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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Why we need party politics


    by Rumbold on 6th September, 2007 at 8:46 AM    

    Since Gordon Brown became leader of the Labour party he has recruited many non-Labour experts to help him in various areas, including Conservative MPs John Bercow and Patrick Mercer recently.

    Most people think that this sort of thing is a good idea, as it means that the Labour party is ‘putting country ahead of party and getting the best person for the job’. I once shared this approach, but now I am opposed to it. On the surface, it seems harmless at worst, or even beneficial.

    I am a Conservative voter, but this trend concerns me primarily as somebody who is worried about the state of British politics - it should worry Labour voters too, and even that person who votes for the Lib Dems.

    Often we are now told that some things are too important for ‘party political bickering’; that issues such as climate change, terrorism or even the NHS should not be used as ‘political footballs’. Our politicians, based on their own utterances, should all link hands and agree on everything. This is wrong and dangerous.

    The two most important functions of opposition parties are to hold the government to account over their behaviour, and to provide a viable alternative to the government on polling day. Consensus politics and MPs being loaned out dilute these essential cornerstones.

    Patrick Mercer, though acting with the best intentions, has fallen right into this trap. What he should have done was to remain solely a Conservative, and push his proposals the normal way.

    If the government liked the proposals, they could adopt them. When people vote, they are mostly voting on a party basis- who they want to govern in their name. When one votes for a candidate from party X, one does not expect him to then switch to party Y.

    To their great credit, the Liberal Democrats have largely resisted this trend, even turning down cabinet places. Lord Deedes once wrote of how disastrous the coalition governments of the 1930s were, because those in charge were not being held to account. We in the present day are not there yet, but it is still a dangerous road to go down.

    Oliver Pritchett (father of cartoonist Matt), chronicles the dangers of such an approach in a funnier way:

    “In a bold and imaginative move, Gordon Brown has accepted a post in David Cameron’s shadow cabinet. “I want to speak for the whole country and that includes the Conservatives,” the Prime Minister explained in an interview with John Humphrys on the Today programme.”

    ————-
    This is a guest post



    Filed in: Current affairs






    42 Comments below   |  

    1. Ravi Naik — on 6th September, 2007 at 9:57 AM  

      I couldn’t disagree you more on this. Right from the beginning when you say that you are opposed - as a principle - that people who work for the government “put country ahead of party”?

    2. funkg — on 6th September, 2007 at 11:51 AM  

      I quite like the idea of political promiscuity you can pick and choose the policies you most fancy and discard the other bits when it becomes a bit tired.

    3. ZinZin — on 6th September, 2007 at 11:53 AM  

      Rumbold
      As you know Shaun Woodward is my MP. The reason? There are no major ideological differences between the parties. As a Tory you should be happy, you beat the socialism out of the Labour party.

    4. ally — on 6th September, 2007 at 12:07 PM  

      I agree completely, Rumbold, apart from the bit about voting Conservative obviously…

      The issue is one of democratic choice. ‘Consensus politics’ denies us that choice. And let’s be clear about this,we are not talking about consensus in the nation at large, we are talking about Parliamentary Labour and Conservative bloks cosying up to each other as a way of stifling debate about the issues.

      To take the example of carbon emissions and global warming, the idea that this is ‘too important’ for debate is appallingly dangerous. I don’t want a cosy parliamentary consensus where all the parties agree not to ask too many difficult questions - I want one side of the House demanding radical new energy taxes or carbon rationing, criminal charges against corporations that exceed their quotas, measures that will force lifestyle changes on the public or WHATEVER, and I want the other side of the House to be strongly disagreeing, pointing out flaws in their plans, even denying MMGW altogether. I want people to be angry and scared and passionate.

      I want MPs to be like Ron Brown and Michael Heseltine, picking up the Parliamentary Mace and attempting to brain someone from the other side with it. I want Eric Heffer foaming at the mouth. I want socialists like Nye Bevan merrily describing all Tories as bloodsucking leeches and I want Tories like Norman Tebbit whom I can hate with all my heart and revel in the knowledge that the feeling is mutual.

