Thursday, April 08, 2010

Serious politics

'May you live in interesting times' is either a Chinese curse or something that people commonly believe to be a Chinese curse. We live in uninteresting times for British politics as there are no distinctive ideologies or, indeed, ideas in any of the major parties; just shades of centrism. Since political ideas and ideologies that stray from shades of centrism have a disastrous track record, ie. the 20th Century, we ought to be pleased, oughtn’t we? Those who are not pleased are those who are interested in politics and claim to take it ‘seriously’. But is complaining about a lack of radical ideas and firebreathing speeches and soapbox knockabouts really taking politics seriously, or the opposite, ie. demanding that politics be a source of entertainment? Why isn’t it a good thing that politics is dull and most citizens seek their entertainment elsewhere? And then again, how is it that in the USA, where the ideological gap between the so-called Left and Right is arguably even more negligible than here, the bloggers and wonks are able to work themselves up into such a hysterical, polarised frenzy? Too much politics? Isn’t politics just a necessary evil in the business of government? A relatively trivial sideshow? And what is the business of government? To protect us from the Hooded Claw and keep the vampires from our door, certainly, but why more? Doesn’t politics just encourage politicians to do ever more governing? And where did I leave my hat?

20 comments:

worm said...

...and how is it, after all these years of politicians telling us that they are the best possible person to improve out lot, our lot has hardly improved one iota?

Brit said...

Oh I don't know, my lot is a lot better. But I suspect that is despite politics, not because of it.

Gaw said...

I don't agree with your characterisation of politics here and in the US:

- We do live in interesting times, certainly economically (worst downturn since the 30s) and geo-politically (fighting two wars and international Islamist terrorism)

- Todays issues aren't necessarily amenable to ideology or radicalism (though some minorities try) but I struggle to see how they can be conducted outside of politics. Politics is a given and cannot be wished away.

- The gap between the true-believers on both sides in the US is highly ideological and is to be found on as broad a range of issues as ever before

I think Watkins' point - to which I am sympathetic - is that despite the seriousness of the problems we face, the debates we're currently witnessing are trivial, disingenuous and superficial. In addition, too many of the key participants lack a track record of seriousness and judgement. That's why the spectacle is dispiriting.

worm said...

haha! very well said

worm said...

-brit, but Gaw I liked what you said too

Brit said...

I think that what people like Watkins miss, when you boil it down, is Old Labour. This is the great legacy of Blair and Mandelson. Mandy is a surprisingly critical figure in British political history.

The wars and downturn are certainly interesting but they're cross-party - I'm not really talking about that here.

Gaw said...

But Watkins was saying it was the worst election since 1974 - a view you can't accuse of nostalgia.

The downturn is cross-party? In any event, it certainly shouldn't be. In fact, that's part of the problem. We need more political debate - substantive and uncompromising - about how we got here, how we're going to get out and how we're going to avoid getting here again. There's too much tacking around the opponents' position rather than staking out some comprehensive ground and a clear plan. One gets the impression they're all tactics and no strategy.

My general point is that we've got too much of the wrong sort of politics at the moment. I think this is a consequence of Blairism and my fear is that a former PR man, if he wins, isn't going to do much to move us on.

Brit said...

Sure, I'm not boosting the current crop of electioneerers for their triviality, but asking some meta-questions and a couple of meta-meta ones.

Brit said...

That said, I'm not generally in favour of people who want to 'move us on'.

Sean said...

Yup, but small differences at the centre result over time as big differences in outcomes. So I disagree, the devil really is in the detail when it comes to political debate, which gives the politicos plenty of opportunity to hide stuff and be misunderstood.

It is in fact more radical than you think

Gaw said...

I just think the premises of your questions are wrong.

'Moving on' is surely in itself a neutral manouevre? It depends what you're moving on from and to. The Germans 'moved on' from Nazism - generally considered a good thing.

Brit said...

Is it better when politics is dull or interesting?

Gaw said...

The main criterion should be usefulness (sometimes boring, sometimes interesting).

However, putting my stuffed shirt to one side - interesting is obviously preferable. But not necessarily better.

Sean said...

The one truly good thing about Tory Govts. is that they are held to higher account, thus the noise level will be going up if and when.

Comedy is also much much better under the Tories, I promise.

Brit said...

I think the difference between us, Gaw, is that you are an instinctive radical who often finds himself in conservative positions, and I am an instinctive conservative who occasionally dabbles in radicalism.

Gaw said...

Blimey.

Brit said...

Yes I thought you'd like that one.

Willard said...

The optimistic answer would be something about the death of ideology, the battle for the middle ground, the fact that most governing is done by the civil service, or that technology/availability of food/a stable Europe etc. has led to people not feeling the same need to be as impassioned about politics.

The cynical answer would be about our living in a society dominated by the media where the vast majority of people treat politicians as third rate celebrities. I tend to favour this argument.

worm said...

exactly. Politicians are like 3rd rate celebrities on the TV, except uglier and more boring. Lower in the celebrity food chain than even Dean Gaffney.

How to make the public like them? I'm thinking putting them all through an episode of 'Total Wipeout'

Stephen said...

As long as they leave me to my own devices and I end up with more money every year I don't care who gets in.