Knowing your political identity: Here’s why “we” won’t work for me
- Credit: Archant
Embracing political identity on a tribal level can lead to disastrous decisions
A staunchly left-wing friend of mine tweeted earlier this week that they were clinging to the vague (but still existent) hope that Labour could turn things around in the short time remaining before the election, that, in her words, 'we might win'.
I found myself feeling strangely envious and wistful, not envious of the apparent bulletproof nature of her optimism, but simply of her blithe and unhesitant use of that pronoun. 'We'. And I found myself thinking 'I wish I had a 'we'...'
I've been passionately interested in politics for as long as it's reasonable to be so, since the age of about 12 or 13. But I've never developed any party affiliations. I've voted – every election I've been of age for I've voted – for at least three different parties that I can remember (there may have been a fourth), but I've never joined a party, nor indeed felt the sort of 'draw' towards a particular party that might result in me doing so.
And this isn't some sort of principled stand I'm taking, either; in my role as a satirist/commentator/pundit these days I guess I think it's certainly advisable to maintain a healthy sceptical distance from all politicians if only so as to be able to tar them all with the same disrespectfully broad brush as and when required. But this isn't me setting myself admirably rigid standards of impartiality; I've just genuinely never felt that any party came close enough to all my positions to warrant my getting aboard.
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I think this is partly due to my generally sceptical take on all things; I grew up in a secular (rather than avowedly atheist) family and my parents' attitude to all things tended to be pragmatic rather than dogmatic. We didn't really do 'belief' in our house and we definitely didn't do unquestioning belief.
Another major factor is where and when I was at the point at which I began to acquire some sort of political awareness... When I was about 12 or 13 I was growing up in Liverpool, in the early 1980s. During the Militant era. For those of you lucky enough not to remember this time, Labour was being led by a benign but rather detached and dithering left-wing intellectual while the grass-roots party was in the process of being taken over by a hardline neo-Trotskyite insurgent group, who set about purging local Labour associations of anyone suspected of ideological backsliding and dragging the party ever further towards po-faced radicalism, while the Conservative government, led by their ice-blooded woman Prime Minister, watched with glee as their poll numbers soared ever higher despite the parlous economic state of the nation.
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I know! Hard to imagine, isn't it.
Now at the time, my home town of Liverpool was in serious danger of collapse, of total public services shutdown, because we were trapped in the middle of a funding stand-off between our very left-wing Labour city council and the very right-wing Conservative government in Whitehall. And during this crisis it occurred to me, and to quite a lot of people, that both sides were rooting for the city to fail.
Both the Militant council and the Tory government wanted to see Liverpool descend into chaos because it suited everyone's political interests that it did. The council wanted to parade the woes of the people of Liverpool as the result of the heartless disdain of those Evil Tory Bastards in Westminster, while the Evil Tory Bastards themselves were more than happy for this to happen so that they could hold up the fate of Liverpool as a dire example of the results of letting the Loony Left run amok in town halls and council chambers. Everyone wanted us to suffer. And in my 13 year old mind, and still now in my 47 year old mind, the thought took root: you can't bloody trust any of them.
Anyway, soon thereafter, the benign but dithering left-wing intellectual finally stepped aside, Dan Jarv- er, I mean, Neil Kinnock gave his famous 'grotesque spectacle' conference speech, Momen- sorry, Militant's takeover was thwarted and just 13 short years later, Labour was restored to power. So that turned out OK (sigh).
History's habit of repeating itself (sometimes almost verbatim) aside, that feeling of distrust of the two main parties – especially those at the extreme fringes of either – has stayed with me. The very fact that both the hard left and the hard right refer to 'the people' in the singular should give us some idea of how much interest they have in us as individuals. And at the end of the day (to use an authentic 80s political cliché) the only real difference between Capitalist Fundamentalists and Socialist Fundamentalists is that Capitalist Fundamentalists want 'the people' to work ourselves to death in a factory or mine while it's economically expedient for us to do so, and when it's not they'd rather we crawl off and die in a ditch somewhere they don't have to look at us, whereas your Socialist Fundamentalists want 'the people' to storm the Winter Palace and hurl ourselves onto the bayonets of the Tsar's soldiers, and later, the Worker's Paradise having been established... THEN work ourselves to death in a factory or mine and/or crawl off and die in a ditch somewhere they don't have to look at us.
I realise none of this is of much help to the rest of you; I'm just outlining the reasons behind my 'position', such as it is. This could change; one of the parties, in some future iteration, might yet appeal strongly enough for me to sign up but if anything I seem to be getting more, rather than less, sceptical in middle age.
Nor do I think this is something I'm getting right and others are getting wrong, incidentally; and like I said I'm kind of envious of those who have a political flag to wrap themselves in. But in general I think assessing each question on its own merits is better than slapping a one-size-fits-nothing philosophy over all of them. And embracing political identity on that tribal level can lead to disastrous decisions. It's why poor white Americans voted overwhelmingly to impoverish and defraud themselves last November, and possibly also why millions of less well-off Britons are about to do the same.
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