Does (party) politics matter?
Several people seem to have missed the point about my last post. The point of comparing BNP membership to Cage and Aviary Birds’ circulation was to show that the BNP is a minuscule presence in society. Insofar as it has political presence, this is only because (party?) politics is itself a small social presence, so the BNP is a middling-size fish in a small pond. For example, there are 48.1m over-16s in Great Britain. Only one in 271 of these is a member of the Labour party, and only one in 166 a member of the Tory party. In many areas of the country you would have to throw a lot of bricks before you hit a member of a major political party, though the effort might be worth it.And I suspect most of us devote very little thought to politics. Even I spend more time thinking about music, food, gardening, or football than I do about politics - and I’m supposed to be one of the country’s top political bloggers.Party politics, then, is very much a minority pursuit - a point which those living in London especially are prone to overlook. There are good reasons, or justifications, for this:1. Party politics is dull. The typical MP spends much more time thinking about housing than about fundamental questions such as the nature of justice or proper functions of the state. It’s for this reason that Madeleine Bunting can write about political philosophy as if it’s a newly-discovered discipline. Even party leaders think much more like marketing managers - what will sell? - than about genuine policy issues; this is why there’s a huge gulf between what politicians say about education and what academics say.2. The belief that party politics matters just because it purports to deal with important subjects is wrong. In truth, politicians - at least within the feasible range - make less difference than they pretend: this is true for GDP growth, the composition and level of government spending, or life expectancy, among other things. As a check on this hypothesis, just ask: how much difference have particular politicians made to your life? For many of us, for most politicians, the answer is: very little. I can’t think of how, say, John Major or Tony Blair fundamentally affected me. Even if politics impinged very gravely upon you - for example, because you lost a relative in Iraq or Afghanistan - it doesn’t follow that party politics matters, as both main parties supported these wars. And even where politicians do make a difference, it’s often in unexpected ways. For example, Thatcher altered my life by deregulating the City in 1986, thus creating the conditions which gave me work. But I don’t think this was at all an issue in the 1983 election. 3. It’s rational not to pay attention to politics. All it does is make us angry, as DK and Laurie show so well. It’s surely better for our psychological health to just ignore politicians’ stupidity, corruption and bullying. 4. To be a politician is to be a fanatic - what sort of person would rather go to political meetings than watch Corrie? - and an egomaniac: you need to believe that you can “make a difference” and that others should share your views. These are deeply unattractive traits. Fanatics are far worse than extremists. You might object here these are the words of someone privileged enough to be able to afford to ignore politics. In one sense, you’d be both right. I am lucky not to be a Zimbabwean, Afghan or North Korean. In troubled nations, politics does matter. But in another sense, you’d be wrong. The fact is that under any foreseeable UK government the poorest people on the planet will continue to starve to death unnecessarily, whilst the poorest in Britain will be stigmatized and harassed. And this is, perhaps, the biggest reason of all why we should regard party politics with contempt.