UK Election 2010
A blog following the UK general election 2010, as part of the Institute of Ideas election intervention, 21 Pledges for Progress.
It is one thing to point out that individuals acting on their own cannot realistically hope to triumph over deeper social realities, quite another to suggest that the desire to do so is immoral or antisocial. Solidarity ought to mean shared aspirations for a better society, not mutual self-sacrifice in a zero sum game. Affirming individual aspirations and asking how they might be met collectively would cut against many assumptions and prejudices that are deeply entrenched in contemporary British politics.
This is a cynical and expedient attempt to discredit ideologically driven politics and politicians, by accusing them of acting in their own narrow self interest, as though believing passionately in certain values and ideas is backward and reactionary, and has no place in political discourse.
It is striking and informative that there has been such concern over just how many scientists there are in Parliament. There has been precisely zero concern as to how many MPs have backgrounds in Fine Art or English or even, and perhaps more to the point, how many economists there are, let alone people who have much, if any, experience of the real world outside the Westminster Village full stop.
The public’s role in the administration of justice is simply not an issue at this election. However, it is important to recognise that the absence of discussion around the jury trial is only indicative of a wider gap in political discourse. It is not only the jury trial that is being ignored at this election: it is freedom itself.
The task of reforming the welfare state should not be treated as an accounting exercise, but an opportunity to reassess what the state is for. For instance, ‘welfare’ in its narrowest sense is widely understood to be failing. While we need a benefits system that helps people to live their lives as independently as possible, we don’t one that imposes conditions on people claiming benefits, blames them for their predicament and society’s problems, or fails to provide them with the jobs they need.
What is important is to foreground the public aspect of arts institutions, to think about what is good for the wider society. It is this that has real potential to go beyond the empty form of many political ideas and realities and fill things out with real content. And even, to maybe break free of the stifling managerialism that tempers most political discussion and social realities elsewhere.
There is something charade-like about the whole business of talking tough on immigration. The ‘debate’ is fundamentally dishonest. The fact is that when politicians discuss immigration, they are not engaging in a political debate, but trying to pre-empt debate.
The phenomenon of the BNP is not due to people suddenly becoming racists, but more to do with the human need to understand the world around us, to get answers about why things are the way they are. Some communities feel that they are separate from wider society, they do not know where they fit, everything that used to give their lives meaning has been broken down, they have no hope, and they need an explanation for this, somebody to blame.
Whilst the old division between left and right implicitly validated a difference of opinion and allowed for conflict, evidence-based policy removes this equality of opinion.
I am nervous about this focus on residents’ alleged ‘world view’. It is a thinly veiled reference to the notion that the white working class think differently to everyone else because – damn it – they keep voting the wrong way.
In advocating reform of the libel laws rather than their repeal, all the speakers at the free speech hustings missed an opportunity to stand up for free speech. At best, they are vainly seeking to ‘democratise’ censorship, so that libel laws are not so transparently stacked in favour of powerful interests.
Whilst the oldies moan that us young’uns don’t do politics anymore, I find myself moaning that the only thing on offer for those who at least want to try is patronising congratulations for ‘having a go’. If events like ‘Counted?’ continue to pass for youthful politics, that subaltern voice will stay subaltern, turned off and uninspired; As was displayed in their performances, their contributions will remain atomised and self-involved.
Last night’s debate was excruciatingly boring, and surely impossible to watch in good faith as a simple voter wondering which party to vote for. We all become commentators if only for our own entertainment, and we should not make the mistake of thinking there is a ‘real’ public out there made up of less sophisticated souls hanging on the party leaders’ every word.
The political imperative to use schools to make society look fairer without doing anything to change real social inequality is turning education into an Orwellian nightmare for pupils, teachers and parents.