly reported today, Blair sought to engage in meetings with masked IRA leaders if need be in order to keep the peace process alive. One wonders where this determination to forge peace through diplomatic means went to around the time that the decision to go all the way in Iraq was made, without the requisite planning or indeed a robust moral and legal justification.

Powell also quite bravely has come out in support of talking with the Taliban and Al’Qaida. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the action-oriented political mood of the moment that someone supporting such a position is newsworthy in itself:

Western governments must talk to terror groups including al-Qaida and the Taliban if they hope to secure a long-term halt to their campaigns of violence, according to the man who for more than a decade was Tony Blair’s most influential aide and adviser.

Powell said: “There’s nothing to say to al-Qaida and they’ve got nothing to say to us at the moment, but at some stage you’re going to have to come to a political solution as well as a security solution. And that means you need the ability to talk.”

The great danger in governments reaching out to groups like Al’Qaeda as essentially “equals” across a bargaining table is that it offers an air of legitimacy to them. Effectively, by extending a hand of negotiation, there is no doubting that we would be sending an implicit message that engaging in terrorist activity and defying international law is a way to get a seat at the big table. Nor can the situation with Northern Ireland be reasonably compared to the situation the Western world faces with terrorist cells draped in the banner of fundamentalist Islam. The potential threats that the world faces in relation to global terrorism are amorphous, decentralised, and constantly shifting. In the same way that it doesn’t really make sense for governments to negotiate with a small number of “representative” murderers in an effort to stamp out murder in society, negotiating with a representative group of terrorists in an effort to stamp out terrorism is clearly not going to prove to be a final solution to the problem.

The path towards a lasting peace lies with uniting the Western world with the moderate and secular Islamic world against extremists who defy the rule of law. The relative few who act on their grievances in violent ways should not be given the time of day.

ELSEWHERE: Seamus has another angle on the Powell book over at Club Troppo.

The war on terror: not exactly a chart topper

The British Labour Party has published a list of its top fifty achievements in office since Tony Blair lead “New Labour” to power all the way back in 1997, on a wave of enthusiastic public support. As is often the case with lists of this nature, what has been omitted from the list is arguably just as interesting as what has actually been listed. There is not a single reference to the “war on terror” or any related measures aimed at improving security for British citizens. There is not a single reference to the war on Iraq. There is not a single reference to the Blair Government’s involvement in the conflict in the Balkans during the late 1990’s. There is not a single reference to the party’s somewhat conflicted position on adopting the Euro. In total, this all seems to represent an implicit admission by the party that the Labour Party’s foreign policy actions over the last decade are not something which it is proud of.

What I would like to see from the Labour Party here in the UK is a refreshing outburst of honesty. Accompanying this inescapably jaundiced list of fifty greatest achievements over the last decade, why not issue a list of the party’s ten greatest failures over the last decade, and then issue a comprehensive policy platform to address each of these failures? The Howard Government did the best it could to hide its numerous policy failures over the years, and by the end had far too much pride (or perhaps, hubris) to highlight the things it had done wrong and the things it could have done better. Its favoured approach was to soldier on practically regardless of what ordinary people thought of its policies, admitting as little fault as possible, and persistently attacking the Opposition’s credibility. That approach worked a treat in 2004 when Mark Latham proved quite vulnerable to a sustained smear campaign centred on his experience and temperament, but Kevin Rudd proved a much more teflon-like Opposition leader throughout 2007 and the rest is now history.

The British Labour Government, with a new leader in Gordon Brown, has an excellent opportunity to make a clean break from the past, and set a dynamic new course for the future. This may well entail the public disownment of some of the less attractive political legacies of the Blair years, but unless a clean break with the past is made, it is all too easy to see a similar scenario enfolding at the next election in Britain as unfolded in Australia last year. There are lots of criticisms that one can make of Tory Leader David Cameron, but he is certainly an Opposition Leader of the teflon-coated variety. That means that Gordon Brown in his team need to start rolling out some big, positive policy ideas if they are to emerge triumphant from the next election.