If you had the resources, what would you do? Okay, maybe you don't have the resources to achieve what you want to do, but perhaps you have the resources to enable you to get there: you can't fix climate change, but you can create a viable plan to fix it. So, given the resources, what would you do? I would start a new political party.
Why a political party? Because we need to make significant social changes, which requires significant political change, and that will not happen unless we restore faith in the political system. In short, we need to change the political system, so we need a political party to do it. Let's be clear: starting a political party is not something I actually want to do, but I suspect it is needed. Consider this a thought experiment: what needs to happen?
The current system cannot make the changes which are required, because it is designed to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. The current parties cannot introduce the changes which are required because they are stuck with systems and traditions which either prevent deep change or make it impossible to achieve.
- The Conservatives exist to protect the status quo, so they don't want radical change.
- Labour are bogged down with internal fights and ideological disputes, and their commitment to group solidarity means they cannot even attempt radical change.
- The Lib Dems are rendered impotent by their commitment to democracy.
- The Greens are a collection of special interest groups which would disintegrate if they ever achieved power.
These parties, and the people in them, are not bad. They are full of good people trying to do good things. But the systems they are working within were never designed to deliver the changes that we need. And it is much more complicated than a left-right-middle battle for control ( see Politics: Some Underlying Issues). So we need another party.
Let's begin with three core principles.
- Get power
- Do good
- Act ethically
This new party needs to be organized very carefully. Here are a few initial ideas.
- Radical transparency. Power corrupts, and the only effective antiseptic is sunlight.
- Privacy must be in inverse proportion to power: the more power you have, the more your actions need to be scrutinized.
- Keep governance and management distinct. Democracy is a great way to determine what you want to achieve, and a dreadful way to make anything happen. Governance (setting the targets) and management (planning how to hit them) need to be in dialogue: neither is of any use unless the other is functioning well.
- Politics is all about compromise: it's the art of the possible. So do the best with what you have got, and move on to the next thing you can do.
- Binary choices are beautiful in the abstract, but generally destructive in the real world.
- Global problems require global responses. If we don't cooperate, we are dead.
It seems to me that we need to think mainly about organizational details, rather than policies. Policies are needed, of course, but stick a bunch of people together, give them a problem, and they are likely to come up with some kind of response. I have done no research on this at all, but I get the impression that most political parties are started by people who have a Good Idea and want to push it. The structures - most importantly, the decision making process - are simply a way to get the Good Idea implemented.
But the structures and decision making process determine what is possible - which is why electoral reform is so important. As a country, we cannot implement the changes which are needed, because our national structures are not designed to make those changes possible. The same constraint applies to political parties: they can only do what their structures enable - allow - them to do. So the key issue, when considering a new political party, is how it should operate.
As I see it, most of the principles behind this community / website should work in the context of a political party. The key difference is that once all the different ideas have been expressed, we as a community are happy for exerybody to head off and follow their own priorities, but a political party must come to a decision about the main priorities. Of course, not all the members of the party will entirely agree on those priorities - as we have noted, politics is all about compromise. But the hope will be that, for the members, such compromises will be smaller and easier to make, than the compromises which woudl be needed if they belonged to another poltical party. We don't have to be perfect, we only need to be better than the alternatives - and be ready to change and learn.
You can find some more detail about this idea in 'Starting to Unpack the Plan'.
Just posted the following to FaceBook:
A friend of mine recently made a rather pointed observation about UK politics - and in particular, UK political parties. Rewording wildly here (with apologies to Paul):
+ The Conservatives exist to protect their own status quo (and their bank balance) at the expense of everyone other than themselves.
+ Labour is bogged down with internal fights and ideological disputes - and has lost its mojo and raison d'etre.
+ The Lib Dems are rendered impotent by their over-commitment to democracy, even at their own expense.
+ The Greens are a coalition of special interest groups which would very likely disintegrate if they ever gained power.
Not particularly encouraging - and rather hard to refute. One possible conclusion from this is that a new political force might sweep in, with a surge of enthusiasm and a clear-headed commitment to nationalistic policies - with the battle cry: Make Britain Great Again! - or equivalently: Putting The Great Back into Britain!
With a war in Europe, a serious cost of living crisis, and an entirely ethically-challenged government, we live in exceedingly dangerous times.
Obviously, this post above owes a lot to Paul - but note I've changed the conclusions - What Paul is saying is that UK politics is potentially not fit for purpose and is effectively broken. All I'm saying is that this would amount to a political vacuum - an inherently dangerous and potentially chaotic situation.
