…and in the UK at the moment, 3 weeks is practically a lifetime. 3 weeks ago I had a bit of a rant at the Labour and Tory parties, but concluded with what I hoped wasn’t naive optimism.
I hope there is a genuine three-way split on May 6th. (Naively?) I hope this forces the main parties into constructive debate and discussion to represent more of the views and desires of the British population. I hope it breaks the complacency and arrogance of the Conservative and Labour Parties to create a more inclusive, less adversarial politics. I hope…
In fact, if you haven’t read that post, it may well be worth going there first, just to see how far things have moved on.
The last month in British politics has engaged me more than the past 5-10 years. Colleagues and friends have been openly and spontaneously, positively chatting about important issues and sharing personal opinions like never before. The TV debates were the catalyst for this, but then so was the chance of real change.
One of the first lectures of my degree (over 20 years ago, sigh) was about trying to define politics. Derived from the Greek polis, meaning a (city) state or body of citizens, a common definition of politics is…
…a process by which groups of people make collective decisions (so says Wikipedia)
To my mind this suggests that decisions are made through discussion and debate, through collaboration and potentially through compromise, so that the will of the entire polis is reflected or at the very least acknowledged.
For my whole lifetime this has not been true of UK politics. Our adversarial, first-past-the-post system does not promote debates where views or policies are modified, but instead a series of monologues where opposing parties simply yell at each other, declaring their own ‘rightness’ and decrying the others’ foolishness. It’s like children playing football, bickering over who gets to be captain. Except it’s bickering over how to run the country. But the party leader with the most friends (MPs) always wins. So when the others (after 5 years or so) finally get a chance, they unsurprisingly overturn half of what has been done before.
While I was studying for my degree, The Mary Whitehouse Experience was a comedy show. One of the most famous of their recurring sketches was History Today, in which two stuffy professors start to discuss weighty matters, before descending into playground banter and name-calling.
And this is what politics has been like, for as long as I can remember. If my children behaved like our politicians, they would sit on the naughty step. If it happened in a classroom, the culprits would be sent out; it’s unacceptable. My marketing clients expect their agencies (who all have their own agendas) to work together to a common goal, sometimes setting aside their own concerns. From an early age we (rightly, IMHO) teach children the benefits of collaboration and cooperation, the qualities of listening and empathy. Yet none of these seem to have been valued in British politics…
…until this week. The right-wing Conservative party won the most votes and seats at the election, but not enough to command a majority. They might not be able to be captain all of the time. So they have formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, in my mind the most progressive and left-leaning of the main UK parties. Right now, barely a couple of days in, they seem extremely serious about this. Never mind that many of their respective party supporters are poles apart on issues like climate change or taxation, the leaders have grabbed the chance to make a difference.
In fact, their early speeches and press conferences feel like they have their long-term Legacy in mind. If they can make this work, they will truly be remembered in UK political history, far more than Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. Necessity may well be the mother of invention here, but it feels to me like they are going for it.
Don’t get me wrong, every time I see Michael Gove or George Osborne, my skin crawls a little bit and I shudder.
Gove makes Peter Mandelson look like a kitten. I can only hope he fails his CRB check as Schools Minister on the grounds that he would scare the children. Osborne looks and behaves like a vampire, like he truly despises mortals. He was barely present during the entire election campaign, I can only assume because he doesn’t look good in daylight.
On the other hand, the agreement between the coalition parties is an impressive piece of work, truly a mature and grown-up piece of thinking. I truly hope they can make it work. There have been countless old-guard politicos and journalists all over the media in the last 48 hours behaving as though this is a terrible thing, as though it’s such a leap of faith that mere voters will explode before they can wrap their simple heads around it.
But in fact, it’s a truly simple concept. In order to make things work, to make things better, sometimes it’s best to work together. That might mean you can’t always do everything you want. I get it. My daughters get it. My friends and colleagues get it. But it still appears that many of the dinosaurs in British politics don’t.
I hope it works. I hope Cameron and Clegg lay down the law to their ministers, officials and parties to make it work. It needs to work, to deliver the British economy out of recession without Thatcherite levels of social division. If it does work, it will transform British politics, in a very good way, to be more inclusive, more mature, more collaborative.