Never mention politics or religion

Disclaimer: as it says over in the right-hand sidebar of this personal blog which belongs to me, and no-one else, the opinions stated here are my own and not those of any organisation that employs me or has done so in the past. Just in case you weren’t sure.

All a bit exciting over here in wee old Britain lately. We had this General Election, you see, and nobody exactly, well, won. That hasn’t happened for ages.

So what happened next? Well the party with the most seats (Conservative) and those with enough to give them enough to govern (Liberal Democrats) have entered into a coalition. And we haven’t had one of those for, ooooh, ages, since the War, you know. And people are jumping up and down about a) the fact that the other lot didn’t win, b) the fact that a right-wing and centre/left-wing party can’t possibly get on and c) well it’s all so surprising, you know, what happens now? and d) well none of them have any experience, it can’t work and e) the last time that lot were in power the world nearly ended and just you watch, it will all happen again, they hate people and eat babies, you know.

One of the “rules” that I often read about blogging and social spaces like microblogs and social streams is that, as in life, it’s a good idea to avoid contentious topics like politics and religion, unless you have a point to make either way and that is the core purpose of your blog. Basically that’s for fear of showing what you actually believe in and having people point and laugh, or argue and dislike you.Β That’s an adage that I’ve generally stuck to and will go back to so doing shortly. On this occasion, just for once though, I’m going to comment, and admit that I’m struggling to understand the level of upset that I’m reading on “the Twitter” and “the Facebook”.

First of all, we had an election. Those that had a vote and chose to use it, voted. Those that didn’t do so can be quiet – I’m sorry, but they can, they had a chance to express a view[1], shocking and hardline though that may make me sound. Now, let’s put to one side some of the vagaries of the UK system whereby a party with a reasonable national percentage of the vote ended up with a relatively tiny proportion of the elected MPs, and just accept that the people voted, and we didn’t end up with a clear cut result.

No matter how things had gone, you’re generally going to end up with the supporters of one or more particular colour of politicians being put out that they “didn’t win”. That’s the way that elections work. If one party gets in and spends four or five years doing things which a majority of people then feel are “bad”, then you have the opportunity to remove them at the next election. That’s the system. So I think that whichever way I may lean politically, I have to just accept what “we all decided”[2], and not expect us to go on having weekly vote-a-thons until we end up with a result that I’m happy with.

Now let’s think about the possibilities of what we actually have here. This is where I get a lot more animated, in a positive way.

Whilst Labour and the LibDems may have seemed like more natural political bedfellows, being parties of the Left, or “progressive parties” as the outgoing Prime Minister would want to paint things, putting the two of them together would have been tricky. Labour didn’t “win” in terms of numbers of seats, and I’m inclined to think that the incumbent Government had run out of steam and needed some kind of a shakeup. There would have been a whole debate about “mandate to govern” had that combination worked out, too.

So we’ve got the Tories and the LibDems. But wait! They can’t possibly work together! One is historically a party of liberal freedoms and the other is a party of… small state and liberal freedoms[3]. Actually the thing that really struck me yesterday was when I heard the BBC political correspondent Nick Robinson remark on the PM programme on Radio 4 that Cameron was a student of Vernon Bogdanor at my alma mater, and that he admired Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was probably the archetypal radical liberal Conservative who made sweeping concessions and improvements to the conditions of the working classes in the late nineteenth century, extending the vote and conducting a remarkable kind of realpolitik that had been unknown until then. This is potentially a very interesting role model for Cameron. Another point is that those people who are concerned that the Conservatives are “the nasty party” run by right wingers who hate ordinary people and want to tax them to look after the rich whilst (preferably) bombing Europe and ethnic minorities [yes yes, I exaggerate for the sake of effect] should be positively welcoming the fact that under Cameron they have now entered into what appears to be a fairly wide-ranging deal, concessions on both sides, with a party that should help to draw them close to the political Centre and moderate those supposed nasty urges. Oh, and if Cameron is prepared to offer electoral reform now, which may in the future go beyond Alternative Vote to something more… well that would be a big change, but the history of the past 300 years of British politics has been all about change. It just may not seem like it when you find it difficult to look beyond an immediate generational horizon.

