Friday, 19 December 2014

The party line

Last weekend I went to London Young Labour conference. For the record, I had a fantastic time and met lots of interesting and fun people. Although I've been a member of the Labour Party for almost 6 years (which is vaguely terrifying), I've been almost completely inactive since about November 2010. One of the reasons, which I've now managed to think about more concretely, is that I'm absolutely terrible at politics. 

I'm not necessarily bad at some of the side skills of politics: I've always managed somehow to network fairly well, though I'd normally regard myself as a shy person, I quite enjoy public speaking, and I quite like organising stuff. But this weekend, I realised that I am quite unsuited to finding and retaining a faction. Because, on almost everything, I disagree with someone, and I almost certainly disagree with the people I like on something.

A major feature of politics is conformity. There is the usual kind of conformity that the public hates, the party line. But I think that conformity is a product of another: conformity within parties. It's not the case that everyone in the Labour Party or the Tory Party or whatever believes the same thing. 

But the people of influence in these parties will believe one of two or three or four things. In New Labour, for example, we had Brownites and Blairites (and the unreconstructed Left). Bear in mind the Labour Party had and has thousands of members and hundreds of MPs, each with their own minds. 

And yet, apparently, we could tell everyone's complete political make-up from just one of their opinions. In favour of the Iraq War? Then of course you support bringing religious nutcases in to run schools! We've just seen similar with the things being hurled at Jim Murphy in the Scottish Labour leadership election. He supports Israel; therefore he can't also support the living wage for Scottish workers!

I don't think that in difficult economic times, when there's not much money around, that 'free' higher education is a priority, especially when the current system means no one has to pay upfront. Shoot me. If we raise taxes on the rich, as I want, I would rather use that money to abolish the Bedroom Tax and not throw poor people out of London that bring in 'free' education. Sorry. 

I don't believe, when British workers are struggling with part time work and low pay, that we should get rid of the Border Force as a priority. Apparently the people that I have the most sympathy for in internal Labour Party politics do. But I don't. Does that mean I should be out of the club? 

I hate the idea that I can't have an eclectic set of views - that I have to be labelled left wing or right wing, without any shades of grey - I can't just be a bit left wing on some things and a bit right wing on some other things, a bit 'couldn't care less' on other things, and a bit 'I'll wait for expert evidence' on the last bit of things.

I support higher taxes on the rich: I also support lower corporation tax. Am I right wing or left wing?

I don't believe in 'free education'. I also don't believe in academies or free schools. Am I right wing or left wing?

I didn't support the Iraq War. I did support air strikes on chemical weapons in Syria. Am I right wing or left wing?

I support proportional representation. I also support replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. Am I right wing or left wing?

I think the EU has too much power. I also think the EU was right to bring in a financial transactions tax. Am I right wing or left wing?

I believe workers need mandatory representation in company decision making. I also think trade unions are dying and it's largely their fault. Am I right wing or left wing?

I don't support Israel. I also don't support Venezuela. Am I right wing or left wing?

I support controlled immigration. I also think arguing that we know the difference between Romanians and Germans is abhorrent. Am I right wing or left wing?

I believe that life should mean life. I also believe we need to use prisons less for minor offences. Am I right wing or left wing?

I believe standing for judicial review should be restricted. I believe cuts to legal aid are wrong. Am I right wing or left wing?

I believe in renewable energy. I also believe in nuclear power and fracking. Am I right wing or left wing?

I believe the railways should be renationalised. I also believe the deficit is a major problem. Am I right wing or left wing?

I think we should abolish Trident. I also think we should have tighter restrictions on EU citizens claiming benefits in the UK. Am I right wing or left wing?

I think we need to support traditional subjects in school. I also support gay marriage. Am I right wing or left wing?

I believe a whole bunch of other random things, and my answer would depend on the time and place and the information I have on the subject. But it shouldn't depend on who is asking. I shouldn't feel I have to answer political questions so that the person I'm taking to can evaluate all of my personal and social positions. Politics should not be about identity: it should be about ideas.

Anyway, to get back to the point, the reason we use these short cuts in politics is the same reason we use them in other walks of life: as a time-saving device. But in politics it's more corrosive than anywhere else. It means that people are encouraged either to say safe things, or say nothing at all. 

It also means that internal elections in the Labour Party are entirely depoliticised. I do think that's a good thing, in that Party office holders should not be pushing their own views. But it does mean that they can't put forward members' views. I am conflicted on this, of course. I want peoples' views to be diverse, but if they are diverse, there can be no agreed position to put forward.

Another reason why I'm bad at politics is because I don't know the answer. I just wish other people admitted that once in a while too.

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