The sphinx without a riddle

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‘The sphinx without a riddle.’ No other description so beautifully encapsulates the futility of David Cameron’s tenure in Number 10. The Prime Minister might dismiss Dominic Cummings as a ‘career psychopath,’ but the former education adviser has caught that mixture of insouciance, arrogance and effortless contentedness which bedevils this administration with brilliant accuracy.

‘He had a picture of Macmillan on his wall. That is all you need to know,’ as Cummings puts it.

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By contrast, today Ed Miliband is setting out big, serious answers to the pressing public policy challenges of modern Britain. From delivering real reform in technical education to reviving the contributory principle in welfare to devolving housing benefit budgets to local authorities, this is a substantive agenda.

While Domimic Cummings continues to lift the lid on the Coalition’s ghastly battleground of competing egos, wounded amour propre, and Establishment shambles, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is thinking hard about how Britain pays its way in a globalised economy, delivers an inclusive prosperity which sees wealth creation work for all, and deploys an activist state to fix market failure.

The IPPR report, The Condition of Britain, is a hugely powerful starting point for Labour’s ambition to rejuvenate social democracy in an age of European austerity. Devolution of power rather than cash transfers; an end to something for nothing welfarism; a focus on early years investment – these are the essential building blocks of next year’s radical, progressive Labour government.

Napoleon III – the original sphinx without a riddle – also attracted another great aphorism. In his brilliant pamphlet, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Karl Marx wrote that ‘Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’

If Macmillan was the tragedy, under David Cameron we have now entered the farcical stages of conservatism – and Britain is desperate for change.

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