For What?

Running as a political candidate requires compromises. Compromises on policy views, on your tolerance for bullshit, on how you communicate.

Some candidates are willing to accept those compromises for the chance to make a 1% difference. It’s a price that’s hard to pay for someone serious about policy and integrity.

But not all candidates pay a price. A large number simply have a desperate desire to be an MP. Any sort of MP. They don’t have to compromise anything, because they don’t have anything to compromise.

Too often the greatest commitment a staffer or politician has is to the tribe, not to good policy. This is especially so when they have come through party or union or association ranks from their university days. What matters is that we win; not what  we actually do when we win. What matters is how we appear, not who we actually are. Sadly, that tribalism also seems to exist at an intra-party factional level. And it applies across parties.

Oh, there’s tokenism and badge-wearing and rabble-rousing on particular topics, but for the successful political insider that’s about being seen to have a view rather than actually having one.

They may even have a view, but it would be irrelevant to the politics.

At an individual level is about the difference between fighting for the sake of a career or for the sake of a calling.

The longer and more successful the engagement with politics, the more this seems to be the case.

Hence the dominance on both sides of politics of smart class fashionability. If you’re a tribal careerist, if you’re afraid to stand alone with your own views, or if you have none at all, it’s less risky to just run with the self-identifying crowd of moral and intellectual guardians. Because if you don’t, they’ll turn on you with ferocious judgment, shame you publicly and make your political life hell.

Just learn a few pat phrases, recite the standard concerned anecdotes, internalise the moral views of the media and academia, and jump on every bandwagon before it gets too full. Then it doesn’t matter if you are an empty vessel. You’re politically safe. You have the seal of approval.

Yes, this is a harsh characterisation. But visible political behaviours are all about career, not state of society. They are about political communications, not political change.

Braving the disapproval of the smart class only makes sense if it is for something you believe in. If you don’t believe in enough to warrant that risk, why would you do it?

This isn’t true of the grassroots, where real commitment motivates people who spend hundreds of unpaid  hours a year to support MPs with less policy commitment than the average party nobody.

But the combination of tribal commitment, ambition-without-aim and focus on appearances is at the heart of our political failure and alienation.

It certainly makes people question why they were willing to compromise in the first place.


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