Saturday, May 30, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Know You (6)

X: Mad Men

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made.
Groucho Marx (and others)

The Tories won the election fair and square. But one of the eccentric things about our system is that you can still win a Famous Victory even if the overwhelming majority of voters vote against you.

In one sense, the Tories can claim to have a popular mandate to abolish the BBC license, privatize the NHS, repeal the Human Rights act, abolish most benefits, withdraw from Europe, etc. But the opposition parties can, in a much more intuitive sense, claim a popular mandate to block those extremist measures.

They may not win all the victories. They shouldn't expect to, or even want to. Unlike Tony Blair, I think sensible centrist government happens when there is a compromise between two extreme positions. But surely, as the Opposition, it's their job to try?

But they aren't going to.

Literally minutes after being wiped out, the Liberal Democrats were talking about "bouncing back" in 2020. The Labour Party is having a lovely time debating the ways in which it failed to connect with the voters and how they might appeal to a different demographic at the next election.

Their first thought was not "What can we do to prevent millions more children being forced to rely on food banks?" or "What can we do to make sure that, even if he abolishes the Human Rights Act, Michael Gove doesn't reintroduce torture?" Their first thought was "What can we do to get more votes in five years time?” And so, naturally, they started to think like advertising men; asking what they could do to make their product appeal to people who didn’t buy it this time round.

An advertising man doesn't really, deep down, care whether or not your shirts are clean; he only cares that you buy the brand of soap powder he is selling. It is said that a really good salesman has to really believe in his product; but if you are claiming that one brand of detergent will give you a happier family and more beautiful kids than another identical brand of detergent, you probably don't believe in it very strongly.

It's all about who you sell it to. If your washing powder has a reputation for being cheap-and-cheerful, you will probably decide to put it in a snazzy box and show pictures of posh people washing their shirts before attending the ambassador's reception. Lager still has a bit of a reputation as a bit of a girly drink compared with ale, so adverts for lager are relentlessly blokish.

From an advertising perspective, if people perceive the Labour Party as being about cloth caps and trades unions and poor people, it makes marketing sense to show pictures of Labour voters buying their pizzas and penguins at the poshest shops. The party that stands for the Bosses' interests has persuaded the Workers to vote for it, so the Workers' party needs to have a jolly good go at selling itself to the Bosses.

But surely that isn’t the only thing which matters?

Imagine two Vicars, having a discussion about getting some pious bottoms back onto their church pews. Rev'd T. Dum thinks that church is much too stuffy; and wants to spice it up with the New English Bible, experimental worship and modern hymns. Rev'd T. Dee thinks that, on the contrary, people positively want old familiar tunes and old familiar words. Dum wins the argument; the church invests in an interactive white-board and state of the art espresso machine, and starts mixing heavy rock worship songs with a hiphop liturgy. The pews remain resolutely empty. "Oh dear" says Dum, after a few months, "That didn't work. Let's try it your way, with the Authorized Version, the Book of Common Prayer, and Hymns Ancient and Even More Ancient. If Nescafe was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us." I don't think that anyone would call Dum a hypocrite. (Or, indeed, blame Dee for throwing himself heart and soul into the modernizing experiment while it lasted.) Because both Vicars care about something more than they care about music and liturgy: namely, getting people into Church and preaching the Christian message at them. The electric guitars and the big black books were merely tactics in that greater game.

It would be surprising if, at the end of a disastrous election, politicians were not talking about where their parties went wrong. But what I find strange and off-putting is that is that politicians who, hours ago, were working their red, white and blue socks off to get make Ed Miliband Prime Minister and Ed Miliband's policies the policies of Her Majesty's government are noq happily saying that they never thought he was much of a leader and never agreed with his policies in the first place.

It's almost as if leaders and policies were merely tactics to persuade people to buy your particular brand of washing powder.

The reason, and I genuinely hate to say this, that Farage was so good was that he was selling a brand of soap powder he honestly and truthfully believed in. He honestly does hate the European Union, he honestly does hate immigrants; and he honestly does think that the European Union is forcing us to allow more immigration than is good for us. He believes this much more than he wants to be Prime Minister. When Britain withdraws from Europe in 2017 I can well imagine him disbanding UKIP and saying "My work is done". And so he resonates with other xenophobes, and with people who are not xenophobic themselves but are impressed with his sincerity. Even I quite liked him.

And the Labour Party says "Oh, well, if that 'xenophobia' stuff is popular this month, we'd better carve 'Down with foreigners!' on a rock and sell 'Down with foreigners!' mugs, and put on our special 'sincere' faces and say 'We just happen to honestly and sincerely feel in our hearts that foreigners are horrible' and in that way we'll be as plausible and convincing and affable on TV as Nigel."

And it doesn't work. It never works.

The Green Party really and truly believe that we need to save the planet. The Scottish Nationalists really and truly believe that Scotland should be an independent nation. I suppose that some Tories at least really and truly believe that poor people are poor because they are wicked, and if poverty is made sufficiently unpleasant, they will choose to stop being poor. The Labour Party really and truly believe that, er, there should be more of Our Lot and less of Their Lot in the House of Commons. 

Being a politician is no longer about having a clever plan that you really believe in and think has a good chance of working and persuading other people that you deserve a chance to put your plan into action. It is about deciding what you think other people think would be a good plan, and then pretending that that’s the plan you really believe in.

Well, “pretending” isn’t exactly the right word. Doing a sort of mental somersault by which you convince yourself that you really believe it – working up subjective emotional states called "sincerity" and "belief" and "feeling passionate about" and "just happening to believe".

So what is required is a paradigm shift.

Tribal party loyalists think that the overwhelming question is "Can Our Lot become enough like Their Lot that Our Lot will get more votes than Their Lot in 2025."

The answer is "No, you cannot: and even if you could it would make no difference — we would still be governed by Their Lot, only under a different name." The old joke about "whoever you vote for, the government always gets elected" would become literally true.

An opposition that has sacrificed it's believe in the BBC, the NHS, Human Rights and the Welfare State in order to gain Murdoch's endorsement is no opposition at all. If Rev'd Dum had said "I reckon we can get people back into church if we dropped all that stuff about God and Jesus and the Bible", then Rev'd Dee would have very properly have kicked him out of his church, and also stopped reading his weekly column in the Guardian.

The question is not "Can a party with the label Labour or Liberal or Green win an election in 2025."

The question is about political survivalism.

There are still a few of us left who still believing in Sharing and Equality and Fairness and Kindness.

What can we humans to do preserve civilization in the face of the forthcoming zombie apocalypse?

There is much rash idealization of past ages about, and I do not wish to encourage more of it. Our ancestors were cruel, lecherous, greedy and stupid, like ourselves. But while they cared for other things more than for civilization - and they cared at different times for all sorts of things, for the will of God, for glory, for personal honour, for doctrinal purity, for justice - was civilization often in serious danger of disappearing?
              C.S Lewis - "First and Second Things"

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