General Election: some final thoughts

It’s now a week since the General Election, and I’m beginning to feel ‘normal’ again. I say ‘normal’ simply because the election is parasitic of candidates; it slowly and imperceptively takes over your whole thinking, and only reluctantly releases its grip on you. Thankfully this grip is now sufficiently weak that I can both start to focus on my routine council work (which I have neglected these last few weeks) and rationally reflect (as opposed to emotionally react) on the result.

My first thoughts refer to the widespread degree of tactical voting that took place. At the start of the election I was very sympathetic to the call for people to not vote for the candidate they most supported, but to ‘hold their nose’ and vote for the one they thought most likely to beat the Conservative candidate, and in the end it was obvious that tactical voting was very prevalent; even though I managed to increase the size of my vote from the 2017 election it was still greatly squeezed, with many, many people coming up to me to say “I would like to vote for you but…”. However, on reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that such an approach to voting is undemocratic. It implies that smaller political parties like The Green Party should stand aside for the ‘big boys, further marginalising new political thinking. It attempts to deprive voters of choice. But most damning of all, it has a tendency to be coercive, in as much that towards the end of the election period I started to hear reports from voters that they felt under pressure to vote differently from how they wanted. I found this worrying and of great concern.

I, like many others, felt very depressed at the result of this election. Not only am I very worried that the size of Tory majority effectively side-lines any effective opposition in Parliament, giving them free reign to do what they like, I fear that an effective response to our climate and ecological emergency will be tepid at best – that their deep belief in neo-liberal economics, a belief in the power of market led solutions, will drive us further and further towards the brink. However, as these initial dark clouds start to lighten I am starting to feel a determination grow in me to fight politically more than I have ever done before. I am starting to feel a determination to harness everything I have learned from my relatively short experience of politics, but perhaps even more importantly from my experience of philosophy, to do all that I can to break the stranglehold this neo-liberal ideology has over our thinking.

I say over our thinking on purpose. I’ve come to realise over the years that whether we realise it or not we structure and give meaning to our lives in line with a background story, a story that becomes so imbedded in our thinking that we start to consider it ‘just plain common sense’. For many centuries this story was supplied by religion – in the West predominantly by some form of Christianity. However, slowly and imperceptively this story has been superseded by neo-liberalism and the belief that we are all individuals naturally controlled by rational self-interest. At the moment we are all predominantly under its spell. But we don’t need to be. There’s nothing natural about it beyond our need to have some grand-narrative – a narrative that can and should be changed if we want to give humanity a fighting chance of flourishing in the decades to come. I intend to find a way, probably through a book, of explaining my thinking here in some depth.

And finally, a conversation I had with my Town Clerk greatly restored both my spirits and motivation. He pointed out that whilst communities could not resolve all our problems they have got the power to make a real difference to people’s lives. And at this level not only can we all become involved in change and make a contribution to our collective lives, but we can actually come to realise the power and importance of our collective life together – we can come to realise first hand the power of cooperation and community. So on that uplifting note I wish you all peace and happiness. This, I think, will be my last post of the year. Have a great holiday. See you in 2020!

General Election: week five

On Saturday I took part in a very informal hustings at the Cerne Abbas brewery. What was really significant about this event was not the beer, nor the very small audience comprised mostly of supporters of the three candidates who attended (Lib Dem, Labour & myself), nor the rather cold semi-open air setting. It was the final comment of the organiser when thanking the candidates. Because all three of us get on well, and because we are largely in agreement on most issues, he asked if it was possible for us to job share. Now I know that this was a somewhat tongue in cheek comment, but it triggered some thoughts about how we could, even should, do politics differently.

Most importantly, we must have some form of proportional representation – the ‘first past the post’ system we have now is well and truly broken. One of the big themes in this election has been tactical voting. Voters feel unable to vote with their hearts to bring about change. Instead, many have openly said that they will hold their nose and vote for a certain candidate simply in the hope that by so doing they will prevent the Conservative candidate winning. I have also been opening asked at hustings to stand down for the same purpose. As I said in response to such a request last night, that is unfair, even undemocratic, in as much as it deprives Green Party supporters who do wish to vote with their hearts the opportunity to do so. No, what is needed is a system whereby if the Green Party (or any other minority party) has say 5% of the popular vote, that should translate into a Parliament comprised of 5% Green Party MPs.

