If you truly believe in your ideals, do not – under any circumstances – vote for an idealist.
Political opinion has never been homogenous. As society has become wealthier and stratified into more extreme levels of that wealth, political ideals have fragmented.
The discontent sweeping the world’s ossified polities – the rise of Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East, ISIS – is a scream of fury at not being heard. But the way in which this is being expressed is in a demand for ideological purity.
A belief in ideals has become a belief in their purity.
There is no chance, whatsoever, that these principles should be compromised. Those who compromise are classed as part of an archaic and hated political overclass. A machine in hock to vested interests and too willing to place pragmatism over political principles.
Tony Blair, writing about the threat that ideologically pure Jeremy Corbyn has for his beloved Labour Party, identified the symptoms but couldn’t identify – or champion – the breed of politics that made him so successful.
That he is irrevocably compromised. That he is a bruiser, a thug, and that his principles are both flexible and negotiable. And that makes him a winner.
We are all members of a 1%
Remember Maslow? As soon as people have a little spare time, they start to pursue their interests. Those interests are, excitingly for those of us who love diversity, diverse.
Among those varying interests, though, are people who become somewhat obsessive about those predilections.
Sure, you have the 1% who become supremely wealthy. But you also have the 1% who stand at the end of runways watching planes land. There’s the 1% who hate immigrants, the 1% who won’t vaccinate their children, the 1% who believe evolution is a myth, the 1% who loathe gay marriage, the 1% who obsess about GM foods, the 1% who are die-hard socialists…
Hang on, you might think, I’m not comfortable with GM foods and I don’t think that’s only a 1% view. Sure, but are you so opposed to GM foods that you threaten researchers and try to dig up sophisticated experimental crops at one of the world’s oldest crop research centres?
See, that’s when you have crossed into the world of principle. It isn’t enough that you have chosen – for yourself – not to cross your own principles. No, you need to ensure that no-one else does so either.
Some of these extreme principles are likely to be considered uncontroversial (e.g. obsessively driving across the country to check water for cyanide levels and posting the results online, heckling and protesting anywhere the levels are unsafe).
But some of these extreme principles really are minority views.
There’s a huge difference between deciding that your child will go to the local government school, no matter how awful it is, because you absolutely believe that education must be provided by the state and that any form of competitive selection (on price or ability) is anathema, and forcing everyone else to send their kids to similar schools.
Jeremy Corbyn, who is the new Labour leader, divorced his wife in 1997 because she wanted to send their son to a selective grammar school instead of the local comprehensive.
The obsessive pursuit of a specific 1% interest is a symptom of our modern wealth, not some throwback. Politics has become more diverse over the last twenty years, not less.
Obsessive focus on principle leads to dictatorship
Imagine that for some reason, an otherwise ordinary political leader is an obsessive Grateful Dead fan. He believes that all radio stations and all music feeds should stream, 24 hours a day, non-stop, Grateful Dead.
He is able to gain a sufficient majority to pass laws to this effect.
All radio stations promptly comply.
Listeners, understandably, may wish for greater diversity. So they stop listening to the radio. Advertisers stop paying for adverts, and radio stations begin to fail.
Pirate radios start up playing any type of music.
What’s a principled response? Well, those pirate stations are illegal. The people running them must be arrested. What about playing non-Grateful Dead at home? Slippery slope, isn’t it? Before long they may wish to gather in groups and NOT listen to the Grateful Dead. We should probably fine people listening to inappropriate music.
People who cannot compromise are not really cut out to let people disagree with them.
What happens if an anti-vaccination proponent wins high office and bans vaccines? What happens to people trekking over the Canadian border to vaccinate their kids? Do they get arrested? Have their kids taken away from them for breaking the law and “putting their kids’ lives in danger”?
It’s not the specific politics or beliefs that leads to this. It’s the obsession with ideological purity.
Jeremy Corbyn and the contradictions of purity
Corbyn wants to reopen coal mines shut in the UK in the 1980s, while – at the same time – nationalising energy generating companies so that he can ban the use of fossil fuels.
I’m not sure what other example shows the insanity of principle over pragmatism than this one.
Try and imagine how someone like this governs. Try and imagine being in his party when you represent constituencies that are not part of his 1%.
