Thursday, 30 April 2009

Political sensibilities and cod economics

For some reason, I've found myself trying to define my own political opinions recently.

Despite a fair amount of familial influence from the more right-wing side of the world of politics, I have never voted Conservative and would consider it a betrayal of what I consider to be my own feelings that the State has a responsibility to support its poorest and weakest. (Yes, that's a stereotype. But surely, the subject of politics is stuffed with stereotypes and the vast majority of voters are far more easily influenced by a pandering to stereotypical notions than anything actually analytical or genuinely intelligent?)

I don't often vote Labour either. There's a different set of stereotypes at work there; once, a vague feeling of disquiet that there was too much reliance on the theories of Karl Marx, and more recently a recognition that New Labour has largely sacrificed its principles in order to pacify the money men.

The LibDems? Well, I have a lot of sympathy for them. In particular, the view that very often, policies are better come to by consideration of the issues involved rather than the blind application of party dogma is one that I feel instinctively has to be closer to a good approach than anything else. And I do vote for them, probably more often than not, even though I recognise that their chances of power at Westminster are relatively small.

Thing is, lately, the centre's been getting crowded. It seems that both Labour and the Tories want the majority of the public to believe that they represent the interests of the majority. While they can't both be right, it IS clear (at least to me) that the incumbent, New Labour, government pays lip service to its roots but has served the Tories' traditional paymasters (the once castigated capitalist pigs of big business and banking) as well as the Tories themselves. The latter recognise, as well they might, that there's some benefit in cashing in on that, being past masters at looking after themselves before everyone else and pretending otherwise, and are also in a quite lovely position of having a government in power that is flailing around trying to sort out the crumbling economy while vainly protesting that it's not their fault.

It IS their fault, in a way. But only in a way. They weren't paying attention when all that money was flooding the place; they didn't notice that it wasn't real, that it was just numbers and there was nothing behind it except blind optimism and complicated calculations designed to make nothing look like something it wasn't. But nobody else was paying attention either. Nobody important enough to be paid any attention, anyway.

Say what you like, the gold standard had a major advantage; you always had the gold. Abandoning it effectively rendered meaningless the promise printed on your paper money: "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of..." because, of course, there's only another, identical piece of paper to give you back when you ask for the promise to be fulfilled. Money now works only because we all agree that it's worth what it says it is.

Where was I? This started as politics and has turned into cod economics.

Oh yes. So Labour will need a miracle if it's going to win the next election. It's got a Prime Minister with the electoral appeal of last week's leftover porridge. Blair might have been many things, and he was certainly far too fond of George Dubya for anybody's good, but he had charisma oozing from every pore. He was electable because he was photogenic, believable and -- at least apparently -- sincere. Brown is none of these things. He has intellectual qualities but no ability to sell them to us.

What will I do, come the next election? Follow Lazarus Long's advice "if you can't vote for, then at least vote against", perhaps?

I'm still just idealistic enough to believe that there might still be the vision in Labour to do what (sorry) it says on the tin. But I think they need time to sort themselves out, a period in the wilderness so they can go back to their core values (which, excepting the nonsense at the extremes, ARE the ones I generally believe in) and find someone new who can sell them to us. Maybe a Milliband; maybe someone less apparently manipulative but with the intelligence to understand that while idealism needs to be tempered with pragmatism, the complete acceptance of the free market has consequences, not least to our most vulnerable people.

Capitalism with a social conscience, perhaps.

Pragmatic socialism, perhaps.

Does this define the Lib Dems? It might, it might.

But they're still not electable.

Even so, I don't think I can vote Tory.

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