Sunday, May 10, 2015

Political ideology

No stop. Don't go. I'll be interesting - but the title has to stay.

I have been trying, over the last forty-eight hours, to find contacts who are consistent voters for one political party and can nail their political ideology in a sentence or two. I have failed.

The ruthless (and therefore brilliant) campaign run by Lynton Crosby for the Tories has been about avoiding ideology completely. He campaigned in poetry, as the saying goes. He kept his man away from controversy, bigoted women, bacon sandwiches and non-supporters. Even the West Ham versus Villa moment caused no damage because no-one really believes Cameron is a football man; Miliband even less so he couldn't capitalise.

I am not overly critical about this since it was Tony Blair himself who said that a traditional battle between right and left in this country will have a traditional outcome - the right will win. So he understood that the rebranding to New Labour and not mentioning traditional values was the only way to get traditional left values (a heart for the poor and the low-paid worker) into legislation. Alan Johnson said yesterday, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, that the way Labour now talked about Blair you'd think he had lost three elections, not won them. 'Of course I'd borrow money to invest; interest is at 0%.'

Those who are Conservative have, in their title, a natural desire to conserve things. They are, by and large, traditionalists. It was less than two days before the return of fox-hunting was on the lips of some. Now they get to govern in prose.

One of my friends, a Conservative party worker, was bigging up the election result as a triumph for Christian values. I have had to walk away from commenting. If you want to research there is a site where the number of people of faith in each party, from Timms to Pickles and all points in between, has been counted. They are pretty evenly distributed. There is no agreed set of Christian values in any one party and, thank God, politics here has not become a pro-life versus pro-choice matter.

The people who have been willing to own up to being Conservative voters on my time lines have talked about things such as hard work, debt-reduction and opportunity. Good things, but I know of no political party that would fail to espouse those.

On the same Today programme Simon Hughes, a good Lib(Dem) MP for over thirty years, now unemployed, made a good case for traditional liberal values - freedom, internationalism etc. I doubt if Labour or Conservative could do that. My Conservative MP is a Unionist, Atlanticist, Euro-sceptic, Thatcherite but he has enemies in his own party for these. Scottish National party values are, er, go Scotland. I think that's it. UKIP values are go away eveyone else.

So I think it is true to say that pragmatism has trumped ideology.

Now I am no mug (stop sniggering). I know you can vote for a candidate based on careful study and analysis of the party manifesto and election leaflets. But you can also do so because she has a good pair of legs. The wisdom of crowds reckons to even those things out. Indeed the BBC exit poll, so derided at first and now seen as pretty impressive, extrapolated from the wisdom of 20,000 people to almost exactly how we voted, in a way that the daily polls of 1,000-2,000 people didn't and even the closing YouGov poll of 6,000 missed. The more people you ask the closer you get to the truth. Which is why democracy rocks.

Those of us who take ideologies and values into an election and seek to see which party will best preserve them are having a harder and harder time. In terms of local issues I couldn't pick between four of the five candidates in my constituency. I reckon they would have made good constituency MPs.

So what does the election result tell us:

In the UK more people are suspicious of change than embrace it. So we stick with the devil we know until forced to rethink. We were not sufficiently enamoured by the Labour alternative.

In Scotland the English elite were punished by the voters for something but I'm not sure what. For agreeing with their majority about the Union? It is said voters bought the SNP's anti-austerity plan. But the representatives of the English elite were LibDem and Labour. Gordon Brown's seat went to the SNP. What a wise choice he made to stand down.

In England all tactical votes for the LibDems were stopped (mine included) and their votes redistributed pretty evenly.

Whilst UKIP (a party with an ideology, whether we like it or not) got a huge number of votes that made almost no difference to any result. We note however, that they made inroads into the Labour vote in the north, suggesting that a party on the side of the poor will represent them better if they give Johnny Foreigner a kicking, something Labour will not do.

Where to end? The next five years will be interesting.

I don't know if Conservative ideology is to be Europhile or Eurosceptic. I suspect the latter. I reckon we may be committed to a referendum on a matter that is too important to be left to the people, which blows my democratic credentials out of the water. It may be too complicated for the people to decide, a bit like a major fraud trial where a jury cannot possibly be trained to understand.

And I really don't know if universal free education and health are safe in Tory hands. One of my Conservative friends chose against Labour, inter-alia, because 'You can't just chuck money at the NHS.' But I heard George Osborne promising to do precisely that without being able to say where the money was coming from. Labour wouldn't match it without doing the sums.

And I don't know if compassionate conservatism really exists, has a genuine heart for the poor and will direct its work thus. I hope it will. I fear division and riots but wish them well and hope for the best.

The late Tony Benn set five key tests for democracy and power. Test four is this; if you have power:

On whose behalf have you exercised it?

I would like to see the current leaderless parties have good, public conversations about ideology.

If you read this far, thank you.


Serendipity said...

This is so well said Steve

James said...

It's an interesting thesis, but you don't understand what's going on in Scotland.

You need to look back over the last forty years or so, and you don't need to look at politics for most of it. What you will see is a burgeoning culture: it started with literature, but it went on to encompass music, film, theatre and more - all of it developing a distinct Scottish identity very different from metrocentric England. After the debacle of the 1979 referendum vote the cultural thrust sustained Scottish identity until the politics rose again over the Poll Tax. As the cultural identity continued to flourish, the political demands began and grew until in 1999 the Scots achieved the first tranche of devolution.

The First Law of Revolutions then kicked in. Far from sating the demand for more independence, devolution poured fuel onto the flames. The Scots have grown in confidence and self-belief, and they have reached the point where they are not afraid of trying new things. Reflect on this: the primary split in the Referendum vote last year was not left and right: it was about old (who were largely No voters) and young (who were largely Yes voters). All the Yes campaign sense they have to do is wait.

If the Scots are punishing anyone for anything, they are punishing the Westminster elite for broken promises (remember a thing they called The Vow?) and for being out of touch. The Scots consistently recorded higher turnouts on Thursday (including the only two constituencies where turnout was over 80%) and analysis of the figures indicates that something between 5 and 10 percent of their electorate voted this time when they did not vote last time. The work of the various Scottish bodies (not just the SNP) in engaging the population over the electorate has a lot to do with that. Politics of the people, by the people and for the people - when was the last time any English MP offered that?

Steve Tilley said...

Thanks James. I don't actually think what you say contradicts what I said. It just puts in three paragraphs what I put in one, and more cogently. Thanks.

Steve Tilley said... argues that we should challenge our politicians to set out the vision which fires their policies. Totally agree.

Caroline Too said...

My ideology in two sentences? Golly! ��

I believe that this is biblical, although I acknowledge huge problems in seeing how the governing principles for a bronze/Iron Age, agrarian society translate to industrial and post-industrial societies

But here goes

I believe that the covenant for governing Israel, eg the jubilee, laid out a principle that great wealth should not become intrenched..effort and skill were to be rewarded by prosperity, but it was to be shared around again every 50 years

I believe that the anger of the prophets tended to directed at elites who lived and accumulated wealth for themselves.

I believe that New Testament theology privileges the social ahead of the individual.

I believe that Genesis points to a role of tending to rather than exploiting the world.

For the above reasons I am a member of the Green Party.