October 25, 2005

It's the Policies, Stupid!

India Cause, 25.10.2005

It was third time unlucky for the self-professed ‘big beast’ of the Tories, as Ken Clarke was voted out- again- of a party leadership contest on Tuesday. He was beaten to the pole by both the right-winger Liam Fox as well as ‘baby Blair’ ala David Cameron. For Mr Cameron, this is a much-needed boost to prove to his critics that questions about his personal life are largely irrelevant to the party MPs.

Indeed, opinion polls show that more undecided voters are likely to vote Conservative if Mr Cameron becomes the leader vis-à-vis Mr Clarke, whose European policy still irks the typical Tory, and who’s a little too old to harp about modernising and upgrading the party’s outlook.

Peter Lilley, a former cabinet minister, argued-“If we all are going to require every potential candidate for the leadership or the Prime Ministership to go through all the seven deadly sins and say they have never committed them, then all we will choose is somebody who is good at lying.” So how many sins do we examine a candidate against? And who determines which sin it is to be?

To be fair to Mr Lilley, and moving away from cynicism, he does have a point. As a Times poll of Conservative Association chairmen revealed, a majority respected Mr Cameron’s decision to remain silent in the face of scathing attacks on him having taken cocaine at university. The general picture that emerges is one of sympathy- the man may’ve erred when he was a hot blooded irrational student, but don’t hold that against him now. Perhaps his experiences during his “normal university life” was blown out of proportion with the recent revelation of the supermodel Kate Moss’ drug dabbling.

Both Liam Fox and Ken Clarke have taken indirect and subtle swipes at Mr Cameron over this issue in the past week. Even his wife Samantha has not been spared the media glare. That is unfortunate. What should be of concern to us is whether he has a tendency to go ‘soft’ on the government’s drug policy.

In an article in the Mail, Mr Cameron vigorously denies this charge. He needs to be given the benefit of doubt. After all, even if he was a drug addict in the past, the sheer strength of character needed to overcome the addiction is immense. We all make decisions which we rue with the benefit of hindsight. And that repentance is what counts.

On the larger question of separating the public and private spheres, liberals take their inspiration from John Stuart Mill, who vigorously defended the individual’s right to privacy from the glare of the public eye. Indeed, every individual- including public servants like politicians- needs a personal space where his actions should be tolerated if they do not harm others. In the words of John Rawls, “Liberty can be restricted only for the sake of liberty”.

His policies should be the only criterion to judge David Cameron.

And so it should be everywhere, except India. Why the anomaly? Well, for starters, our politicians- or the vast majority of them- tend to bring the glaring flaws in their private lives into the public sphere. Charlatans and fraudsters continue their practices, the only difference being that they do it with the public money.

As for policies, woh kya cheez hai? Most of them come to power either on the basis of their religious or caste background, or riding on dynasty or benefiting from a warped sense of avant garde nationalism.

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