Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Peace, Retrenchment, Reform

Much discussion in the blogosphere about political identities. In particular much discussion about party political identities. In a world where politicians become followers of opinion, rather than opinion formers, it becomes inevitable that there is much pressure to conform and thus create identikit policies. The problem with this Uberpragmatism is that it effectively undermines ideological coherence. As for the origins of this huge social change- we can point to the increasingly individual way that people are choosing to live their lives. The group ethos of the industrial society has been undermined by our increasing ability to use technology to create tailored solutions for individual choices. As we create ever greater choice in television, diet or leisure, then we should expect to see ever greater individuality in politics too. Certainly the first casualty of the end of the industrial society was the intellectual death of Socialism. The fall of the Soviet system- that non plus ultra of group society- reminded us that "class" could no longer be used as a meaningful signifier. Fukayama's "End of History", could equally have been titled: "The end of Class struggle".

So in hindsight we can look back at the1970s, which seemed to prefigure the triumph of Communism- with the Soviets gaining in South East Asia Africa and the Middle east- as the point where the Soviet system reached Paul Kennedy's "imperial overstretch". The West, faced with the economic meltdown of the twin oil shocks, was forced to reinvent itself- smaller companies, more rapid product cycles and above all, a more individual response to customers. Thus, the emergence of a post industrial "service sector". As information technology has evolved, the ability to process information about customers has grown exponentially. The result has been that political parties in common with the rest of society, knowing far more about their potential supporters, are trying to offer tailored solutions.

It won't work though. It looks false, because it is false.

The increasing individuality of personal choices makes politics far more complicated, yet political leaders have been afraid to engage in debate on key issues, because there are few clear messages that can be given. The mass ideologies at least had the advantage of clarity.

Yet I remain an ideologue. Liberalism is not a universal ideology as Socialism was.Neither is Liberalism a prescriptive ideology, as Conservatism remains- and yes, Social Conservatives do believe in quite strong limits to freedoms. In particular Liberalism recognizes the limits to the freedom of action of political leaders- these are both practical, because the state is now too complicated to master, and moral, since it is to be desired that personal freedom should not be abridged.

As a result, it proposes to reduce the activity of the state to a manageable level. This was what the nineteenth century Liberal Party used to call "Retrenchment". The 2005 manifesto of the Liberal Democrats contained more proposals to abolish laws and regulations than any other political party. Now we propose to restrict the state by reducing its call upon taxation. We continue to be socially Liberal: No ID cards and reducing discrimination against groups. We continue to believe that War was the worst option in Iraq. We remain political Liberals: changing the structure of administration and government to bring greater accountability. This is what the Liberals used to call "Reform".

Peace, Retrenchment, Reform- and always with the rights of individuals at the heart of our ideas. These key principles are what make modern Liberalism such a potent force. I believe that they will only grow, as the directionless Conservatives and the intellectually pointless Labour party fails to understand the nature of our post modern society.

As I write this from the post-Soviet City of Tallinn, I feel more confident than ever that the ideas of Liberalism have much practical validity- as I have said before, Estonia is the poster child of a modern Liberal Society. Liberalism Works .

Uberpragmatism has already failed under Blair- and would fail under Cameron.

1 comment:

Bernie Hughes said...

It's refreshing to see an openly ideological approach to politics, and one where a sense of pride in liberalism shines through. The analysis is sound too. But I'd suggest that we have to find a way to say the same thing in simpler words!