I can see the ideal behind this, the desire to be transparent and avoid corruption. But we would need to be a lot more careful with our language. "Get Power" in isolation sounds rather sinister especially when it appears first on the list. Democracy is always assumed to be a good thing in the Western way of thinking, so if we are to qualify that - the bit about the Lib Dems being hamstrung by a commitment to democracy - we will need to enlarge on exactly what we mean and what we will replace it with. Every dictator has started with achieving power and then promised utopia, democracy and an end to corruption and exploitation. Marxism assumed that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat would be necessary after achieving power through Revolution, and only then would we have the Utopia of Communism where everyone was happy; those who hadn't been eliminated during the first two phases anyway. I am not suggesting that Paul is proposing a Staliniist purge of corrupt politicians, obviously, but achieving goals by being nice to everybody is going to be a lot more complex if it is possible at all.
And then we have to think about what kind of society we would offer. You can't run for power on an anti-corruption ticket alone. Martin Bell won a seat as an Independent anti-sleaze candidate in the 90s, but with just one seat he didn't have to think about devising economic policies. Are we going to be Socialist or Capitalist? The latter offers the best hope of economic prosperity; even the Chinese and Russians have found that: but their outcome also shows that Capitalism does not necessary equate to more freedom or less corruption. The Scandinavian models show the greatest level of proserity while still preserving some degree of freedom and transparency: but it remains to be seen whether their model could be replicated in a more populous and diverse country such as Britain, and how to "get there from here" given that they have a much higher level of taxation and state control than we would tolerate here.
I have quite a lot of sympathy for what you are saying here. I smiled broadly when you spoke about Paul's exhortation to "Get Power" - yes that was an issue for me as well. I guess what was intended by Paul there is more like "Be Effective!", rather than grabbing the levers of State control like a Mad Dog! So, of the two positions (a) "Get Power" and (b) "Merely droning on about others taking power", my money will be with (a) every time.
Your points in your 2nd para. about the type of economics and the outcomes are well made. No one wants to start from here, right now - but there is little choice, realistically.
A lot of my reservations and concern I think boil down to "what are we doing and saying that could possibly be much different from what is already endlessly debated ad infinitum?". I guess I was worried we would merely rehash "<MAIN PARTY>-lite" (for your choice of <MAIN PARTY>) - which would be very sad, of course. I now think Paul has made a good start on some characteristics that such an organisation might have. I agree that, for sure, we have to avoid just playing "Fantasy Politics" by considering what the hard questions are that need to be addressed - e.g. Fiscal and Economic policy, Immigration and so on. A significant difficulty is that these are not easily separable into convenient, easily digestible policy blocks.
I agree that going into politics and not understanding that this is all about the art and practice of Government is extraordinarily naive. We at least have to have an opinion - hopefully, it's quite a bit more than just that!
Ok, pondered this a bit more - and, yes, you absolutely have a point - and have touched a real nerve there. If we don't do anything, we can't blame others for not doing what we should have done ourselves - we have only ourselves to blame.
Politics is in a mess - as noted.
Perhaps its instead easier to, as Roger implied, think about what such a political movement/political party would have to be to shift the log jam. You have made a great start on some of the characteristics, Paul.
In the end, it doesn't matter about the "framing" - whether it's a political "movement" or a "party" - that's not important.
However, we MUST avoid playing "Fantasy Politics" and find some way to keep grounded. Otherwise, its just hot air and venting.
The Plan is absolutely along the right lines, the essentials are right. Only the main method of delivery - a new political party - seemed to jarr for me.
I would rather prefer that we align with other organisations which embody a principled, ethical approach which has practical, societal consequences on an everyday basis. As Mark said, deeper political influence and relevance is probably what should be sought, rather than overt political power. If a new political party were to emerge, then of course one can get involved, depending on what it stands for and if it is ever likely to have any impact. Perhaps more thought is needed about the three or four characteristics of organisations we would support.
This suggests doing whatever we can that's positive within whatever contexts we find ourselves.
Rather than a political party, what about forming a socially empowered movement with both loose and broad affiliations, embodying a culture of forgiveness, inclusive acceptance and positive aspirational change.
Politics is inevitable - and The Plan acknowledges that reality. Even trying to be non-political is a political statement! A lot of what is said there is right, particularly talking about the dynamics of power and privacy. There has to be a significant cost to wielding power.
Forming a political party involves aspiring to power - otherwise, what's the point? As you say, that's something the Labour party need to be reminded of. Next, to encourage support, the party needs to have policies that people find attractive and would persuade voters to vote for them in sufficient numbers. However, this means the policies have to be convincing and have a positive likelihood of being effective - that means the policies have to say something definite and specific. This means inevitably, there will be those that like a policy and those that don't. A further point is that it seems very hard to make a policy in which everyone is a winner - there will be those that are disadvantaged.
All this says is that there will inevitably be winners and losers. It's not a Zero-Sum game, however - if the same party keeps on winning and forcing the same groups of people to lose.