      I want to be governed by politicians who care, not by a bunch of lily-livered snotwipes who model themselves on the managers of a medium-sized branch of the Bradford and Bingley Building Society.

      I want argument, I want ideas, I want debate, I want ideology, I want more caffeine, I want my lunch and I really, really want a cigarette but I can’t because I gave up months ago, and I really really really wanna zigizig-ah.

      … and breathe Ally, breathe…

    5. Sofia — on 6th September, 2007 at 12:09 PM  

      Ally I love your passion..now all we need is a politician with the same amount of passion..at least you could respect them for that…if not for their views

    6. ally — on 6th September, 2007 at 12:14 PM  

      excellent, more coffee just landed on my desk.

      Just what I needed.

    7. Leon — on 6th September, 2007 at 12:26 PM  

      As you know Shaun Woodward is my MP. The reason? There are no major ideological differences between the parties.

      I once met one of his advisors who was working for him at the time of his defection…interesting story but not for public consumption.;)

    8. sid — on 6th September, 2007 at 12:49 PM  

      oh go on

    9. justforfun — on 6th September, 2007 at 1:16 PM  

      Did this story involve an orange and flash photography?
      I do hope so.

      Justforfun

    10. justforfun — on 6th September, 2007 at 1:28 PM  

      Rumbold - yes I agree - an opposition is there to keep the Government in line, and by being different and credible offer the electorate some sort of sane alternative at an election, so any existing government can be given a good kicking when they really fail.

      What we have now is just a joke. The opposition is pathetic in its drift and wish wash PR drivel. The current Labour Government is well past its sell by date and needs to be kicked out for one single reason
      - just so that no politian or future party dare think it can get away with lieing to the electorate and get away with it.

      First, Tony Blair deceived us - then the Cabinet put their jobs ahead of their duty and kept him in power - then Labour MPs have put their interests above their duty and kept Tony Blair and the Cabinet in power. Because of this failure to act it is upto the electorate have to euthanise this Government, and finally ignore the pleas to vote Labour. The alternative is dire but unfortunately we will have to take the pain for a little while the politcal map is wiped clean of the current crop of career politians. Then hopefully by 2010 , we can get back to 2 party politics and I can get back to always voting for opposition parties no matter who is in power.

      To advocate voting Labour in current circumstances is just to reward lies and deceit. Kick them out I say , and then if voting Tory is a problem, kick them out in the election after next. But a lesson needs to be administered by the electorate to politians.

      However with such a crap incompetant opposition who would dare vote out the devil we know. mmmm - My God I might emmigrate to Scotland, it will make my wife happy.

      Justforfun

    11. Sunny — on 6th September, 2007 at 1:36 PM  

      ha ha, nice one Ally….

      Rumbold, I agree of course.

    12. Rumbold — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:15 PM  

      Ravi Naik:

      “I couldn’t disagree you more on this. Right from the beginning when you say that you are opposed - as a principle - that people who work for the government “put country ahead of party”?”

      But, as I explained later, they would serve their country better by continuing in opposition. Sorry, I should have made the link clearer.

      ZinZin:

      “As a Tory you should be happy, you beat the socialism out of the Labour party.”

      As Ally says brilliantly in #4, I would rather have a clear ideological divide. Socialism is still alive and well in the Labour party, it has just shifted from economic control to controlling people’s lives.

      Justforfun:

      “To advocate voting Labour in current circumstances is just to reward lies and deceit. Kick them out I say , and then if voting Tory is a problem, kick them out in the election after next. But a lesson needs to be administered by the electorate to politians.”

      I agree with you on a personal level, but the situation is also unfair on Labour voters. How many of you voted Labour in the hope that Patrick Mercer would be the one advising the government on security issues? How many of Patrick Mercer’s constituents voted for him in the hope that he would help the Labour party?

      “I agree completely, Rumbold.”

      “Rumbold - yes I agree.”

      “Rumbold, I agree of course.”

      Too many people are agreeing with me on this thread. Even Sid is remaining silent. Down with consensus politics on Pickled Politics!

