Friday, 20 December 2019

Tories' real success is setting the terms of debate

I mentioned a few days ago the problem with Labour’s increasingly transactional approach to politics, but it isn’t just Labour who suffer that problem.  It seems to me at times that Plaid are suffering from a very similar form of transactionalism.
In Labour’s case, policies which might, in many cases, be based on a socialist view of what the world should be are sold not on the basis of building that better world but on the basis of making individual electors better off.  The result is that people can indeed be persuaded to support the policies, but support for those policies doesn’t lead to support for the political philosophy underpinning them.  And if someone else comes along with a better or more credible offer…
In the same way, many of Plaid’s policies are based, honestly enough, on the sort of society which the party would like to build after independence, but they are, once again, presented on the basis of an appeal to people to think about what might benefit them.  The result is the same – even if the electors support the policies, that support does not translate into support for the underpinning policy, namely independence.
Labour can often sound as if it is offering the benefits of socialism whilst not asking people to buy into the concept, and Plaid as though it is offering the benefits of independence without buying into the concept – what’s not to like about that?  Apart, of course, from the fact that it isn’t credible.  Part of the reason for following such an approach is that many in Labour aren’t socialists at all, just people who believe that the government should provide a few services and act as an occasional referee to the market – and there are, similarly, more than a handful in Plaid who aren’t independentistas, just ardent devolutionists.  But that isn’t the only reason; it’s also to do with the way elections are framed.
The parties do, of course, face a tough dilemma. In an electoral context in which the media are going to present all manifestos as ‘offers’ to the public of what the parties will do for them, it is difficult to move the debate on to a wider question about what sort of society we want to be and how we get there.  For both parties, it would necessarily involve challenging the premise that people are, or should be, driven primarily – or even exclusively – by pursuit of their own selfish personal interests (at best expanded to the interests of their immediate families) rather than by any wider consideration about any greater good.  But failure to challenge that premise serves only to reinforce it, ultimately making the task harder.  The great success of the Tories in modern times isn’t their electoral victories, or the way in which they’ve managed to reverse their predecessors’ policies, but their success in moving the Overton window in their direction.  Parties seeking real change which allow themselves to be constrained – between elections as well as during campaigns – by the outcome of that success have only themselves to blame for their failure.  Real change depends on changing the terms of the debate, not just outbidding other parties.


Mel Morgan said...

Wise words, long overdue.

Spirit of BME said...

Your post points out some very interesting issues between Labour and Plaid Cymru – The Party of some parts of Wales.
I draw a different conclusion, in that Labour should look at Plaid and see it`s three decades of spiral decline and shudder as to what has happened. Plaid`s results in not coming second in any of the seats they did not hold, could well be a tipping point.
A group entered Plaid with a plan to capture the working class heartlands with a bold policy to narrow the appeal and deliver the socialist vote, it failed over twenty years ago but the group, who would now be called “Progressives “ continue on after some very good reports about the party`s past failures, which were ignored or they did not have the skilled people to implement the recommendations.
What the progressives have failed to accept or are in denial, is that the social economic group D and E are mostly social conservatives and reject the progressive narrative of open borders and sexual identity and the like, they in turn are appalled that the great unwashed do no embrace their call – the total ingrates.
Mrs Brown who writes for the Guardian (who is recovering from her emotional break down from the election results, while out shopping in the West End ) when reviewing the papers, put it down to those poor people in the North of England who simply do not understand the issues that effects their lives, compared to the elite that are there to look after their interest- not the best way to ask for their support!!
When a party narrows its appeal, the consequence is that members from certain sectors leave or are not attracted, the result is that group- think takes over and balanced debates fail to take place and then we are into the Animal Farm scenario.