Fond but Not in Love

I think that one of the prevailing problems with our political culture is that an awful lot of weight is put on ideology and tribalism, which is terribly detrimental to our political culture.

It’s one thing to disagree vociferously with your enemies when they’re wrong, but another to argue when they’re right. Too often is compromise seen as selling out, or attempting a dialogue seen as weakness.

I suppose that compromise especially is easier to spin, and easier to misconstrue. I suspect that this is one of the reasons why the Lib Dem participation in the coalition is seen by many as a betrayal.

I’d like to see myself as a pragmatist. I’m unhappy with cuts, and with tuition fees, and I’d rather see them not there at all. With that said, I also don’t see what is possible to avoid them; my best answer would be something along the lines of “Well, I wouldn’t start from here…”

As much as I hate the idea of the unelected, unaccountable, markets controlling our political destiny (and believe me, I really, really hate it), the plain ugly truth is that they do. Our government and our economy is kept turning by the money loaned to us by our creditors, and that gives them power over us. That’s what deficit means, after all; we could not pay our bills if that money wasn’t loaned to us. If we tried to break the chains as it stands now, in our hour of greatest weakness, we’d be plunged into an economic disaster that makes the cuts look like Christmas.

And the people who were the architects of this economic bondage are scoring points from the back of the cuts. It’s scandalous. I’m furious with Labour, frankly. I’m furious with their tribalism, their hypocrisy, their through selling out of the principles of liberty and socialism when they had untrammelled power for thirteen years. In boom times they brought in tuition fees, and in the years of plenty they spent more than we can afford. Living on money borrowed from capitalists is no socialism I recognise. They let, even encouraged, the markets to grow strong, and made us weak into the bargain. They have no right to carp on about betrayal!

The Lib Dems, by contrast, have had to compromise. Some elements of the manifesto were jettisoned, others watered down. That’s true. But many, many others were and are being enacted. It’s making the best of a bad job; being pragmatic, not just idealistic, and it’s being painted as a failure.

I bring this up partly because of the announcement of proposals for the reform of the House of Lords; I today received an email from Nick Clegg, which contains this paragraph:

It’s no secret that Liberal Democrats strongly favour a wholly-elected second chamber. That is the simplest, purest, and most democratic option. But we should not make the perfect the enemy of the very good. That approach has stymied Lords reform for too long. And 80% is very much better than 0%; and a lot more than Labour managed in 13 years of governing alone.

I agree with him. Ultimately, getting this to pass is going to need horse-trading with the Conservatives, elements of whom are going to be very against this proposal. A lot of people vote Conservative. A lot of people think like they do (and some of them are even friends of mine), and so they have a lot of representation (although more than they deserve). It’s right and proper that it has to be watered down from what the Lib Dems want, because the Lib Dems have less votes and less representation. It’s a great shame that many people can’t see things that way; true democracy requires that you compromise with the people you disagree with. Make no mistake on my disagreement with the Tories; but too long have we lived with the tyranny of absolutist majoritarianism.

It’s depressing that outcome of all this could be a return, a bolstering, of what got us into this mess. Rather than fostering a heterogeneous environment of differing opinion, debate, and compromise, we could find ourselves going back to brutal tribalism, one party on the left, one party on the right, and to the victor (even if by a small margin), the spoils, the system that let us down so very awfully.

So I guess that answer, when anybody asks if I’m ashamed for voting Lib Dem, or joining the party, the answer, honestly, is no.

10 thoughts on “Fond but Not in Love

  1. That was a very compelling argument. Thank you. Right now I wouldn’t affiliate myself with any of the Big Three political parties. I understand the need for compromise, dialogue and negotiation, of course, but at the same time I think the Lib Dems have massively sold out on things where they should have stood firm. I am terrified that we are moving blatantly towards a model under which the NHS becomes a state health insurance provider and not a provider in and of itself of healthcare. Whilst I accept that university funding had to change somehow, somewhere, the truth as far as the Lib Dems are concerned is that before the election they promised in public not to let this happen whilst in private acknowledging all along that they had no such intentions. That is absolute, deliberate lying, and that is frankly intolerable. I’m not much happier with Labour by any means, I’m frustrated that Ed Miliband doesn’t seem to be moving his party on very quickly, and I no longer really know what it is that Labour stand for primarily, I think, because they don’t know themselves. And I would never vote Tory in a million years. They’re privatising healthcare. That makes me spit feathers. THat I can actually hold polite conversation with Tory friends feels, to me, like a massive achievement.

    1. As far as the NHS goes, I’m generally worried about slippery slope arguments, so I think it might be a bit early to say this is a shift to a health insurance model.

      That said, it’s still a really bad idea. I can’t really think of an instance where farming out essential public infrastructure to the private sector has ever worked. I know there are influential people inside the Lib Dems (like Evan Harris) who are pushing really hard to put an end to this nonsense.And the tuition fees stuff, I’m much more inclined to think cock-up rather than conspiracy. It remains (democratically decided) Lib Dem party policy to abolish tuition fees entirely, but cast-iron promising it before the election, then not having the issue as a red line in the coalition agreement was one hell of a misstep. Historically, pissing off students has never been a good plan.

      1.  “I can’t really think of an instance where farming out essential public infrastructure to the private sector has ever worked”

        The water industry.

        1. And, come to think of it, telecomms and power (although the subsidies that exist for the latter are still a big problem, but that’s a somewhat different thing). 

  2. Frankly I don’t understand why more people aren’t angry at the way Labour acted so irresponsibly during their time in government. And I despair that people actively still support them, because their lack of credibility is plain to see.

    That said, the situation could be far, far worse; Blair wanted us to join the Euro…

    1. An excellent post.

      FWIW, that is why I am very reluctant to ever consider joining a political party. Sure, in the past few years I’d say that my views are… 

      1. …mostly in line with the Lib Dems. But the leadership is moving much further to economic right than I am personally comfortable with, and I wouldn’t rule out voting for Labour under Ed Miliband. As far as accountability and representation…

        1. …goes, I don’t think than partisan politics does anything to discourage tribalism; in fact the opposite.

          And that is my pragmatism, and compromise. 

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