On Saturday 24th December, the Today Programme series on Who Runs Britain came up with its list of ten nominations, selected, they said, by a group of eminently wise people, including Dame Stella Rimmington, former head of MI5, Will Hutton, Bill Morris , Kevin Marsh, editor of the Today Programme, and Dr James Sanders. Eminently wise they may be, but it's worth noting from the links I've offered that both Will Hutton and Bill Morris represent a continuation of the Iraq Derangement Syndrome which I blogged about earlier this week, with their views on supposed US imperialism and rapaciousness and the supposed evil of the invasion of Iraq.
It was frustrating listening to the sound clip of the nominations, because it was completely unclear to me how their selection was arrived at, and what the actual strengths and ranges of the nominations were. It was quite bizarre looking at the actual list of ten nominations, and trying to decide how these had been arrived at. For example, how could anyone in possession of their sanity seriously believe that Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties pressure group Liberty runs Britain? After all, if she did, we would certainly not be on our way to having identity cards, and I very much doubt Blair would still be Prime Minister.
If the British people were running Britain, then we would probably still have capital punishment, and we would now have the more draconian anti-terrorist legislation that was voted down by the combined opposition of the House of Commons and the House of Lords earlier this year.
Then of course, there's Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco's. Ummm. If he were running Britain, how come Tesco's got over-ruled on its attempt to buy up the Safeways supermarket chain, that ultimately went to the Leeds-based Morrison's chain? And how exactly does Terry Leahy influence the running of Britain's nuclear deterrent, of MI6, of anti-terrorist operations? And how exactly did Tesco's influence the setting up of the Hutton inquiry, or the most recent judiciary appointments?
My favourite for absurd suggestions is that Google runs Britain (though actually I have to confess that I think it might be a more likely contender than Shami Chakraborti). This seems to me to confuse a particular tool (with a particularly interesting and complex ability to influence the choice of information sources) with the much more complex question of executive power in a modern nation state. Again, we only have to ask ourselves how exactly Google can be proved to have influenced British decision making about the EU constitution, involvement in the Euro or the use of identity cards to see how ludicrous this suggestion is. I would welcome any evidence from anyone that Google has influenced any government policy making anywhere.
Which leaves us with some more obviously usual suspects. I've already touched on the Today Programme's anti Rupert Murdoch agenda here. And I also featured Amanda Platell delivering a crushing rebuttal of the argument that he runs Britain by her references to the myriad policies that Rupert Murdoch has obviously not been able to get the British government to accept.
Then we have Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission. That's the supposedly all powerful superstate which somehow seems to have been unable to persuade the UK either to sign up to the proposed EU Constitution or the Euro. Clearly obvious that he runs Britain, isn't it?
Which leaves Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir Gus O'Donnell, head of the Cabinet Office and the Civil Service. Well, if Gordon Brown hasn't so far been able to persuade Tony Blair to resign and let him take over the post of Prime Minister, which he so obviously longs for, how can he be running Britain. And unless we argue that Tony Blair is his catspaw, it's rather difficult to see how Brown has been driving the new agenda on schools, the particular Blairist agenda on modernization and the diminshed role of the unions which his own speeches do not entirely chime in with... Or is it all just a clever Brownist ploy to throw us off the scent?
Sir Gus O'Donnell is an interesting candidate, for indeed the setter and keeper of Cabinet agendas and the meetings of the Permanent Secretaries who run the ministries holds a powerful position. Does he run Britain? It's hard to argue that any one individual does. For even if his writ controlled every single government ministry, it would hardly account for the decisions being made by City institutions, major corporations and even the supermarkets. After all, we still remember Black Wednesday, some thirteen years ago, when the international money markets, and the City dealers, ran the UK treasury into the ground and forced a retreat from the then European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Sir Gus O'Donnell is indeed in charge of the administration of the government machine, and has a mighty influence through that on British policy making. But of course Britain regularly has to make major shifts and changes which have been imposed by majority votes in the EU Council, or by the actions of world oil markets, or even international non-governmental organizations, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades, or the European Court of Human Rights.
Tony Blair? It's doubtful if he actually presides over as many direct decisions affecting the running of Britain as Sir Gus O'Donnell does. On the other hand, he does lead the political direction of the country, from which Sir Gus takes his cue. He presides over the Cabinet and seems to have done so with some success, seeing off or isolating supposedly powerful and brilliant would be adversaries like the late Robin Cook. His imminent or actual decline and fall from power is forever being announced by the BBC or so many of the experts it likes to invite onto the Today Programme, like Linda Colley, whose views on this score I highlighted here.
My daughter has often felt pessimistic about the political choices she's been presented with in the two years since she's had the right to vote. Though I'm pleased to say that she did force herself to vote at the last election. She usually mutters none of the above when asked what her choice of political party would be from those on her voting list.
I have a similar feeling about the Today Who Runs Britain poll. Because I don't think any one person or even any one government control centre runs a complex nation state with an international currency and trading role, and immensely complex patterns of international political and business alliances. However, if a gun were held to my head, I would vote for Tony Blair, because he has so manifestly been decisive in holding and setting directions against apparently overwhelming opposition both from his own party and from traditional power bases.
The weird thing is that in saying this, it seems I find myself in agreement with George Galloway, who was selected by the Today Programme to give his view (and why is this MP for a party with one seat in the House of Commons so regularly selected to air his off the wall opinions on the Today Programme?).
Let's see how the punters vote. I'll be blogging on that on 2nd January.