In Praise Of Politics

Election Night (tables, small) 05.4.26 057.jpg The benefits of modern democracy which we in the U.K. enjoy are diminished by the media when they invite us to confuse the real thing with synthetic ‘political entertainment’ concocted by those who then ‘report’ it. At a time when cyncism about politics is rife, people need to know about the realities of political involvement, so they can make informed judgements about whom they wish to support.
LouiseEllmanAdoptionMtg05.4.15c.jpg I’ve just returned from the Labour Party conference in Manchester. Personally, I was impressed. The Prime Minister and Chancellor each spoke with great authority and conviction about what politics means to and for them, and I think it would be fair to say their orations resonated clearly with what the large majority of those attending believe and were looking to be affirmed.
My belief is that the Labour Party, whatever its blips and foibles, stands for a way of life which is fair, progressive and ambitious for everyone’s future. Other major parties in the U.K. can make their own case, but there is no doubt that those who seriously subscribe to these alternative credos also believe that their politic represents a way of life which makes sense to some people. I am content to acknowledge this – and where necessary to ‘take them on’, as Tony Blair urged in his speech. No doubt willingness to contest the political territory would apply in reverse for other parties, too.
Political debate about the future
The Labour Party national conference is one of the largest and without a doubt one of the most inclusive conferences in Europe. Women and men, first-time attenders and cabinet ministers, delegates of all ages, ethnicities, faiths and walks of life, meet in the course of that event as equals to bring their richly diverse experience and expertise to the issues of the day.
And the same applies to the democratic political process in the U.K. on a wider scale.
Election2005CampaignMK&JN,Sudley1.jpg The critical point is this. Where citizens are prepared to give their time and other personal resources to engaging in debate about the future of our country (and that of the globe), they should be respected for having the courage and conviction to do so.
Of course there are caveats to this general position. When opposing parties permit the debate to become unpleasantly personal, or when they step outside the boundaries of decency (as for instance the British National Party does frequently) they diminish fundamentally the democratic process and thereby lose the right to respect and engagement in that process.
Synthetic ‘news’
So what do we make of the media coverage this week?
Frankly, it has not so far been consistently of the best. I have no problem about considered critiques, or even criticism, of the political offer – that’s what politics is about – but I have plenty of reservations about lead stories concerning what Cherie might or might not have muttered to herself, or about the future prospects of John Reid and Gordon Brown, following the synthetic televised gruelling of a supposedly ‘representative’ (and, for its purpose, woefully small) focus group.
This is the media making the news, not reporting it…. Not an unusual occurrence, but one which does not deserve the headline reporting these matters were given. There are serious issues at stake, and the wider public needs to know about them. Such trivial issues are entertaining, but they don’t take us very far in understanding what the underlying politics is all about.
Politics as commitment
Election2005CampaignOffice(chaps).jpg Perhaps this needs to be said loud and clear: Many people are involved in politics with no expectation of personal reward. Most professional politicians go the extra mile and more (if they don’t, they deserve the abrupt termination of their political careers which is likely to follow).
Politics on the ground comprises hours of envelope stuffing and telephone calls; it requires rainy Saturday mornings in surgeries in what are now called challenging contexts; it involves knocking on the doors of not-always-appreciative strangers; it requires digging into one’s own pocket far more than filling it. And, critically, it demands the courage and conviction to stand up and say what one believes, and to take the reputational consequences.
And, most of all, decent politics at every level is underpinned by hope for the future – the belief that people can be persuaded to one’s view of what could be.
Politics as entitlement
I disagree fundamentally with the politics of the right, but I agree that sometimes the questions posed by right-wing politicians are valuable pointers to important issues which require resolution. I also accept that, within the bounds of decency and respect for other decent people (a requirement of us all), those who promote such right-wing positions have an entitlement to do so.
Political debate from the beginning of time has been the fairest way to decide who has the best ideas about what should happen, and who should be given the power to make that come about.
News, Politics or Entertainment?
If the media want to tell stories about what Cherie might have said to herself, or about a synthetic, manufactured event around the future of Gordon and John, no-one should stop them, self-serving of media pundits and distracting from serious debate though these stories are. Indeed, perhaps we are all complicit in this, at least insofar as the media would say we read this stuff and don’t challenge it.
But let’s at least ask that spurious ‘political’ stories be reported under the heading of Entertainment, not News; and let’s try to ensure that proper political reporting is delivered in ways which mark it out as Politics properly defined.
Politics is a difficult and sometimes even dangerous game; it needs, and democracy itself needs, the best people and the best efforts we can muster – and this in turn requires a modicum of underlying respect for those who still choose to make the effort.
Hope not cynicism
Election Night (Lpool MPs) [smaller] 05.4.26 051.jpg If there were a better way to run modern societies than democratic politics, someone would have invented it by now. At a time when the victory of cynicism over respect for engagement in the political process has probably never been greater, we, the public, damage ourselves as well as the politicians if we don’t insist at some level that politics is fundamentally about hope for the future; and that political media-created ‘entertainment’ and democratic politics are different things.

Posted on September 27, 2006, in Education, Health And Welfare, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The title of this article reminds me of the book by Bertrand Russell “In Praise of Idleness”. We have to look beyond the obvious.

  2. Tony Siebenthaler

    Fully support your basic assertion about democracy, which is why it makes my blood boil that many of those people who were milling around Manchester last week have taken the stance that there is some sort of cultural assumptions behind freedom to chose who and how to engage in discourse about your future… and that trying to encourage olther people around the world to do so, say in the Middle east, is yet another example of Western imperialism and arrogance.
    This is nonsense of course. If there is anything that can justly claim universality then it is surely democratic structures.
    I must add that this is not to say that our systems in the west cannot be improved…. I would also add that I feel there will be more to be impressed by at this week’s party political conference than the one we saw down the road last week?

  3. Hilary
    Sorry I missed you at the conference. I too was impressed, I felt that it was quite cathartic in parts and that we were able to draw a line in the sand and that we can now move on. Too many people in our movement have forgotten that you don’t go into politics to get a job but to do a job.

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