Wednesday, 21 May 2014

We need change but won't get it with a protest vote

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In today's Daily Telegraph, Alistair Heath explores some of the reasons for the dissatisfaction being expressed by Europe's voters. Building on a recently published book - The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (which I haven't read so can't really comment) - Heath argues that government is overmighty, that it does too much and much of this badly, and that this stands as a barrier to economic progress. I broadly agree with Heath's analysis but am struck by the fact that the logical place for these ideas to be translated into action - centre-right political parties - are as much of a barrier as the 'progressive' parties of the centre-left.

Across Europe an odd collection of political parties will take advantage of this failure by the centre-right parties. They'll range from the studiously considered anti-Euro, Alternative für Deutschland through the slightly manic MoVimento Cinque Stelle of Italian comedian, Beppe Grillo to varying degrees of nationalist parties ending with the openly Nazi, Golden Dawn in Greece. Plus of course, our dear friends in Ukip. These are the parties of dystopia.

All of these parties adopt - as do one or two left-wing parties in Spain and Greece - a 'plague on all your houses' positioning. The endless repetition of 'LibLabCon' by Ukip supporters is intended to capture the essential sameness of centrist parties. And nowhere is this sameness most starkly displayed than in the European Parliament where the policies, outlook and programmes of the two big blocs - the EPP and Socialists - are almost impossible to untangle.

The problem is that these insurgent political parties simply do not offer any coherent vision of a better government. By way of parallel, here's a quote from Neal Stephenson, the SF writer on how dystopian fiction is cheaper:



...it is much easier and cheaper to take the existing visual environment and degrade it than it is to create a new vision of the future from whole cloth. That’s why New York keeps getting destroyed in movies: it’s relatively easy to take an iconic structure like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty and knock it over than it is to design a future environment from scratch.


What these parties do is paint the worst picture possible - a world of unwashed foreigners arriving to take our jobs, of corrupt officials and venal businessmen. If some truth exists in these pictures (and it does) then that acts to substantiate the argument - that the 'established' parties and 'mainstream' media are culpable. The problem is that, while the need to destroy is clear in these insurgent parties' agendas, what comes after isn't. There'll be grand, sweeping statements about 'getting our country back' or 'protecting jobs' but there is no coherent programme for government. And certainly no indication that the 'fourth revolution' described by Heath will be set in train by putting these parties into parliament, let alone government.

The task for centre-right parties is to understand that they must stop being 'conservative' and start being 'radical' - there's a few people in the UK's Conservative Party who recognise this but they are stifled by the majority who opt for a safe,'lowest-common-denominator' approach. And the centre-left cannot get all smug here - it offers nothing new or different, Green politics aside. There are little glimmers of a future post-fourth revolution world - the idea of localism, 'Big Society', free schools and digital government. But these haven't yet described what has to change in the wider economy or started to challenge a welfare system designed for a very different world.

Until this vision is articulated better we will be at risk of two things - voters protesting by electing the parties of dystopia and government (and millions of government employees) putting its interests before those of the people it serves. And unless the vision is articulated and right-wing politicians are brave enough to promote its positive message, we will remain trapped in a world of big government run badly and in the interests of government not the people.

We will vent our anger at the beast by voting in protest - just as many will do tomorrow across Europe. But it will change nothing. Oh, there'll be some tweaks to policies but the main message will be business as usual. Worse still the odder opinions of the parties of dystopia will make it easy to dismiss them as nutters, racists and opportunists - the process of change will be associated with the mad or the bad and the change won't happen. In a strange way, allowing people to vent their rage by electing Ukip MEPs - members of a parliament with no powers and no sovereignty - rather suits those who want to protect big, badly run government. It doesn't affect what actually happens at all but gives people the grand illusion that they've stuck it to the man!