I’m excited. We’ve not seen such a coalition before in the UK. We’ve got two young party leaders of the same age and generation, both of whom were impressive on the campaign trail. Thanks to the large number of discredited MPs who left Parliament after the expenses scandal, we’ve got a large number of new, younger MPs who are untainted by the past. We’ve got an apparent spirit of cooperation. We’ve got a substantial number of apparently-talented new Cabinet ministers who impressed during the last Parliament. Oh, and there hasn’t been a bloodbath with lots of backbiting in the past few days – it seems as though our elected representatives have actually had mature conversations with one another, and the outgoing leadership has left with dignity[4]. And ultimately, a majority of folks potentially on both Left and Right get a little of something they’d hoped for.

It actually doesn’t matter what I think or what I believe one way or the other here – let’s all do something we don’t do very often in this country – let’s get behind the leaders and show some support. Let’s be positive and believe that this can work, at least for now. One way or another, we as a country voted for change this time around. We didn’t necessarily get the X or Y or Z party that we thought we might get, we got something different, but it’s definitely a change. Let’s go with it.

[1] … assuming that they weren’t unable to get into the polling booth on the day according to some press reports :-/ or that they weren’t Jamelia, who proudly and rather stupidly showed off that she’d never voted during Young Person’s Question Time before the election.

[2] … assuming that we accept that our system is “broadly” democratic… bear with me on that one

[3] … this is where I dust off my History degree! πŸ™‚

[4] … although I’ll still look forward to reading the history of this period and all the inside stories in 10 years’ time!

Update 13/05: thanks for all the interest, comments, and tweets about this entry. Glad that the post seems to be resonating with folks – which just goes to show that “rules” about what to blog about can be bent to advantage every now and then πŸ™‚ Really enjoying all of the feedback, thank you.

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11 responses to “Never mention politics or religion

  1. It’s going to be an interesting time (I’ve already blogged my thoughts on the process: We didn’t vote for hanging).

    It’s actually exciting that the wave of collaboration has made it to 10 Downing Street. The media paints compromise as a bad thing, but the root of the word means With (com) Promise – an agreement to agree with what an external arbiter (in this case the electorate) has decided. Here’s to a new politics.

    Now, about that religion thing… πŸ˜‰

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  2. Regarding electoral reform, we don’t even have to go back 300 years to see the changes. It is less than 90 years since we had universal suffrage.

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  3. Jon Marshall

    Thanks Andy – our cynical society doesn’t leave much room for hope, let alone be supportive of our leaders. I too am hopeful that we truly have something different here

    This could be a semi-permanent change in British politics that could be the end of “flip-flopping” between left and right governments at election time.

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  4. Can I draw you further on this bit? “…let’s put to one side some of the vagaries of the UK system whereby a party with a reasonable national percentage of the vote ended up with a relatively tiny proportion of the elected MPs…”

    Surprised you didn’t want to get into this. First Past the Post seems to be a big obstacle to people thinking their vote counts, and seems to many to be a major flaw in the current system. It’s something there might finally be an appetite to address, not to mention something the Lib-Con (um, Con-Lib? What’s the convention here?) coalition might actually do something about. Am I being too optimistic?

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    • oooh, draw away πŸ™‚

      I think the only reason I put that to one side at that particular stage in the discussion was that I wanted to get straight into the results and outcomes aspects. You’re absolutely right that it is an obstacle and an issue, but it’s long-established and therefore people tend to feel that they understand it (until the results roll around). On it being an obstacle – well, I reckon that in most if not all of the constituencies in the country, there are enough voters that if all of those who had the right to vote and wanted a change of representative made their selection, the winning candidate could have been different – it’s just that there tends to be a fundamental core of opinion that drives the result one way or the other.

