Politics should not be about doffing our (benefits) caps in mutual incomprehension. But it certainly looks to be heading in that direction.
We simply do not understand each other, do we? On the one hand, the government has clearly decided that the whole nation needs re-engineering far more than it needs a helping hand. On the other hand, the opposition (that is to say, the political party I am a member of) can only see the degrading piecemeal destruction of a vast infrastructure of little-by-little policy decisions – all originally put together with the very best of intentions by New Labour and its protagonists over a long decade of social repair.
Sadly, most modern politicians seem – eventually – to get stuck at “changing things” instead of “changing things for the better”. Even such enlightened observers as Éoin are now urging Ed Miliband to come over all pragmatically populist.
Out of sheer desperation, Labour is now uncertain whether to triangulate the short game of the general election in 2015, in the faintest hope that maybe the polls will eventually support what is now fast becoming a manifest absence of convictions; or, alternatively, give up on the short game entirely and properly play the long game of 2020.
Between two such stools we are rapidly falling. And no: populism is not the answer.
On the other hand, a careful weaving of a tapestry of real and appropriate convictions, whilst surely just what the (spin) doctor ordered, doesn’t seem to be all that close to a sensible realisation.
For we, on the progressive side of politics, appear to have learnt absolutely nothing from our last disagreeable encounter with a conviction politician. Mrs Thatcher finally managed to impose on us her cruel brand of politics because we gave her the space to demonstrate she was perfectly coherent in everything she did. She might not have been, of course; but her discourse clearly gave the impression she was. And that, far more than populism, convinced us there was no alternative.
Triangulation; populism; to be reactive; to have no clear centre of political gravity … well, these are ideas I all find an anathema to what I believe a politics of the people should really be about.
Essentially, we need to know three things: why we are here; what we want to achieve; and how we want to achieve it.
Defining oneself in terms of one’s eternally piecemeal responses to a multitude of government policy objectives – objectives which only serve to shotgun our body politic – is a lily-livered and ultimately futile exercise in short-term political survival.
We have no alternative, any more, to entirely reinventing ourselves.
This is not a party political luxury of the self-indulgent.
This is a precondition to long-term survival. A precondition to any progress from here on in.