Corbyn has focused on ideological purity for thirty years. During that time he has become almost entirely estranged from his own party. He does not compromise at all.
This man now wants to lead, without compromising on any of his principles.
This leaves Labour MPs more divided than I have ever known them. Divided between those who are convinced that the Corbyn leadership will be an instant disaster and those who reckon it will be more of a slow-burning catastrophe for their party.
Of course, the US has had such behaviour for decades now. The Republicans are tearing themselves apart over ideological purity.
Because there are always going to be people more fundamentalist than any candidate. And they will always resent to the death any sign of weakness in pursuing their version of the truth.
A parliament filled with multiple 1% interests is going to be one full of heat and noise but very little actual action. It will oscillate between extreme laws passed by momentary majorities and impose contradictory policies on a nation. The result is investment flight, unemployment and perpetual protest.
These things have been tried before, you know. People, at least in the UK after the 1980s, decided they didn’t like it. They voted for Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair. Unprincipled compromisers, both.
Politics is about brutal compromise and bloody negotiation
Today, Monday 14 September, the Conservative Party are bringing new legislation to Parliament for debate. This is the Trade Union Bill which, amongst other things, sets the minimum vote thresholds amongst workers for strikes to be considered ‘protected’ (i.e. legal).
This is perfect for negotiation. What should the minimum agreement be? The main proposal of the Conservatives is for a 50% voter turnout, and minimum positive of 40% of all those eligible.
It’s a starting point. Especially as, currently, a vote for strike action taken six years ago is still considered valid.
Negotiation is needed.
But if your principles prevent negotiation, then no negotiation will happen and – if the ruling party has the votes – they’ll pass their legislation unchanged.
Yet even Conservative MPs believe that there are terrible flaws in the proposed legislation. David Davis says that laws requiring picketers to provide their names to the police prior to going on strike remind him of fascism.
These clauses should be negotiated out.
Worse, though, the unions are taking the opportunity that “their man” is now in charge of Labour to threaten to make the country ungovernable and bring down a government popularly elected only a few months ago.
In other words, a 1% obsession has taken over a political party and is being used to threaten everyone.
Taylor Parkes, very much of the Left and a consistent Corbyn voter in his Islington North constituency, went to visit one of his pitches. He records this conversation with a Trotskyite fan of Corbyn’s promoting him at the gathering:
“Well,” I say. “I am a Marxist. But in terms of a system of thought, you know, not so much at the ballot box, because…”
Her expression hardens suddenly.
“I don’t think it’s about the ballot box.”
I can only shrug. “I’m a pragmatist.”
“So am I!” she snaps back sharply. “That’s why I’m for revolution!”
So, once the principle is in charge then it should be imposed on everyone, irrespective of their minority (or even majority) views.
Where does that leave us?
The UK is in an unusual space now. The governing party has shown an almost bizarre approach to gobbling up the ideas of others (the ‘living wage’ minimum pay requirement in the most recent Conservative budget is a Labour ideal). They’re pragmatic to the point of insouciance.
I’m a South African. I’ve lived under two “ideological” governments. The National Party offered no compromise and neither does the ANC.
There the opposition parties offer plenty of compromise in the wild hopes that at least some of their ideals might get through.
I’m not sure what to make of a government that is flexible and an opposition that is not.
I think the thing I am most concerned about is that Labour now joins UKIP and the Conservatives as being thoroughly opposed to UK membership of the EU.
The EU has a lot wrong with it, but – fundamentally – it is about finding common purpose and making people’s lives easier. Unemployment in Greece is much easier to deal with since people have the right to find work anywhere in the EU. Goods can travel, people can travel. Liberty is assured.
And the bunch of tiny irrelevant countries that make up the EU have a greater voice for their ideals of liberty and tolerance.
And when the world’s voice is spoken by only Russia, the US and China … I’m not sure how losing the slightly fuddy-duddy left-wing idealism of the EU is an improvement.
And the UK becomes just that little darker.
My only guidance is this … if you genuinely, truly, believe in your ideals and want to see them advanced, take a look at the candidates and vote for the one who happens to be in your camp, but is an unashamed, unprincipled bastard.
That way, they’ll get things done.