....

it is much easier and cheaper to take the existing visual environment and degrade it than it is to create a new vision of the future from whole cloth. That’s why New York keeps getting destroyed in movies: it’s relatively easy to take an iconic structure like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty and knock it over than it is to design a future environment from scratch. - See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/05/dystopian-science-fiction-is-cheaper.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+marginalrevolution%2Ffeed+%28Marginal+Revolution%29#sthash.VKRMKfJN.dpuf
it is much easier and cheaper to take the existing visual environment and degrade it than it is to create a new vision of the future from whole cloth. That’s why New York keeps getting destroyed in movies: it’s relatively easy to take an iconic structure like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty and knock it over than it is to design a future environment from scratch. - See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/05/dystopian-science-fiction-is-cheaper.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+marginalrevolution%2Ffeed+%28Marginal+Revolution%29#sthash.VKRMKfJN.dpuf

4 comments:

JD said...

We need change but we won't get it Full stop.

Mick Anderson said...

"We need change but won't get it with a protest vote"

That leaves three alternatives - vote for one of the "established" parties, decline to vote, or hope that a really good local independent candidate appears.

The first is always claimed to be validation of the status quo, and I don't think much of that. The Euro elections insist on you voting for a party, and I don't support the (remarkably similar) European policies of the "big three". Not voting implies I don't care (not true) and leaves the impression that all is rosy in the garden. We don't have local elections here this time, so there is no independent candidate to vote for.

You are hoping that we will vote for the Conservatives on the basis that they are not quite as bad as the other two, and are making vague promises of improvement. The last four years show that just waiting for the Party to bring its actions more into line with the promises (and my views) is a waste of time.

So, although I would love to be able to vote in favour for a person or Party that is offering change on the basis that it will be delivered, that's not realistic.

Looks like I'm going with the protest vote. Sorry.

Bucko The Moose said...

I love this idea of the 'protest vote'. The suggestion that we want to vote for one of the big three but they are not quite right. We will vote for a minor in protest, until one of the big three makes the change we require. Then we will be able to vote correctly.

I don't vote UKIP in protest, I vote for them because they are the only party that I would want in power (on the understanding that we must have someone in power).

It's not a protest to want the government to stop pissing my money away on guff. Nor is it a protest to want to smoke in a pub, have a few pints or eat a MacDonalds. It's no protest that I don't want to be nannied and bullied through life 'for my own good' and it's not a protest that I don't want to keep asking the state for permission for every bleeding thing I want to do.

It's a desire, a want.

If I must be ruled by someone, I want it to be UKIP.

Kilgore Trout said...

Hi,

New to the site. Looks interesting. What a joy to see a Conservative Councillor quoting Neal Stephenson!

Unlike in a science fiction novel, however, we do not need to create policies out of whole cloth. Though the language and attitudes change, questions about good governance have been around since time immemorial.

Thomas Jefferson (or possibly George Washington) said, "The government that governs best, governs least". For those of us on the centre-right, I see no need to make our "vision" any more complicated.

What the Tory party should be (and, with its intellectual vacuity and acceptance of the New Labour multiculutural police state, it certainly is not) is essentially the party of freedom.

The English constitution (I love the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, but let's not beat about the bush...), that Blair did so much to dismantle was just about the most remarkable charter for freedom ever devised.

Tony Benn (that noted conservative thinker!... I know...) explained Parliamentary sovereignty as control of the purse (tax and spending policy) and the sword (military and foreign policy), underpinned by the Common Law contract that William III signed, on behlaf of the Crown, with the peoples of these islands, which affirms that "no Parliament may bind its successor".

Limited government, sound money, freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion. Open markets, scientific and technological optimism (not to the point of believing the latest advertising bumf from Silicon Valley, but you know what I mean...) Rooted in an ancient tradition, customs and a culture that supports and promotes tolerance and restraint, but that will not hesitate to defend its values when they are threatened.

I doubt that meets the definition of "vision" you are describing; it is just the kind of thin that most liberals/conservatives I know are inclined to throw together when conversation turns to politics. But maybe there are few morsels there.

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."