    13. ally — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:28 PM  

      “Too many people are agreeing with me on this thread. Even Sid is remaining silent. Down with consensus politics on Pickled Politics!”

      Well said, you bloodsucking Tory leech.

      ;-)

    14. Leon — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:31 PM  

      oh go on

      Haha it’s not that exciting, I just found the insight into what went on behind the scenes interesting because I’m a bit of political geek…

      Too many people are agreeing with me on this thread. Even Sid is remaining silent.

      Heh I just can’t be bothered to day is all…:P

    15. Rumbold — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:33 PM  

      Ally:

      “Well said, you bloodsucking Tory leech.”

      Heh.

      Right back at you, you Labour-voting, museli-eating, anti-monarchy, modernising, Guardian-reading leftie.

    16. vokz — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:45 PM  

      Sorry, but the suggestion that a capable person would serve their country better in opposition than they would in a position of real influence seems to me to be more than a little bizarre.

      There is a HUGE difference between coalition government and simply co-opting the best available talent into government.

      Of course, it would wash better if it genuinely was the best available brains that had been co-opted into government .. that certainly can’t be said for either Bercow or Mercer.

    17. justforfun — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:53 PM  

      I find this whole ‘advisor’ business bizarre. Arn’t we meant to have professional civil servants in the alphabet soup of security agencies advising on technical issues dealing with security. So surely all that is left for Patrick Mercer to advise on is the political ramifications of the technical advise. Bl**dy hell - the Labour gene poolmust be all used up if there is noone who can digress this technical advise and give Gordon a rounded picture on security matters.

      Vokz - your words have the qualification “a position of real influence ” - but of course Patrick Mercer will not have any real influence - he has just been co-opted to try and confuse the electorate and prevent us coalescing round a movement to put a tick in any other box but Labour.

      As an aside - I think now most labour voters are actually ex Tory voters, so it probably follows the majority of Labour voters will be glad to get Patrick Mercer. But I know one ex Labour voter, my father -in-law, a quiet type of man who kept Hitler out, and who after 60 years voting and canvassing for Labour in Scotland gave up and now helps Ming’s gang in Ming’s own constituency. He is sanguine about it all, but sometimes his contempt for the betrayal purpertrated by Labour some times breaks through his quiet manners. For him I do feel sorry.

      Justforfun

    18. Morgoth — on 6th September, 2007 at 2:56 PM  

      Would this be the same Patrick Mercer who Labour was mercilessly slagging off as some sort of arch-BNPite (as opposed to someone who made a daft and idiotic and badly-phrased statement, which he was) only a few months back, calling him all sorts of names under the day? Labour, thy name is Hypocrisy.

      I think the real lesson here, but the left will not take it on board, is that the pavlovian reflext of jumping up and down and screaming racist! at the earliest opportunity or as a substitute for actual argument (as Labour did with Mercer, Ingio Wilson, and Rose Addis, and countless others), distracts from the real problems of actually racism/racists that we do have in our country.

      P.S. Rumbold, for what it is worth, I agree with you. We need more handbags in politics.

    19. ZinZin — on 6th September, 2007 at 3:06 PM  

      Rumbold
      You have strange views on socialism, but I will let it slide.

      I concur with ally are politicans are decidedly second rate. I blame management consultants.

    20. Sunny — on 6th September, 2007 at 3:16 PM  

      Down with consensus politics on Pickled Politics!

      Of course, this does not detract from the fact that you’re a right wing Tory and therefore eat asylum seekers’ babies for breakfast. We thought we’d let that one slide for now.

      Morgoth: Labour, thy name is Hypocrisy.

      For once, I’m agreed with you. I’m not happy about Mercer joining the Labour party. But then the Tories were planning to bring him back into the upper echelons after a little while anyway.

    21. Morgoth — on 6th September, 2007 at 3:19 PM  

      I concur with ally are politicans are decidedly second rate. I blame management consultants.

      I actually blame the fact that 95% of the fuckers have never had a proper job in their life. Now its all “I studied politics at university, then I went to work as an assistant to an MP” bollocks. Where are the Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus’s now?

