Sunday, 17 April 2011

Politics - a comment

Politics is a strange thing really. On one level it simply describes the systems which we use to resolve dispute - ranging from: "see this here club, mate" to occult discussions of differing systems of counting votes. But we don't characterise politics in such a manner, in so dry and academic a way - for, as Finer observed, politics is  ubiquitous:

What distinguishes political from economic and other types of social activity is the originating predicament.

By which he means that there is a need for a 'policy' ("where shall we go on holiday this year") and the proposing of mutually exclusive solutions ("Spain - we need sunshine and a rest" versus "Edinburgh for some culture and maybe a drive into the Highlands"). This disagreement - dispute if you must - requires resolution and that is what we term politics.

This purpose of politics - the resolving of dispute - is understood in the creation of governance institutions. We create voting systems, assemblies of representatives, administrators and media so as to conduct politics - indeed governance could be described as the stage on which politics is conducted.

Now, assuming that we don't wish our politics to be conducted on the basis of main force ("do what I want or else I'll hit you"), we have to recognise that compromise is needed. Just as the resolution to the holiday question will involve compromise - or at least the consideration of compromise - the creation of policies within the world of national politics must also involve compromise.

For some this is a problem - one of the reasons for the endless fissuring and fragmenting of left-wing parties is the ideological obsessions the prevent compromise. It is fair to say that these parties tend towards a membership of one! Moreover, these organisations are also subject to capture by obsessives, narcissists and fantasists.

A second requirement is that the political organisation recognises that - under our system - being absolutely sure of one's rightness isn't sufficient. Politics requires the persuading of others - many of whom may not agree with all your uncompromising platform. Simply yelling and cursing at the idiocy of others gets us precisely nowhere - although it may give us some fleeting personal satisfaction. Indeed, we would do well to appreciate what it is that others want and especially what those who will choose!

Finally, a political organisation needs to look to its market - to the voters. Endless discussions about what exactly Mill's harm principle means or the origins of value get you precisely nowhere - great fun though such discussions are! The voters really aren't interested in the ideologies of politics or indeed in politics per se. But they are interested in the things that interest them - voters pay attention when it's personal and especially when it's personal and threatening.


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