Tag Archives: Liberal Democrats

A defence of ideology

A defence of ideologyOne of the many abuses of the English language in mainstream political parlance is the denigration of ideology.

Defending his government’s cuts to public spending, David Cameron wrote in 2011 that:

This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country’s problems, not by ideology.

More recently, Nick Clegg attacked Michael Gove’s education policies as ideological, reportedly saying:

Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education

In fact, Nick Clegg really appears to have it in for ideology because he attacks it all the time. He said a couple of weeks ago:

I don’t take an ideological approach to public spending.

But it isn’t just our dear leaders trying to avoid the whiff of ideology. You hear it all the time – the Government’s cuts are “ideological” (i.e. bad), the Green Party’s opposition to nuclear is “ideological” (i.e. invalid). Just as Cameron denied the charge, Greens sometimes protest that their opposition to nuclear power isn’t ideological.

Hang on a second, aren’t they all involved in politics?

My concise Oxford English Dictionary defines ideology as:

a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy

Surely David Cameron should be guided by a system of political and economic theories and beliefs when deciding what this country’s problems are, and how to deal with them? Surely Nick Clegg’s opposition to Michael’s Gove’s policies stems in part from his ideology, and one would hope his approach to public spending would follow his liberal ideology and not whatever “commonsense” notion struck him at each meeting?

The Green Party’s opposition to nuclear power is absolutely ideological. A core tenet of the party’s ideology is putting power, be it electrical or economic, into the hands of the people, not corporations. Corporate power tends to be unaccountable, to act in its own interests, to lie and dissemble when it has done something wrong. Nuclear power can only be run either by the state or corporations, and is largely run by the latter. Another core tenet, coming from our ecological roots, is valuing diversity and resilience. Staking a very large share of our energy future on one technology supplied by a couple of companies in a dozen or so plants that need fuel from a handful of countries doesn’t seem to fit the bill. The party aims for peace and nuclear disarmament, so any move by the UK government that would put more potential weapon material into the world, and that would legitimate nuclear weapons programmes in countries like Iran, should be opposed. So the Green Party prefers a diverse mix of renewable energy technologies that can be owned by individuals, community-led companies, councils, small enterprises and, yes, big companies who build massive offshore wind farms.

To my mind, it is our ideological objections to nuclear power that are our strongest arguments. I’ve never been able to get my head around the comparative costs, and I’ve never wanted to cobble together information about safety that I don’t understand. But I don’t trust nuclear PLC as far as I can throw them, and if we can do without nuclear then I’m ideologically opposed to it.

The most infuriating example of this ideology denial is the claim that “it’s just about supply and demand”. I see this all the time on Twitter and on blogs, whenever anybody has the cheek to write something more sophisticated than an A-level economics essay.

supplyanddemand

Apart from the fact that this is extremely simplistic economics, it is also very often used in an ideological fashion. For example, you see people saying that council housing is pointless because it is just trying to buck the market, and at the end of the day the housing problem just comes down to supply and demand. People making this argument will often claim that anyone who disagrees is both “economically illiterate” and “ideological”, as though an economic theory based on the logic of a free market that has no place for public housing isn’t ideological. A variant is that the planning system must be dismantled because it gets in the way of supply and so makes house prices high, as though there is no value to the planning system and no objective for housing policy besides affordable prices on the open market.

Of course, ideology can prevent people from finding shared ground. Many blame inflexible ideology for the state of affairs in American politics, illustrated by this neat cartoon:

ideology-is-the-source-of-political-gridlock-58326

But this is a defect of the political process and the entrenched positions of politicians who depend upon their extreme wings to win primary selection. It isn’t the fault of ideology per se.

Let’s not shy away from ideology, please. Let’s not pretend we are all pragmatists arguing over the best way to manage a one-party state. Let’s talk about our values, our beliefs, the theories that guide our decisions.

Addendum

This topic came up today in a conversation with a friend, Tom Hill. He suggested that “ideological” is often used to mean that somebody is ignoring, misrepresenting or lying about evidence to protect their own ideological position, as those who are pro or anti-nuclear are known to do from time to time! The same can be true of the reverse; somebody can try to pretend they are simply acting on evidence in order to cover their ideology, as Nick Clegg and David Cameron clearly seem to be doing in the above examples.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Selecting a good politician

It’s selection time for the Green Party. In London we are voting not only on our list for the House of Lords (in case we get offered another seat there), but also for the London Assembly and Mayor. Since I work at the Assembly and I’ll be writing the manifesto for whichever people are chosen, I don’t want to endorse anyone here. But I do want to share a a few thoughts on what I’m looking for in a politician.