This will not only ensure that all views are truly represented in Parliament, but will mean that Governments, because they will almost always need to be formed by coalitions, will be forced to seek consensus. I think this important for two reasons; reasons which are, in the main, not openly expressed or understood by politicians and voters alike. First, there are no definitive answers to the problems and issues we face. Anyone who claims that there are is fooling themselves. Like it or like it not, the world (and by that I mean both the natural world and the socio-economic world) is just too complex for such answers. Just because a certain solution appeared to work in the past is no guarantee that it will work now (for the simple reason that, by definition, the context has changed), but more importantly, many of the problems facing us now have never occurred before – we have no experience to draw upon.

Second, the world is inherently uncertainty. For reasons best explained by complexity science, the science of dynamic systems, not only is the precise outcome of any action impossible to predict (because it is impossible to factor in all the variables), because of various feedback loops, the magnitude of any difference made by one of these variables can be totally out of proportion to the magnitude of its input. I once heard Shirley Williams, one of the Labour MPs who broke away from the party to form the Social Democrats, say on the radio that in their hearts most politicians know this, but that they are in fear of admitting it because they believe that the public wants to hear politicians being certain. We really do need to end this deception.

All this will all mean that we will need to do politics differently in the future. Proportional Representation will rightly mean that multiple view-points are expressed in any discussion. Because of the two reasons explained above, this means that politician will need to actively listen to and understand these various view-points. It doesn’t mean that that have to agree to them, but it does mean that they need to rationally explain why they disagree, and be open to having these disagreements challenged in open debate. Politicians also need to understand the nature of evidence and how to evaluate it, together with an acceptance that this evidence will often show that their original decision was not the best one and that there is nothing wrong with admitting this. But most of all, it means that politicians need to accept that decisions can only be made through consensus.

General Election: week four

I sat down late yesterday afternoon with a cup of tea feeling very smug with myself. I had caught up with a couple of demands for me to write something, I had replied to a number of emails and made a couple of important calls, and, most importantly, had prepared for the evening’s hustings event in Maiden Newton. As a result of a rare day with no commitments I felt on top of the demands of the general election. And then it dawned on me. I had completely forgotten to write my weekly blog. So here goes. My apologies for its lateness, and for the lack of my usual analysis – I have a very limited amount of time!

Yes, the intensity of the general election is reaching its peak. I’m not sure how much can be read into this, but there are far more events to attend this time round than there was in the 2017 election. For me, the highlight of last week was the Bridport hustings – simply because it was a ‘home fixture’. This event was really well attended. Even walking to the venue gave me the sense of an occasion, in as far as there was a rare, noticeable movement of people heading towards it. I find it very reassuring that public political meetings can still draw so many people, especially on a dark November evening.

Another noticeable difference from 2017 is the atmosphere emanating from the audience. I know that I am biased, but the Bridport audience in particular contained far less support for the Conservatives than previously. However, I suspect that this is not evidence of an impending collapse in the West Dorset Tory vote. It’s much more likely to be an example of the echo chamber. It’s much more likely that the vast majority of those people who attended were motivated to do so by their anger or frustration with our current political situation. From the platform it certainly felt like a largely supportive audience, with no shouts accusing me of being a communist (a 2017 heckle meant as an insult which I thanked the heckler for). But it’s very easy to be deceived. Most true blue conservatives, I suspect, stayed safely at home.

Another phenomenon experienced by myself and other general election candidates is a tidal wave of speculative emails, mostly sent from individual voters via various internet campaign platforms, calling for me to pledge my support for certain issues or asking me to put their particular campaign at the top of my agenda. I have decided this time round to ignore them. So if you have sent one, I apologise, but I have my reasons. First, on a purely practical level, I just don’t have the time to respond to them. Second, many of the campaign manifesto’s that I’m being asked to support are too complex to justify a simple yes or no pledge, and I don’t have the time to read them all thoroughly and give a more nuanced, considered reply. And finally, even if I broadly support the campaign, I would be very unlikely to place it at the top of my agenda. I have already made it absolutely clear what is at the top of my agenda – responding to our climate and ecological emergency!

One very positive thing to emerge from the election campaign is the motivation to write a book. An idea that has greatly influenced by political attitude, and particularly my drift from socialism to green politics (albeit with a large amount of red colouring remaining) is the call from the French philosopher Michel Serres for a natural contract to sit alongside our social contract. His basic argument is that over the centuries humanity has only ever considered the social aspect of our relationships, how we organise ourselves politically, socially and economically, and has largely ignored our relationship with the planet Earth and the natural environment. As a result we have not only distanced ourselves from this lifegiving environment, but seen ourselves as conquerors of our natural environment. As a result we fail to appreciate our interdependence with other life and the planet itself. I occasionally mention this on the hustings by way of explaining the main influence on my political thinking. It has been suggested that I write this up into a book explaining it’s political implications. I intend to do so.