I was accused after one of my recent blogs of being a rabid socialist. Socialist, yes: rabid, if in this context it means passionate, yes, that’s why I find it difficult to be humorous about politics and politicians. But at heart I’m really a radical, summed up in my homespun philosophy “nothing in this world is perfect and therefore everything is capable of improvement”, a philosophy which, incidentally, often got me into trouble with bosses.
To me politics is quite simple … in theory. My view is we should aim to make the world a better place, a pretty naive and meaningless ambition stated baldly like that but to me it means primarily looking after the interests of society as a whole including the less advantaged and not using them as stepping stones to help ourselves. That means being prepared to put the interests of others above our own.
It used to be fairly simple. In the UK ‘Labour’ used to be about achieving a level playing field for the ‘working classes’ at a time when they were severely disadvantaged, while ‘Conservative’ was about making life more comfortable for the already comfortably off and in particular the wealthy minority who ruled us by right.
The efforts of the Labour Party and industrial action by the unions, particularly in the years after WW2, achieved a measure of ‘middle class’ living for a larger proportion of society with the result that the appeal to the underprivileged and disadvantaged lost its political clout at the ballot box.
Then Thatcher came along appealing to the selfishness and greed inherent in all of us, ditching society as a concept, grinding the working man into submission (the miners in particular) and bringing about not only a major change in politics but a major change in attitudes of individuals. “Take what you want” became the mantra. The Bankers did. Thatcher and Reagan freed them from regulation so they could award themselves annual bonuses which surpass what most of us earn in a lifetime. Most of the ones I have met (largely on skiing holidays) haven’t even been that bright, just gifted with the right connections, public school backgrounds and a larger-than-average dose of greed coupled with a lack of conscience. But Thatcher also, very cleverly, sought to make capitalists of all of us by requiring the selling off of council houses on preferential terms thereby pushing more people into the ‘marketplace’. That committed us to an upward spiral of house-price inflation which, fuelled by greedy bankers in pursuit of bonuses, resulted in the collapse in the housing market …. which most people hope will soon end so prices will climb still giddyingly higher. In Britain we are almost alone in the world in seeing a house as an investment not just as a home, despite fact that the housing industry markets ‘homes’. Why? The housing industry continues to perpetrate the lie that there is a shortage of homes in Britain despite millions of empty properties.
To get back to the main direction of this ramble: following Thatcher’s demise and in the death knell of the Major government, the Labour Party then re-invented itself and ceased to be in any meaningful way ‘socialist’. Labour achieved power by changing its target audience and abandoning its principles. Increasingly relying on support from ‘middle-England’ and losing its previous traditional socialist support, it lost its way. And the unforgivable decision by Blair to allow Bush to drag the UK into Iraq war finally did for it.
The other serious party at the UK level, the LibDems, were once the bearers of the torch of radicalism but that was extinguished by their sell-out to the Tories in order to gain a few seats in Cabinet, their big chance at ‘power’. They will have a big task to persuade voters that they can ever be trusted again.
I have to admit that at end of the day politics is all about pragmatism. It’s OK being principled but that is worthless without power. That’s why principles are often ditched in order to achieve power and once power is achieved principles are often ditched because of the complex realities of running a bit of the world.
Which brings me to share Barry’s Hypotheses on Politics.
a) There are only 3 types of people who take on any kind of political office, whether becoming an MP or committee of the bowls club: those who are stupid; those who are altruistic; those who want power.
b) With few exceptions, it is only those whose motive is to achieve power who reach high office, become top dog. Those who are stupid get blown away by the wind. Those who are motivated by altruism get tired of banging their head against the wall.
c) Once they have power people will do anything to hold onto it including telling us, with all sincerity, that black is white.
On the latter point, my view is that the Scottish Nationalist Party’s push for independence is simply because Alex Salmond et al know their only shot at any kind of power is to be big fish in a small pond. Welsh Assembly the same thing. Why in an increasingly globalised, economically driven world would anyone in their right mind think that smaller is better? It’s all to do with personal ambition and lack of ability.
I remember a discussion many years ago with an old friend when we were in college, the same guy who recently accused me of being rabid socialist. We were having a discussion over our dinner time cheese and toast, basically a role play along the lines of ‘what job we would have if we were in the government’. I can’t remember what most of us said, I probably said I would be Prime Minister on the grounds that in line with Part a) of my Hypothesis …. I was stupid. But this other chap said “can I be the Commander–in-Chief of the armed forces”. We said, “yes, fine if you want to”. To which he immediately replied. “Right, I’m staging a coup and taking over. You’re all sacked”.
I reiterate, there is no point in having principles without power. But it is reassuring when those with power have principles which serve the rest of us well.
True, politics is a nasty, grubby business. True, the best we can hope for is that it is run by people who are both competent and consistently put the interests of the rest of us at the top of the agenda. In order to do this, politicians have to have an intrinsic understanding of what are the aspirations and fears of the majority of people and an elitist, highly privileged background is not good preparation for that. But this simple view doesn’t help when it comes to the ballot box. No socialists who are remotely electable. No radicals. Just power junkies.