Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Getting Perspective in Politics

One of the best ways to get a perspective on your politics is to look at another country and consider their political parties. Charles Stross, a science fiction writer runs down the UK election by talking about his choice of the Liberal Democrats. I've picked out a few bits that I think are gems:
The first election I was eligible to vote in was the 1983 general election, and I came of political age under Thatcher. The experience has left me with a permanent aversion to the Conservative party, whose centralizing instincts, polarizing disdain for opposition, instinct for class warfare, bigotry, xenophobia and homophobia were a stain on the politics of the 1980s and 1990s. I have no great aversion to the conservative political philosophy of Edmund Burke, but the praxis of his latter-day inheritors gave us a range of happy fun experiences including mass unemployment, Section 28 (of the 1988 Local Government Act), the Brixton riots, the Miners' strike, the Poll tax and subsequent tax rebellion, the Westminster bribes scandal, and ... well, I think I'm going to stop there and lie down for a while. Thatcher's ideology was a stalking horse for bigotry, intolerance, and xenophobia — and a clampdown on civil rights exemplified by initiatives such as the Criminal Justice Act (1994).


I happen to believe that on economic matters, any British government, regardless of ideology, will face the same constraints: we're locked into a transnational free trade framework, not to mention a pan-European regulatory and legislative framework. Whoever wins this election will face the same budget deficit, the same currency/exchange rate issues, the same challenge of maintaining a private sector economy that has been excessively biased towards the financial sector since the mid-1980s, while maintaining core services (including healthcare and infrastructure).


As it happens, I don't agree with all the items in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto. (In particular, I think their position on nuclear power — no new construction is dangerously wrong-headed. George Monbiot seems to agree. Indeed, nuclear power appears to be turning into a litmus test among environmentalists — one that runs between pragmatists, who're willing to consider it with appropriate safeguards, and doctrinaire ideologues, for whom it still bears cold-war cooties. But I digress ...) There are other issues I don't see eye-to-eye with party policy on. I am not, therefore, willing to actually commit myself to them and campaign on their behalf.

However, I think that overall they're probably less wrong than either the Conservatives or Labour. They appear to be more flexible and pragmatic, and much more deeply committed to civil liberties and decentralization and reform of political power than the other major parties. They're committed to abolishing the National Identity Register (which alone would be enough to capture my vote for an election), and more importantly, their party framework is based on a value system I understand.


I'm not going to advise you to follow my example. You've doubtless got your own political priorities, and they're probably different from mine. Its okay to disagree; human beings aren't identical cut-outs, and it's perfectly possible for sensible, well-informed, intelligent people to reach radically different conclusions on the basis of the same information — especially on matters of politics, which tend to depend on deeply held personal values.
Go read the full post and learn a way of thinking about politics that is humane and pragmatic and not dogmatic and not fanatical. If only American voters would study the above and learn to approach politics more intelligently.

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