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LQD - Wanted : A politician to challenge the concensus

by Helen Tue Sep 9th, 2008 at 02:47:37 PM EST

Two opinion pieces which, taken together, hint at the problems that British politics faces in the next decade in order to adapt to the new conditions.

First, Jackie Ashley diagnoses the problems with the apparatchiks clogging the systme currently.
Guardian - Jackie Ashley - Until parties find real voices, the mavericks will flourish

Voters are tiring of the anodyne careerists who rule us now. Politicians choosing leaders should ditch the safe option

(Who are these voices dominating the airwaves ?.....)The answer is that none of them seem to be ordinary politicians. They have stories to tell that are slightly unexpected, fresher than the stale air of business-as-usual in Washington or London. They are "mavericks" without being wild - well, except for Palin - and when they speak, they sound like themselves, not like somebody else. They've forced their way into our living rooms because they are characters.

Contrast them with the shadow cabinet, and the real one. We are now ruled by a cadre of dark-suited, mainly male, politicians who rose through the ranks of Conservative Central Office, the Labour party research department, a few London-based thinktanks and PR firms, and innumerable roles as special advisers in Westminster, the last of these being basically work experience for budding politicians. If you find someone who worked briefly as a teacher, in the media or the law, you can now count yourself lucky.
For most of those who inhabit the Westminster village, politics was an early career choice, and that in itself may have been a bad decision. They grew up thinking The West Wing was populist TV and that a glossy magazine meant the Spectator or New Statesman. They were pimpled politicians at university and moved quickly to London. They went to drink warm white wine at political lectures, seminars and conferences, wrote speeches for older politicians, then dug up facts for them, then dug up policies, found a seat and rose without bubbles or much kicking.

Hemmed in by the limits defined for them in opinion polls and focus groups, their language is a relentless rehashing of phrases and metaphors.[....] Sometimes I close my eyes and it swirls around in a blur, like faded towels in the washing machine. They talk about voters and constituents, but they never, ever sound like them.
What is needed is the arrival in the Commons of people who have not learned professional politics, have never served as advisers and have no idea what Populus means. Local parties need to start taking risks - I'm not talking about quotas but about sparky individuals, with the odd skeleton, the occasional surprising view. The media has to celebrate different voices and faces where they appear, and not pick on every unexpected remark as a "gaffe". For all that the mainstream media seized on Alastair Darling's pessimistic assessment of the economy as a stupendous own goal, the general public seem to like the fact he "told the truth".
The government is in a deep hole, but politics is in a worse one. A democracy is meant to be about the voices of the people - who may be raucous or rude but are preferable to a closed, monkish order of nodding heads. When a party picks its next candidate, or a leader looks for someone to promote, they should remember a new rule: the safe option has become the dangerous one.

Why is this particularly necessary now ? An answer from the Independent

Independent - Steve Richards - The rules have changed. But have our politicians noticed?

From a political perspective, we are living through the mirror image of the 1970s. Then leaders from both main parties were trapped by the assumptions that had shaped their political upbringings. They could not change, even though they could see what was happening in front of their eyes. For noble reasons, Tory and Labour British politicians brought up in the recession of the 1930s would not tolerate the idea of even short-term high unemployment. They intervened to prevent job losses soaring even though their interventions brought about bigger problems. When the pivotal industries of that era looked as if they were going to go bust, they moved to save them. The corporatist consensus endured well beyond its natural life.


Now politicians are trapped by the assumptions they formed in the 1980s when Thatcherism was rampant.[....] So far, Mr Cameron's brilliant insight as a leader is to recognise that far from being a threat, Tony Blair vindicated much that his party believes in. With a single leap, he freed the Conservatives from the introspective nightmares of the previous decade and threw Labour into disarray. In particular, Mr Cameron did not make the fatal mistake of his predecessors, projecting Mr Blair as a reckless leftie and moving well to the right of him.

The astute move has enabled the Conservatives to come to terms with what has happened since 1997, a significant move forward. But the important re-positioning does not make them prepared in any way for the new challenges intimidating governments around the world and causing even ardent republican right wingers to act in ways they would never have dreamt of doing not so long ago. The politics of the Blair era pre-dates the market failures of the credit crunch.

In Britain the next election will be the last to be fought on the politics of the mid 1990s, in which there will be an outdated consensus on the primacy of markets and the need for government to keep out of the way. Similarly, in 1974, the two elections of that year focussed on arguments over who could intervene more successfully as if the failed interventions of the previous Tory government did not raise questions about whether this was the appropriate response. The elections of that year did not address a changing world. The one here conducted by politicians trapped by their own pasts will probably be the same.


... the long-term future belongs to the politician and party that come to terms with the ending of one global era and the beginning of another, one in which a new relationship will be required between governments and markets, subtler than the flawed models from either the 1970s or the 1980s.

Who realises how big the change is and has the vision to address it? Whoever that person happens to be will dominate British politics as Clement Attlee did in 1945 and Margaret Thatcher managed to do after 1979.

And it will require one of those mavericks, whom Ms Ashley has pointed out, are now rarely elected to Parliament to do it. Certainly there isn't a single member of Parliament I am aware of who will challenge the current Chicago disease concensus, and until there is, I cannot see useful change occuring

I have to sort of question the analysis of Steve Richards because it seems that other countries in Europe didn't undergo the Thatcherite experiment in total ditching of intervention. And have managed to some degree ok with continued intervention.

As a further aside, an alternative issue of the Thatcherite cancer is not just the neo-lib economics consensus, but the total destruction of local/regional government. [Which ironically some in the Tory party do seem to finally realise needs, maybe, addressing.]

But overall, it's hard to disagree about the total professionalisation of British politics. And they are all lawyers too. Or a new breed of utterly innumerate poli-sci types. (This scares me, as you didn't used to be able to be a poli-sci type and quite so innumerate.)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Sep 11th, 2008 at 05:36:47 PM EST
You're welcome to take Sarah Palin off of our hands here in America. I'm sure we'll even throw in McCain too.
by Magnifico on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 12:43:13 PM EST
I want a bigger DICK!  What's the chance I'll get it?  Same as you getting your politician.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 01:14:06 PM EST
Just being pedantic, but isn't it "Consensus" in the title?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 01:16:19 PM EST
But whose consensus?  Those who hold the power are an elite minority and it is their consensus.  Or status quo if you prefer, but the dominant and damaging way of thinking needs challenging.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 02:14:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oops, the pedantry was over spelling! Well anyway...
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 02:14:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Troo. But cuddent agrea moor.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 03:12:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
gud eyem glad.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 03:21:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Sep 16th, 2008 at 03:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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