Philip Whiteley's Blog

January 17, 2013

A positive case for ‘None of the Above’

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 11:45 am

This is a mostly UK-focused blog, but some of the trends will be discernable in other western countries. It concerns our political parties and whether their obsessions reflect the nations’.

Participation in general elections has been falling in recent years, and membership of political parties has plummeted. This blog suggests that the reason is that party political activists are captured by the state, and obsess over matters that prioritize the influence of the party, rather than concerns of the citizens. If you look at the single issue that most excites and energizes the respective parties, they are:

  • Conservative – to regain statutory powers that have been granted to the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
  • Liberal Democrat – to reform the voting system and the second chamber to enable more representation for the third party.
  • Labour – to increase the size of the state.
  • UKIP – to leave the EU completely, as ‘Brussels’ should not be allowed any say in our affairs.
  • SNP – to leave the United Kingdom, as ‘London’ should not be allowed any say in our affairs.

They look like disparate aims, but there is a common thread: each party has as its primary aim increasing its own relative power. The parties are acting as lobbyists on their own behalf.

Conservatives back-benchers, for example, have recently formed a campaign group. What is their noble cause? Reform of the banking system and economic management to ensure that a credit crisis never recurs (their efforts in Government in this direction so far have been weak)? Ideas for innovation and investment so that Britain can compete with hi-tech economies? No. It is to ‘claw back’ (their preferred metaphor) some powers from EU institutions. It gets worse. The calculations they use to claim that EU laws on the workplace are costly amount to nothing more than bean-counting. All the evidence from the past 70 years or so show that changes to the skills, morale, motivation and deployment of people in the workplace vastly outweigh such minor matters as statutory working hours or the rate of the minimum wage. In some cases, such as the European Works Council, the regulation probably adds value, as it forces managers to talk to their employees.

This example shows how, to be fair to the political leaders, sometimes the pressure comes from their activists. David Cameron has to strike a more euro-sceptic pose than he probably wants, to stop his members defecting to UKIP. Ed Balls was booed at a conference of his own supporters for striking a reasonable note on the affordability of government promises on public sector pay.

But the bigger picture is that the UK political parties see themselves primarily as custodians of the state and reformers of its regulatory duties, rather than stewards of society or leaders of the country. The state and its apparatus is all they know. The law has replaced values. Expedience has replaced conscience. Lobbying has replaced public service. The political party is just another interest group.

These tendencies has been exacerbated by the increasing tendency for front-bench politicians to have spent all their working lives in politics. The days when Labour MPs had worked in industry and Conservatives had run a farm or a business are long gone.

The economy is seen as consisting of fiscal, monetary and constitutional powers; not people, businesses, skills and innovation. There is a non-cynical alternative to political parties; a positive reason for saying ‘None of the Above’, and it is set out in the new book New Normal, Radical Shift. Please see this blog for more information


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