The most important thing for Greens to consider is that we will most likely only get one, two or three London Assembly members out of 25. There’s no room for colourful characters with narrow interests, bad tempers or a tendency for self indulgence. They need to be good communicators, both practical and radical, collegiate and┬ádisciplined.

We need to pick people who can get complicated and often innovative messages across to the mainstream media, to other politicians, to the public. It’s no use being Mr or Mrs Brains if you baffle people when you talk to them, or bore journalists with predictable soundbites. Politicians have staff to help with policy research and messaging, but nobody between them and their audience.

We rely on our Members to put across a good, rounded image of our party. Whatever your particular politics, will your choices show that the Green Party is both practical and radical, that we are able to achieve significant changes to Mayoral policy at the same time as advocating a radically different vision of London? Radical idealists might spend four wasted years making good speeches; practical realists might forget the reason they’re Green while working for minor concessions.

Our two/three members have, in the past, won a great many gains for London by working with other political parties and at times with the Mayor. The comparatively collegiate culture of the Assembly is one of the joys of working there. People who enjoy tribal politics, who thrive on factions and who find it difficult to work with others – especially if they’re those hated Lib Dems or “sell out” New Labourites, won’t get very far in the Assembly.

To focus on these basic political skills takes the final quality: discipline. Watching Caroline Lucas over the past few years, it’s been remarkable to see how hard she works to find realistic radical ideas, get them across to the public and the media in a compelling way, and work with NGOs, politicians across the political spectrum and anyone else willing to help her achieve our goals. To compare her to someone like George Galloway, who is an excellent speaker and fires a lot of people up, is to compare an effective small party politician to a character that can only be tolerated in a large party.

Of course this portrait of an effective small party politician reflects my politics; you may think we’re in this game for an entirely different reason. If you think there’s no progress without revolution or the Mayoralty, these reasons may not sway you.

It’s well worth actually watching the webcasts of a few Assembly meetings, perusing some committee reports and reading some press releases to get an idea of the work they do.

If you like the look of that work and can see its value, you might ask yourself: would this candidate be able to work cross-party on affordable housing funding and river deculverting, gain media coverage on these issues, and win some real gains for London?

Tagged , , , , , ,

Why I could never vote for the Pirates

I’ve a lot of respect for anyone who steps up to run for election with a manifesto that, they genuinely hope, will improve the lot of their constituents. But aside from my obvious partisan reasons, I don’t think I could ever vote for a Pirate Party candidate in these forthcoming national and local elections.

I suspect I’m like the majority of people in that I really get put off by politicians saying “don’t vote for Party X or you’ll let Party Y in”, as though they’ve nothing more compelling to offer voters than “we’re not that lot”. Ultimately I would always want people to vote for the party they most support, give or take some tactical voting if they prefer. So if the Pirates are your bag then get involved with them.

But the Pirates are an unashamed single issue party. Their manifesto lays out a radical agenda for copyright, patents and online privacy. That’s an interesting proposition for an MEP who can take that militant approach in a very large Parliament. But MPs and councillors are constituency politicians, they need to represent and support people on every issue on the books with an open statement of their approach. If I were to vote for a Pirate, I’d want to know that they are concerned about the need for affordable homes, better partnership working to improve my town centre and urgent action on climate change. Even if I weren’t a committed Green, I’d want a local Pirate candidate to set her/his personal stall on those issues before they got my vote.

We Greens also have some good policy on these subjects, tying them into our wider approach to the economy, culture and government. When their grassroots and youth wing mobilise, the Lib Dems sometimes take these issues up, the Conservatives sometimes talk the talk and the split personality Labour government have made some good recent moves. I’d much rather vote for a candidate from a rounded party who also took the Pirates’ concerns seriously in these elections.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A campsite of smaller tents

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like mainstream journalists and celebs are starting to talk about the Greens in a totally unprecedented way. With a few exceptions we’re seen as credible, with good policies and a great leader. Notwithstanding the occasional backlash, we’re definitely on the way to establishing ourselves as the fourth “main party”. Just the increased number of nods to the Green Party shows that – in our largely first past the post scene – fewer people think Labour will always be the only viable progressive force in British politics.

Caroline evoked a lovely analogy at the recent Compass conference to sum up the change in mood: we no longer need New Labour’s big tent to bring all progressives together. From now on, we should have a campsite of many small tents, cooperating to progress environmental and social justice, and competing where we disagree.

Maybe 2010 will be the year that the Lib Dems stop shamelessly lieing to undermine Labour and Green votes, and that Labour supporters – especially in publications like The Guardian and the New Statesman – relax their tribal obsession with The Labour Party?

Tagged , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers