Ideas and ego

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One of the themes of my summer holiday with my sons was how the individual remains peculiarly human however great the consqeunce of their actions. The theme focussed most heavily on Hitler, as we found places in Munich where he had undoubtedly been and where we could now stand. I can’t say we all shared the same sensations as a result: I am all too aware that no person can ever fully comprehend another’s feelings. But there was no doubt that we all sensed the paradox that someone who created such an enormous tyranny could walk the streets we did, have a favourite restaurant that’s still in existence and must as a result have enjoyed himself, just as we could. History is made by people.

In another sense I felt that at the weekend. I was standing in the queue in a coffee shop and realised that they person ahead of me was Andrew Lansley - Lord Lansley as he now is. It was disconcerting that someone whose work I so despise for the damage that it has caused to the NHS in this country should appear so superficially similar to me, down to the fact that we were both dressed in the rather stereotypical way of men of a certain age who I have spent too much of their lives wearing suits to work. So there is this person, who is hardly an ogre, but whose work was truly destructive, as a result of which he was awarded a peerage.

So what did I do? Well, nothing, because I decided he was entitled to family time as much as I am and I guess it was his son who was with him. But what was curious was how, in that situation, it would have been very hard to pick him out of a crowd. All of which reminded me just how much more powerful ideas can be than the person who creates them.

If evidence of that was needed yesterday saw the end of the political career of the man who created Lansley: David Cameron announced his departure for what will, no doubt, be the corporate sunset. He appeared crumpled, lost and rather small in the interview on ITN where he announced his decision. Once more the paradox was apparent: whatever Cameron’s thinking was its impact will outlive his career.

It’s an important point. The person is important: it should never be said otherwise. This is why playing the person is legitimate in politics. But never forget the ideas, because they are more powerful. In which case it would be good if the left could coalesce around ideas that might be competently delivered without too much ego getting in the way. I am not optimistic on that point though.