Electoral Anger

April 19, 2011

An interesting post from Chris Dillow on Cameron’s ‘gut feelings’ around the AV referendum. Interesting indeed, because towards the end of the post he appears to be moving towards a similar ‘gut feeling’ about the lack of justice inherent in the power structures Cameron is seeking to defend.

He is right to do so; one of the features of this referendum has been the very clear dividing line between those who are seeking to defend our current structures of power and those who are seeking to overturn them, however slightly. At the gut level, liberalism is about power – not legalistic theories or shopping lists of rights. It’s about feeling – and I do mean feeling – that the concentration of power in the hands of any one individual or group is an abomination. If necessary, that power must be wrested from them and distributed as widely as possible.

AV accomplishes that in a minor way by permitting preferential voting, handing voters the power to express their democratic preferences outwith the framework of the main parties without simultaneously losing their influence. It is bad for the sort of American-style tribal politics which keeps the electorate locked up in two boxes, never allowing a diversity of opinion to flourish. To oppose it is revealing – it implies that you prefer to restrain public opinion, lest it become too diverse and your interests become threatened. It is this, therefore, which lies at the root of the opposition of rightwing libertarians; to them, freedom is only something that is acceptable inasmuch as it does not threaten the interests of capital. That is not liberalism, and is indeed a long way from it.

So therefore, my fellow campaigners, I would urge you to get angry. The polls aren’t looking good for us, and the only thing that might save the campaign right now is reaching out at the gut level to our latent supporters – who are everyone whose interests do not lie in the current structures of power.


6 Responses to “Electoral Anger”

  1. Phil Ruse said

    Well it might be that I prefer to restrain public opinion lest my interests become threatened – or it may be because your argument hasn’t yet won me over.

    My main concern with AV is that what multiple preferences actually show is who the vote is against, with an (I’ll assume likely correct) assumption of who the vote is for. For example, if I’ve expressed three preferences from a possible four candidates and the omitted candidate is the BNP there’s every reason to accept the possibility that the vote is a ‘donkey’ vote against an extremist candidate – if only in part (say 2nd & 3rd choice) – something that AV is capable of allowing.

    Then either someone in the Yes2AV camp comes along and tells me I’m stupid or someone else suggests that I’m looking out for myself lest – how did you put it – my interests become threatened.

    I’ll grant that most of the “No” arguments have been pretty dreadful, perhaps mine is as well, but some of the “Yes” arguments – it’s going to make MPs more honest, no more safe seats, that BNP nonsense – have been pretty poor too.

    • declineofthelogos said

      It’s true that some of the Yes arguments have been bad, but I would say that you’re characterising multiple preferences incorrectly. AV corrects a flaw in FPTP which forces people to choose between voting tactically and voting for the party they actually want to win. I’d argue that democracy is a bit meaningless if we’re forced into a narrow choice of parties by the vagaries of the political situation where we happen to live.

  2. There is a difference between ideology and policy.

    I am a nation-state kind of guy, and reject the tenets of transnational progressivism.

    The results follow:

    1. I like centrist ideology with broad appeal
    2. I dislike narrow ideological factionalism

    a. I don’t really care about using proportionalism to distinguish and protect minority groups.
    b. I dislike consensual government and compromise policy

    I also consider myself a classical liberal, or right-wing libertarian in your parlance, and that really is economic and social liberalism.

    If that seems an odd mix it is because I have the libertarians suspicion in the inherent corruptibility of positive liberty, and would seek to devolve power away from central government anyway.

    Therefore the effective suppression of extreme ideologies is of limited impact, and does nothing to stop third ‘parties’ from reaching the top.

    While FPTP hinders the Lib-Dem’s that is because they hold foolish policy positions on immigration and europe which do not command widespread respect, not because liberalism itself is an unattractive creed.