      Say what you want about Prescott or the Blessed Margaret, but they both had proper jobs.

      We could make a start by insisting that MPs must be, say, 40 years old before they can enter Parliment, or something.

    22. Morgoth — on 6th September, 2007 at 3:22 PM  

      I’m not happy about Mercer joining the Labour party.

      Labour government, surely?

    23. Sunny — on 6th September, 2007 at 3:25 PM  

      Ahh, yes, my oversight. You’re right.

    24. Morgoth — on 6th September, 2007 at 3:28 PM  

      Mind you, given how Labour is now seemingly the natural home of rich millionaires with butlers and other such oily patricians, its an easy mistake to make.

    25. Rumbold — on 6th September, 2007 at 9:49 PM  

      Sunny:

      “Of course, this does not detract from the fact that you’re a right wing Tory and therefore eat asylum seekers’ babies for breakfast. We thought we’d let that one slide for now.”

      Actually, I eat them for lunch- you silly leftie.

    26. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 6th September, 2007 at 10:35 PM  

      Wow! Rumbold, I’m impressed. Personally I couldn’t manage a whole one, I have to leave some in the fridge.

      On the plus side I do I find that they taste better the next day …

      TFI

    27. Ravi Naik — on 6th September, 2007 at 11:41 PM  

      Rumbold, I believe that government and opposition should work for consensus. Specially considering that the conservative vote is substancial, should the Labour government forget about them just because their share of the vote is 5% larger?

    28. soru — on 7th September, 2007 at 12:11 AM  

      Bl**dy hell - the Labour gene pool must be all used up if there is noone who can digress this technical advise and give Gordon a rounded picture on security matters.

      I’m not actually sure there are any Labour party MPs who have served in the modern military (i.e. since the end of national service).

      It’s why they were so keen to get the services of Paddy Ashdown. Presumably Mercer is seen as the least-bad substitute.

      The military is practically a distinct ethnic group or caste these days - to wear a uniform is to be further away from the experience of the civilian majority than to be Jewish, or maybe even black or gay.

      Clearly, the government needs someone on the inside from that group, as much as any other. If you rely on some outside consultant or pressure group, then you are hideously vulnerable to them using their greater knowledge to pull a fast one.

      Another solution would be all-military shortlists.

    29. Chris Paul — on 7th September, 2007 at 12:53 AM  

      Don’t doubt the principle of “all the talents” but also massively delighted that Gordon is managing to do this. No effect whatsoever on government - all advisory things - but what a statement.

      Tories are unnecessary. Vote for Gordon. Dave-id is a twat.

    30. El Cid — on 7th September, 2007 at 6:03 AM  

      “to hold the government to account over their behaviour”

      A lofty ideal, but in practice, what most people see is opposition for the sake of opposition, posturing, and irrelevant politics. You forget how alienating democratic politics can be — the voting stats don’t lie.
      I want good governance and progress, with a sprinkling of politics when there are real differences not “strategic” ones.

      Groupthink indeeed

    31. Ravi Naik — on 7th September, 2007 at 10:35 AM  

      “A lofty ideal, but in practice, what most people see is opposition for the sake of opposition”

      In practice, it is for the sake of winning the next elections. Even if the government is doing a good job, the opposition must show that it can do better, and one way to achieve this is to oppose whatever the government does, and convince people that is the right thing to do. Of course, it doesn’t help if members of the opposition party go to work for the government.

      So while I agree that such a move is certainly not good for the opposition party, specially since it helps the government do a better job by hiring the best people, and follow a more moderate and consensus-based agenda… I don’t see how that harms the country, and why we - people who are not defined by partisan lines - need “party politics”.

    32. Rumbold — on 7th September, 2007 at 12:22 PM  

      Ravi Naik:

      “Specially considering that the conservative vote is substancial, should the Labour government forget about them just because their share of the vote is 5% larger?”

      They should not be forgotten, but the Labour party was not elected to implement Conservative policies, so I do not see why it should. If more people want the Conservatives they can vote for them.