      I’m intrigued to see whether the system actually will change, now. My own personal view is that the British people are fairly ‘c’onservative in their attitudes to “big” change, and a new voting system would be a big change. It’s not to say that there aren’t a whole range of issues with FPTP. I think it’s absolutely fair that some kind of change occurs, and we should not be afraid of that change… but I suspect that every option will have its disadvantages. Either way, with an outcome like this, I think it could shake people up to realise that there is more than one of two possible outcomes in future, and new newness is often a catalyst for new behaviours.

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  5. There’s definitely a huge gulf between how most people in the UK THINK the electoral system works, and how it ACTUALLY works. I think there is a political win to close that gap. By how much is a very good question.

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  6. What a refreshingly open response in the Web2.0 cloud of extreme thinking – actually in the world, where extreme thinking (love it/hate it) garners reputation, drives circulation and spikes traffic.

    Ever since the death of Princess Diana, the ‘press’ (and I use this term as widely as possible to encompass the many influential channels) have a very clear idea of what makes a story – it is one of extremes that plays to the tribal instincts of us all. The consequences of such behaviour is rarely pretty.

    As consumers of this political story, we are, in the main, in a situation of passively reading and then having aligned pundit-type-views (Mail / Tory-graph / Guardian etc) down the pub or on Twitter. And as Benjamin Ellis rightly points out above, the lack of knowledge of how this ‘stuff’ actually impacts the general public means that we are all reliant on the media pundits to ‘help’ us become more extreme in our thinking.

    I agree with this blog, in that, we should recognise that the Cameron/Clegg civil partnership is indeed a brave step. The apparent commitment and long-term thinking should be applauded, and we should – as onlookers (nay, judge and jury) – hope that this delivers our country change and results, rather than look for the banana-skin moments, so we can all join forces to say “I told you so. It was never going to work anyway.”

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    • Thanks. Interestingly the press angle is something I’ve thought about. I reckon the newspapers will have been selling more, and the news channels getting more eyeballs, as a result of the hung Parliament that has just happened, and which the media was apparently schizophrenic about – from “OMG it will lead to chaos!” and “watch out or you, Joe Public, will give us a hung Parliament, THEN what?” to “oooh, isn’t THIS exciting, folks?”.

      I really liked Benjamin’s point about the collaborative spirit reaching Westminster, too. Clegg and Cameron are arguably of the right mindset to be more open to change, compromise and collaboration, so let’s see how it works out. From the perspective of “social” at work, I’ve spoken before about social business (the Dion Hinchcliffe definition) and the need to extend our corporate boundaries to the space in between firewalls where our partners and customers can work with us to co-create useful and interesting things. Could this be another angle on what is happening here? I hope so. As I said, I’m excited. I get the sense that politics swinging one way and then another can only offer limited solutions, but in the spirit of politicians needing to work together for the greater good, maybe this could be really beneficial – AND as a side effect, begin to restore public confidence in Westminster.

      Maybe πŸ™‚

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  7. Just opened a browser on a MSi Wind that was in need of having a few Windoes updates and guess what was left open in a tab! This post. Like you, I’d blogged a bit about the outcome of the election at the time, and a lot of what you wrote here had a resonance with what I felt too!

    Just wondered whether you’d changed your mind. I haven’t. Seems to me that a coalition at this time is still the best option. Politics has seemed much less tribal to me, and that must be good. Pity about Clegg getting suckered into the AV vote at the beginning of the Parliament. Appears to me that it would have been to have played the long game with a vote at the same time as the next election to take effect the Parliament after. That way (being confident of success and having a history of good strong coalition government) the electorate might have been more easily persuaded to change.

    Anyway, have you changed your mind?

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    • Hi David, great question. I haven’t changed my opinion of the Election result or the Administration it produced… I do think that things have been made difficult by the social and economic issues which are both global, and local based on the policies that have been pursued in the past, and are having to be pursued now. These are hard and difficult times and tough choices have had to be made. I think I do agree that politics have seemed less tribal – although sometimes events have made them more sharply polarised.

      I don’t know whether the Coalition will continue past the five-year term it has created for itself – I suspect it will be less a matter of strength, compromise and success, and more the usual negative swing created by events.

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