    • declineofthelogos said

      Hi Jedi,

      I’m not clear about what you’re saying – certainly, I would argue there’s a distinction between classical liberalism and right-wing libertarianism, unless you think Ayn Rand was a classical liberal. I would count myself a classical liberal in many areas, especially with regard to the economy.

      I would also agree that devolution of power away from the centre is important, as I indicate in this post. Where I become puzzled is when you say that ‘the effective suppression of extreme ideologies is of limited impact’. Do you mean that you’re happy with their effective suppression per se, or that you’re happy with their effective suppression in the context of devolved power? Neither is especially liberal; indeed, part of the justification for the devolution of power on my part is the opening up of the political space to multiple voices, to give everyone the chance to have their input.

      • I recognise the contradiction, when I term myself a classical liberal it is because I am both economically and socially liberal.

        While I recognise that valuing the suppressive qualities of FPTP may not seem terribly liberal, but it results mainly from having little truck with (enabled) positive liberty, and viewing a coherent nation-state as the best vehicle to enable (freedom from interference) negative liberty for everyone.

        It is not that any particular ideology should be verboten, or otherwise frowned upon, if Britain decides it wants to become communist then all well and good, but that ideology needs to appeal to the people broadly before it comes to have any influence in the governance of the rest of us.

        Plaid and the SNP have both overcome this hurdle because they have significant support in Wales and Scotland, and while I don’t agree with the aim of succession I don’t object to their success.

        UKIP on the other hand have some core aims that I am very sympathetic too, and while they suffer under FPTP currently I am quite content with their marginalisation because their message is too divisive to be forced on the wider public.

        In short, any ideology has to earn its place in the sun and do so by appealing broadly across the country, an act that will temper its divisiveness as the party looks to occupy as many voter priorities as possible. FPTP facilitates this, and this is what Labour and the Conservatives do, and what the Lib-Dem’s need to relearn how to do.

        This is not to say that I want tempered policy, policy is quite different from ideology and i want it radical. Radical policy, in my mind, is most acceptable if it comes with a manifesto mandate, and most likely if it is not the product of coalition compromises.

        If this is a somewhat incoherent you have my apologies, but its because there are no nice clear cut definitions to delineate positions.

        Two quotes that put it rather nicely:

        “Being a classical liberal means being a conservative when you need to preserve liberties you already have, a radical when you have to gain liberties you don’t have yet, a reactionary when you need to regain liberties you’ve lost, and a revolutionary when you can’t be free any other way. And always progressive, because without liberty, there can be no progress.”

        “It follows that a frontier must be drawn between the area of private life and that of public authority. Where it is to be drawn is a matter of argument, indeed of haggling. Men are largely interdependent, and no man’s activity is so completely private as never to obstruct the lives of others in any way. ‘Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows’ the liberty of some must depend on the restraint of others.”

  3. declineofthelogos said

    While I have some sympathy with your favouring of an evolutionary, combative kind of politics, I fear I cannot accept your argument on two counts:

    1) I do not accept that positive and negative liberty define liberty entirely – please see my post here on Fleischacker’s ‘Third Concept of Liberty’ http://www.libdemvoice.org/redefining-fairness-22275.html

    2) While, as I say, I have some sympathy with a requirement upon competing political parties to broaden their appeal to capture support, the way in which you’ve spelt it out here reveals a key assumption – that all participants in the democratic process have perfect information. It is manifestly not the case that every voter knows the policies or even the ideology of every party in play; access to this information is available, but is not necessarily taken up by the electorate. The only way to counter this is to use resources to thrust it into the minds of the voters; hence the fetishisation by the Lib Dems of leafleting. Resources are, by and large, a symptom of electoral success: you could have a policy platform with the broadest appeal in the UK, but it would be irrelevant if you failed to have the resources to push it into popular consciousness.

    I feel very strongly that resources by themselves should not be a barrier to electoral progress; such an external barrier to what should be a competition of ideas is not useful. AV solves this in a minor way by making it ‘safe’ to vote for low-resourced parties while still having a player in the main contest of the high-resourced parties.

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