Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GUEST POST Against the Comment is Free view of politics

Jonathan King currently lives in Italy and is writing a dissertation on the Liberal parties of the UK and Norway.

People don't really like the nitty-gritty of politics. People like football. They like teams and generalisations. “Oh, your team won but they didn't deserve it.” “Yeah but two years ago your team did such-and-such.” Or, more commonly where I live in Italy, “Your team are all fascists, we're all communists”.

This dogmatic and blunt approach to parties is intensifying and I can't stand it. It's also one of the reasons why I can't stand football, but that's another matter. The Guardian's Comment is Free area is rife with such religious rhetoric, prophesying the “doom” of the Lib Dems and “revenge” against the pariah Nick Clegg.

I'm a student and I feel like I have to defend Tory policies after I get outed as a Lib Dem. “How can you be a Lib Dem? You should be left-wing if you're a student!”

Well, it happens that I am. I can oppose certain moves by a coalition in which my preferred party is a junior member. I actually feel that without the Lib Dems in coalition, the plans of the Tories would be far closer to the apocalyptic descriptions of what is happening now from many in the Labour camp.

What I will not do is oppose it in such a way that says “the baddies are in power, let's go back to the goodies” because in my book, Labour were far from perfect and even far from progressive or even economically left-wing. I find it hard to believe they would have magically solved the current economic problems without any tears.

Unfortunately, this argument is often not about politics at all, it's about a desperate continuation of some shred of class warfare. The Tories are toffs, Labour are the working people. Between those more obsessed with economics it's the free-marketeers vs. the social democrats. Here in Italy the names seem more polarised, but it's the same issue, if you don't fall into one of the camps, you don't make sense. “What? So you're not fascist or communist? And you call yourself a radical/progressive!?”.

Sadly, I don't foresee this binary approach changing any time soon, mostly because I know a lot of people want to vote No to AV to punish the Liberal Democrats for even existing, for even representing another choice than the left-right divide.

Finally, from a student's perspective, I can't help remembering something. The Guardian says that around 52,000 students marched against the raising of tuition fees. Tuition fees that were first implemented by Labour during a period of massive economic growth. These students were ignored by the Tories who are in power, but the Lib Dems take all the flak.

I remember, as a young teenager, marching against the Iraq War. Organisers said there were two million of us. We were protesting against the pointless loss of human life, and not just the prospect of a little more personal debt. We were ignored by the Labour government as they sided with possibly the worst right-wing government in my memory – the American Republicans under George W. Bush.

Those of you that say “getting into bed with the Tories” is tantamount to copulating with Lucifer, you must have short memories and short sight to give such short shrift.


Dan Falchikov said...

Great post. No doubt a hoarde of comment is free types will be along in a minute to prove your point...

John Q Wagonwheel said...

As a student on a year abroad in South East France (fancy meeting up for a raclette or a risotto?) I thought I'd register my support. CiF is a bullring where the crowd has crossed fingers for the bull's win.

Nick said...

I thought I`d passed into a time warp there.

I don`t recognise the picture you paint at all, I would have said that party influence is waning and that party loyalties are nowhere near as strong as they once were.

A key issue at the last election was disaffection among Labour voters and for the first time I can remember, the Conservatives appealed to them directly. Everywhere you looked where I live showing ordinary people with the slogan "I`ve never voted Tory before but...".

Similarly, Cabinet members seem unable to keep away from the Midlands (not Market Harborough, the real Midlands), that bugger Clegg keeps cropping up all over the place.

I`d say the reason for the success of 38 Degrees` Save Our Forests campaign was simply that people are more inclined to trust organisations that are (or appear to be) non-party.

By the same token, we find politicians behaving unexpectedly as well - Labour councillors backed a Tory cuts package in Brighton against Lib Dem opposition, a number of Tory MPs and councillors oppose cuts that actually take place in their areas (Andrew Jones MP and Save North Yorks Libraries springs to mind, but there are others).

I wouldn`t go mistaking either campus politics or the world of the pundit for the real world, that`s something else entirely.

Nick said...

Apologies, my second para has some words missing, I meant to say "There were posters everywhere you looked..."

As some of you may know, the presence of small children in the house plays havoc with your concentration !

Jonathan King said...

I agree that party influence is waning, but Labour are still gaining a lot from being in opposition, at least in the polls. I'm not talking about influence, rather about voter intention and how that reflects on the coalition. Much of this, I would say, is down to "left-wing defection" from those that voted Lib Dem at the general election.

Now, this could simply be the protest-party nature of the Liberal Democrats; now they're in power they're suddenly less attractive. However, what I've seen result from this, at least among students that I know and my preferred corners of the Internet, is this irritating idea that the Lib Dems have already done so much damage that the only one of the three big parties with any dignity is Labour. This is especially notable in the Guardian's Comment is Free section, hence the article's title.

"I`d say the reason for the success of 38 Degrees` Save Our Forests campaign was simply that people are more inclined to trust organisations that are (or appear to be) non-party."

I completely agree. As much as I dislike the term, this looks dangerously like being The Big Society in action. Some praise should probably go to the Govt. too for the sense to back-pedal.

It's a fair comment to say that I'm basing much of my information on "the world of the pundit", but unfortunately that carries a lot more weight among less politically active voters than the knowledge that certain politicians don't always toe the party line.

pajh said...

I too deplore the polarization and factionalism in current politics. Which is why it's incredibly disappointing that your eventual point amounts to "yeah but at least we're not Labour".

Also, the excuse that the Lib Dems are the junior partner in the Coalition is wearing rather thin by now. Either the Lib Dems are the brakes on the Tory juggernaut or they're ineffectual and they should get out. Show some results, please.

dreamingspire said...

The LDs are the brakes. But, like the brakes on the Minis that British Leyland was turning out in 1968, not always as effective as we hoped (a Which? test that I remember said not to trust those brakes downhill on an Alpine pass - I quickly changed the brake linings on mine and lived).