Monday, July 31, 2006

Political Skills

Watching "Yo Blair" speaking from Murdoch's jam feast did make me slightly nauseous.

Why should an Australian naturalized American presume to dictate to British politicians?

Murdoch only has power is as much as British politicians let him have such power. However, for their own reasons, British politicians have been prepared to make deals with the devil. Personally, it underlines one of the major problems of the party political system in this country. All parties, but especially Labour and the Conservatives, are coalitions of different groups. Labour, as a broad church, has encompassed Christian Democrats (e.g. Frank Field), Social Democrats (e.g. Robin Cook), traditional socialists (Tony Benn) and sometimes Communists (e.g. Scargill). The Conservatives have included Political Liberals (Malcolm Rifkind), Christian Democrats (Chris Patten), Economic Liberals (Michael Gove), Traditional Conservatives (Patrick Cormack), and Le Pen-style nationalists (Norman Tebbit) too. In other words political parties exist as uneasy coalitions. The leaderships of both parties resist establishing ideological positions for their parties, since they know that this will create internal dissent. This is why policies are usually thin on the ground- political parties exist as pragmatic compromises in order to achieve power. The result is that they are highly susceptible to pressure from lobbyists- including Murdoch.

The Liberal Democrats are also a compromise but less of one and not necessarily between Liberals and Social Democrats- many members of the SDP were liberal, whiles several old liberals were more like Christian socialists. However, over the course of the past few years the internal debate in our party has become much clearer and more ideological.

Our opponents argue that our more ideological stance is the result of not having taken national power in recent decades. However, with many of our activists and senior members, this is no longer true- and participation in the Scottish Executive and cabinet level in major local authorities has often led to greater ideological sharpness rather than a relapse to pragmatism. This has helped the party enact policies based upon its core principles- especially in the field of green issues, where councils led by the Lib Dems have created innovative and effective solutions.

To a certain extent it is fair to say that the Liberal Democrats tend to have greater ideological clarity, because joining the party was a statement of approval of its ideas, rather than a determination to seek power. However, as the party has advanced in support, we have managed to retain our ideological clarity- and as such debates as the Orange Book have shown, if anything, the debate is getting more focused. This makes us more resistant to lobbying pressure- we have sacrificed much on the way and usually been ridiculed by our political opponents, so it does not make sense to compromise so near to our goals.

Hearing Kenneth Clarke the other day describing his early legal career reminded my that we probably have too many lawyers in politics: he said that he could not remember the details of any of the arguments of his early cases. He had faught them passionately, tailoring his arguments to the body of law, but that after the case was over, it was like cramming for an exam, and he let the knowledge go. This, of course is how many lawyers run their politics too- passing legislation, but then forgetting the body of the case. This is part of the side effect of the pragmatism that is a necessary feature of leading a political party in this country. Ironically enough, the one time that Ken Clarke established a political principle- that we should engage more with Europe- it was so unpopular within his own party, that it cost him his leadership ambitions.

There is a different , and to my mind more honest way to conduct British politics. The electorate can make an open choice between candidates, including candidates of the same party.- this will make far more obvious the pragmatic nature of the party collations, but it will sharpen the role of ideas- and therefore make British politics more resistant to the lobbying of third parties, like Rupert Murdoch.

I hope never again to see a serving Prime Minister, a public servant paid out of my taxes, groveling to Murdoch and his minions.


RK said...

That’s an interesting idea – voting for candidates from the same party – but I can see resistance from the parties. Intentionally splitting your vote would be dangerous. Parties would tend to only put up the same number of candidates as there were seats on offer and the long term effect you’re looking for would be gone.

I also tend to think that the closer the LibDems get to Westminster majority the more pragmatic they will need to be to make that final step. We probably agree that that is a compromise they will not make but I think that means they’re destined to remain the third party of British politics.

On the Murdoch front, one source of optimism is the growth and power of the internet and in particular the Blogs. OK sweeping statement time but It is a sad state of affairs but an awful lot of the electorate are spectacularly uniformed and rely on the established media to “help” them form their opinions. That means that that media has a big influence over how people vote. Over time the influence of newspapers and TV will be slowly eroded by the internet. It’ll take a long time and may not work out that way but there is hope.

Cicero said...

Certainly hope that you are right about the blogosphere. The interesting thing about the Lib dems is that I think that they probabaly are more ideological than other parties, and I think the electorate are seeking clearer, more principled politics- certainly hope so too.