Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Expectation Gap

Wee Douglas Alexander was on PM today defending Blair's EU budget deal. It's quite an amusing effort (starts about 9 minutes into the broadcast). To paraphrase, Eddy Marr suggests that Blair's defence of his performance as EU President amounted to him saying "well, look on the bright side, at least we're not at war with the Germans". It's a good point, particularly as it's made using a direct quote of Blair's words.

Wee Douglas tries his best to rally to the defence of his boss but it's a thankless task. In fact, it provokes a slight fluster:
He [Blair] was making a perfectly common-sensical point in conclusion...
Common sensical? Are you sure you don't mean nonsensical, wee man?* That'd certainly make a lot more sense, and make you sound less of an idiot.

At this stage, loyalty to the Blair isn't going to do much to advance wee Doug's career and you've got to credit him with the intellectual capacity to have worked that out for himself. My guess is that this is why he always sounds so unconvincing. Why he puts himself through these interviews remains something of a mystery to me.

On the actual issue, it's all rather complicated and controversial. The EU budget is obviously in dire need of major reform, as Blair rightly said at the start of his Presidency. He was going to bang some heads together and start sorting it all out. Even the most loyal Blairite would have to concede that he hasn't got very far with that. As Blairites know only too well, reviews can often a very good way to make issues disappear into the long grass. The fact that the French will be holding the Presidency when the review is to be launched just makes any useful reform that little bit less likely.

Blair stated catagorically that he would not compromise on the rebate unless similar compromises were secured on reform of the CAP. Wee Douglas would have us believe that he hasn't broken that commitment. There is no spoon in Mr Alexander's universe, apparently. I'm not that bothered about the fact that Blair's had to give up part of the rebate. I fully understand that others will have very strong objections but it was pretty much inevitable in my opinion. Blair's problem is that he said he wouldn't and then he did.

The real problem for Blair is that he over-promised on this and then he under-delivered. As anyone who's worked in a service industry will know, that's a big no no. It is far better to adopt a sensible (not overly-cautious) under-promise and over-deliver strategy. That way, you give yourself every opportunity to exceed expectations. Blair's way, you give yourself every opportunity to disappoint.**

This is a significant character flaw on the part of our slowly departing prime minister. He's done it more times than I'd care to remember. Iraq was going to be a liberal democracy in no time at all, the Gleneagles G8 summit was going to feed the world, Blunkett was going to be a good pension secretary... You could make a long list if you were so inclined.

Blair promises the moon on a stick but he almost never delivers. The thing is, we don't want the moon on a stick (well, we do, but we realise we can't have it). What we really want is honestly. And, perhaps, a politician who exceeds our expectations just once in a while.

* I know it's a bit rich for me to criticise others for mangling the English language. Sometimes, I can't resist.

** After writing this, I read the full text of the BBC article linked above and noticed Charles Kennedy has made a very similar point.
"If only Tony Blair could close the gap between his rhetoric and his actions in Europe, he'd be in a much stronger position both in the EU and at home. He has mismanaged expectations."
Great minds and fools seldom etc...

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