Friday, May 20, 2016
I know from the blogs I have been following during my purdah that the liberty-minded continue to despair and with good cause. Our government still knows no boundaries to its power and has no hesitation about interfering in the minutiae of our private lives. But there are some good omens, in my view.
Bill Clinton, or rather his spin doctor in the 1990s, pioneered the concept of "triangulation"; taking "your own" voters for granted and talking mainly to those on the other side. It worked well for him and has succeeded elsewhere. Tony Blair acted Labour but talked Tory. So much so that many on the Left hate him more than they hate some Conservatives. David Cameron's every public utterance seems directed, flirtatiously, to Polly Toynbee.
I always felt triangulation was morally wrong but could not work out how it might be opposed. Normal, decent humans glance at political headlines and half listen to sound bites. Who can blame them? Life is both short and full of distractions. Joe and Jane Public buy triangulation even though (or perhaps because) it is so far from the principled approach of "conviction politicians" aka scary bores. In a well-functioning democracy, where the role of government is limited, their trust should not get them into trouble. There is no shortage of geeks and bores who want to take care of the tedious stuff.
For so long as Parliament or Congress consists mainly of wily, unprincipled sneaks seeking to show a half-listening public they "care", however, we are easy prey for rent-seekers, lobbyists and narcissistic celebrity chefs. The politicians and those lobbying them have a freer hand the more triangulation hollows out our political parties. There are decent-sized fishing clubs with a greater membership than the once glorious Conservative Party. When I was born they had three million members but they stopped publishing their numbers in 2014 when they were down to 150,000. The Labour Party became so small that "entryism" returned. The hard Left now have their feet firmly under the party's table.
I think triangulation is beginning to fail precisely because of this "hollowing out." I have two arguments for this. Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump.
The faithful of the Republican Party have been complaining for some time about "Republicans in Name Only" (RINOs) and launching groups like the Tea Party to change its direction. The RINOs blundered on disdainfully, still confident no Tea Party member would ever vote Democrat. Now American conservatives have - as American conservatives will - reached for their gun. And the name on their piece is not Glock, but Trump. The GOP's bemusement as he rolls on regardless of his gaffes shows how they miss the point. Their voters are saying "Talk to us. Listen to us. Stop ignoring us. Or else..." His bizarre rants and the way he attacks people almost randomly; certainly without regard for political correctness or opinion polls shock the RINOs. They are meant to. Their rabbit-in-the-headlights horror is precisely their electorate's goal. If Trump makes it into the Oval Office every conservative leader is going to have to focus on making the GOP turn to face its traditional voters. And if he doesn't, the same. What he means for the rest of us remains to be seen, but he's a win win for Conservative America.
The same logic applies to Corbyn. My Labour voting relatives up North see Blair as a traitor and class enemy. He's no posher than Corbyn of course - and he's a hell of a lot cleverer. He's no less inclined than Corbyn to favour the fleas over the dog - as witness the growth of the public sector payroll and the way its average income passed that of the private sector on his watch. Not to mention all the stealth taxes that raised as much as the whole of income tax on the day New Labour was elected. But they are only reading headlines and hearing soundbites, remember? Blair rubbed them up the wrong way. On purpose. And they don't like it. He paraded John Prescott on a leash as his pet member of the Northern working class - the very people who founded the Labour Party and still believe they own it. But they were not fooled. They believe that Peter "ooh Guacamole!" Mandelson is his true friend. Are they wrong?
Blairites whingeing about Corbyn making the party unelectable miss the point. They don't want an unelectable idiot like Corbyn, but - more than they want an immediate Labour government, they want a leader who doesn't condescend to them. Corbyn is the brand name on the baseball bat they are waving at the LINOs heads. Judging by the snootiness of Pat Glass, Shadow Europe Minister, yesterday they are not taking it seriously yet. Those in the Westminster bubble don't yet realise that calling names doesn't work any more. Like advertising, it is so pervasive that it has faded into the background and can easily be ignored.
The good people of Sawley are more likely to remember Glass couldn't be bothered to check where she was before swearing never to return there than that yet another bubble-dweller called them bigots.
My first reaction to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was to rejoice that they are now unelectable. My second reaction was to realise it takes the pressure off the Conservative Party to stop talking pointlessly to Polly and recover its connection with its voters. My third reaction is to welcome the imminent return of adversarial politics from distinctly different political perspectives. I want to see politicians as opposing barristers pleading their cases to the jury that is us. The British people successfully steered their government for years as if it were a tank. They alternately accelerated or decelerated the left and right tracks. As they were only allowed steering inputs every five years or so, it was clumsy but over time it worked.
To try yet a third metaphor it is time for the boxers in red and blue trunks to return to their corners and pay attention to their coaches. I think it will happen and that's my ground for optimism. Dear readers I have missed your inputs so please let me know where I have erred.