Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Growth and undergrowth

Rachel Sylvester is a weekly columnist and political interviewer for The Times. Before that, she wrote about politics for The Daily Telegraph. She was also political editor of The Independent on Sunday.

That's what is says over on The Times next to this piece by the aforementioned Rachel Sylvester.

Considering her impressive CV in the world of political journalism it seems remarkable to me that she still hasn't grasped the truest single phrase in politics.

It is the biggest cliché in politics that “it's the economy, stupid” that determines the result of elections. It's also the biggest fallacy.

What they really want from politicians is a sense of optimism about creating a different, more orderly, society.

Sorry, Rachel - but if that is really what you believe then you really shouldn't be writing about politics. It is and always will be the economy first and foremost. Crime and disorder will always be high on the list of priorities - especially when it is so out of control as it is today - but the economy will always take pride of place.

Labour won three elections in a row for one reason - the economy. Forget the Tory sleaze row - the ERM debacle and "Black Wednesday" is what sealed the fate of the john Major government. It didn't matter that after we left the ERM our economy recovered and Labour inherited a sound economic base - people remembered that it was the Tories who lost control over the economy and that mattered.

Labour went on to win again for the simple reason that they didn't appear to do anything to screw the economy up. When people are reasonably happy with the economy they won't change governments. The fact that Labour actually did screw the economy - just not obviously - and that those problems are only now coming home to roost is the reason, if any, why Labour will lose the next election.

Crime and disorder are serious concerns for most people - but they are things that most of us can do something to insulate ourselves from to a certain degree. We can fit burglar alarms to our homes and cars. We can avoid going to certain places at certain times. We can, through our own actions, take control of how crime and disorder effects us.

We can't do that with the economy. We still have to buy food, pay bills, mortgages and rents. We still need our jobs and pay rises - but when the economy is poor both of those are under threat.

Don't get me wrong - crime and disorder is a real problem and needs to be addressed - but when it comes to elections it really is the economy, stupid.

Sylvester does hit on one point with which I agree.

The latest must-read book at Conservative HQ is Nudge, which argues that peer pressure is a more effective way to change behaviour than state directives..... At the moment, the argument goes, people are being “nudged” in the wrong direction, with rap music that glorifies violence, soap operas that popularise antisocial behaviour and gang culture that creates a sense of family for people who have none.

The question is how to turn the nudges around.

That, again, is relatively simple - but it isn't going to happen. You see, the "nudges" in the wrong direction come from our old "friend", progressive liberalism - along with it's cohorts of moral equivalence, multiculturalism, political correctness and non-judgementalism.

Sylvester suggests that the Cameron approach is through "libertarian paternalism" which sounds like another phrase for progressive liberalism to me - in other words, that is the last thing we need. Cameron said in a speech yesterday ......

“We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others,” he said. “Refusing to use these words - right and wrong - means a denial of personal responsibility and the concept of moral choice.”

Right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral - these are terms which require judgement. When a group of gays complain that cutting back overgrown bushes in a beauty spot will discriminate against them they should be told, straight, that what they are doing is wrong, bad, immoral and disgusting. Do you think the boy David will do that?

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