April 25th, 2010

breaking bad

You don't always get what you want

A couple of years ago Crooked Timber had a post called 'Wanting not to get what you want'.
For example, I always want my football team to win, but if they were to win all the time... I would lose interest in football. It is a condition for me to live the life of a happy football fan that they win, but not too much... In other words, then, it is a crucial component of the good life that my life be unpredictable and that I don’t get many of the things that I want.

Football is a trivial example, but I think it applies throughout life. I want H to agree with me on any particular day, about any particular issue, but if he never had any opinions which were different from mine, I wouldn't like it. I want to have a feeling of the world being other than me, being difficult to negotiate, in order to feel alive. I want push back, but each example of push back frustrates me from getting what I want.

And of course this paradox of wanting what I don't want applies very much in politics. I want left wing policies to prevail in my country, but I also want to live in a healthy democracy where many different political views compete. Throughout the last decade, in which the other two parties have not pushed back very successfully, I have always known that it must change, while simultaneously dreading the return of Thatcherism (of some kind).

So, in some ways, the current surge of the Lib Dems is a positive push-back. If the push-back comes from Tories plus Lib Dems it is much less likely to be catastrophic than if the Tories were to win solo. It might also have good consequences, for example if the voting system is reformed from first past the post, and the political system is opened up. I hope that is the lasting consequence of these events.

But it could have bad long term consequences, and this is what I think people may be underestimating. If Nick Clegg is right, that the future politics of this country will be to alternate between two right wing parties, then we will become more like America. Of course in America, there are real differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, and I would vote Democrat. But I don't want to live in that system. I want there to be a significant intrusion of the working class into politics, which is the main difference at the moment between the UK and the US systems.

(ETA this morning Cameron leaves the door open to electoral reform which could be a good thing)