      “So while I agree that such a move is certainly not good for the opposition party, specially since it helps the government do a better job by hiring the best people, and follow a more moderate and consensus-based agenda… I don’t see how that harms the country.”

      Governments often talk about ‘investing’ and spending more money on this and that, but it is not their money, it is the taxpayers’. Since ministers are not actually spending their own money, they are a lot more careless, hence all the overspend. They need to be watched.

      As for consensus, whose is to say that the particular consensus is right. There used to be a broad consensus that homosexual acts should be illegal, that keeping slaves was okay, that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Only by having public figures who challenge these cosy consensuses can we hope to improve things. As Ally (#4) said, give people a choice.

      Chris Paul:

      “Don’t doubt the principle of “all the talents” but also massively delighted that Gordon is managing to do this.”

      Talented?

      El Cid:

      “I want good governance and progress, with a sprinkling of politics when there are real differences not “strategic” ones.”

      There are very few subjects that do not have contentious points, and Parliament should reflect that. How many issues can you think of where there is no debate needed?

      “You forget how alienating democratic politics can be — the voting stats don’t lie.”

      When most people are asked why they do not vote, the response is usually along the lines of “there is little difference between the main parties so nothing will change if a new party gets in.

      ***

      Consensus politics amongst the main parties can also lead people to turn to extremist parties like the BNP, because they feel that they are not being represented.

    33. Ravi Naik — on 7th September, 2007 at 6:43 PM  

      “As for consensus, whose is to say that the particular consensus is right. There used to be a broad consensus that homosexual acts should be illegal, that keeping slaves was okay, that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Only by having public figures who challenge these cosy consensuses can we hope to improve things.”

      You are straw-manning here. No one is saying that consensus means you come up with perfect measures. What I am saying is that consensus between government and opposition is far more democratic (specially if the opposition has a substancial vote share), and I think it is very positive that a country gets the best people regardless of their party colours. And the opposition can still do its job in making the government accountable. It is not mutually exclusive.

      “Consensus politics amongst the main parties can also lead people to turn to extremist parties like the BNP, because they feel that they are not being represented.”

      There is always UKIP.

    34. Rumbold — on 7th September, 2007 at 8:26 PM  

      Ravi Naik:

      “What I am saying is that consensus between government and opposition is far more democratic (specially if the opposition has a substancial vote share) … And the opposition can still do its job in making the government accountable. It is not mutually exclusive.”

      For some reason, more people voted for the Labour party than any other party, and they should govern. It is not right that the Conservatives or Lib Dems should join the government, since the vote indicates that people wanted a Labour government. Did Labour voters vote for Labour to share power with the Conservatives?

      How can the opposition properly hold the government to account if it is no longer the opposition?

    35. Ravi Naik — on 8th September, 2007 at 1:07 AM  

      “Did Labour voters vote for Labour to share power with the Conservatives?”

      But that is not the case, is it? Your whole argument, in my view, only stands if indeed both parties decided to merge. Having one or two conservatives in the government does not hinder the opposition nor the government one bit.

      Consensus does not mean betraying your core ideals. It means working to achieve common goals. And all three main parties share common goals, although they may attribute different priorities.

    36. El Cid — on 8th September, 2007 at 9:40 AM  

      There are very few subjects that do not have contentious points, and Parliament should reflect that. How many issues can you think of where there is no debate needed?

      When most people are asked why they do not vote, the response is usually along the lines of “there is little difference between the main parties so nothing will change if a new party gets in.

      I could easily respond to these 2 points but it would merely serve to extend a discussion for discussion’s sake. What I mean is that I’m not against party politics. It’s about balance. Let’s not kid ourselves: party politics do not simply reflect the divisions in society, they also encourage them and can undermine our collective capacity to solve problems.
      Let me put it another way: we could have a more efficient decision-making process if we didn’t treat everything as a political football. And tories laaaarve efficiency.
      Example? OK, for argument’s sake, take the government’s Sure Start initiative to invest in early schooling. I’ve read this week that the results so far have not been great — not for kids from severely deprived families, although it gets better as you move down (up?) the deprivation scale. Wouldn’t it better to focus on improving the policy in practice and addressing the reasons why parental alienation is difficult to overcome?
      Sure, there are real political differences — the right wing of the tory party thinks each child/family/man for themselves. But for more sensible one nation tories — why deny them a chance to influence policy? It’s just an example for illustrative purposes off the top of my head.

    37. Rumbold — on 8th September, 2007 at 1:16 PM  

      Ravi Naik:

      “Having one or two conservatives in the government does not hinder the opposition nor the government one bit.”

      I believe that it does. Take the example of Patrick Mercer, arguably the Conservatives’ top expert on security. Now that he is working for the Labour government, the Conservatives no longer have his expertise when they come to scrutinise the government’s proposals.

      “Consensus does not mean betraying your core ideals. It means working to achieve common goals. And all three main parties share common goals, although they may attribute different priorities.”

      In a very broad sense they do; all the parties want a safer world, better public services, lower crime rates and so on. The differences come when they are debating how to achieve these aims, and therefore there needs to be a divide between the various ideas to give people chocie, and the opposition needs to be ready to hold the government to account and scrutinise its plans.

      El Cid:

      “Let’s not kid ourselves: party politics do not simply reflect the divisions in society, they also encourage them and can undermine our collective capacity to solve problems.”

      But society is not a homogenous body with all the right answers; that is why parties need to come up with different ideas and test them against established ones.

      “OK, for argument’s sake, take the government’s Sure Start initiative to invest in early schooling. I’ve read this week that the results so far have not been great — not for kids from severely deprived families, although it gets better as you move down (up?) the deprivation scale. Wouldn’t it better to focus on improving the policy in practice and addressing the reasons why parental alienation is difficult to overcome?”

      Thank you for proving my point. If there had been a ‘consensus’ on Sure Start, there would have been no scrutiny of it, nor would there be any alternative ideas in the event of failure.

    38. El Cid — on 8th September, 2007 at 1:22 PM  

      Yes Rumbold, there can be no doubt that you are a fan of party politics.

    39. Rumbold — on 8th September, 2007 at 1:26 PM  

      Indeed El Cid. I hope that you have safely returned from the Hellenistic world.

    40. Ravi Naik — on 8th September, 2007 at 4:06 PM  

      “I believe that it does. Take the example of Patrick Mercer, arguably the Conservatives’ top expert on security. Now that he is working for the Labour government, the Conservatives no longer have his expertise when they come to scrutinise the government’s proposals.”

      But no doubt have the expertise of others. The vast majority of people these days vote for moderate political parties, rather than those with radical agendas, either left or right. New Labour and Conservatives are currently converging in the political spectrum, and I say it is a good thing. Why?

      Because it gives me and others the choice to vote for an alternative moderate party… as I don’t believe the same party should rule for more than a decade. It either gets stagnated or corrupted. On the other hand, it is not good for the country to have a complete shift in ideology and direction every number of years.

      So for me, choice is about having 3 moderate parties in which I can decide the one that can govern the country, regardless of whether it tilts to the right or left… rather than just being locked all my life to one party where I feel it shares my ideology.

    41. Rumbold — on 8th September, 2007 at 10:05 PM  

      Ravi Naik:

      “New Labour and Conservatives are currently converging in the political spectrum, and I say it is a good thing. Why? Because it gives me and others the choice to vote for an alternative moderate party…”

      Such as? I suppose I could vote for UKIP, but that is about it.

      “I don’t believe the same party should rule for more than a decade. It either gets stagnated or corrupted.”

      I agree that governments trail off near the end, but if the voters want to keep them in…

      “So for me, choice is about having 3 moderate parties in which I can decide the one that can govern the country, regardless of whether it tilts to the right or left… rather than just being locked all my life to one party where I feel it shares my ideology.”

      But what if your views do not conform to the ‘consensus’ views? Who do you turn to? I want lower taxes and lower spending. Not a radical position one might think, but one that none of the three main parties are offering, thanks to the consensus on tax and spend.

    42. Popular Science — on 10th September, 2007 at 9:17 AM  

      Popular Science…

      I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…

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