Friday, September 05, 2008

The cosy elite of modern politics

Over on the Telegraph's comment section, John Kampfner hits the nail on the head with the title.

Without ideas, the Tories are doomed.

In the article, Kampfner focuses mostly on ideas propagated by the various think-tanks favoured by various political parties and politicians - which is fair enough as far as it goes - and goes on to bemoan the fact that political scientists are largely sidelined in Britain when compared to the USA.

The work of political scientists at British universities also goes largely unnoticed outside narrow circles. Much of the problem is down to money. American universities and research institutes are considerably better funded. This enables them to recruit respected public figures who, through their reputations alone, are able to influence government from the outside.

All this may be true, but it is largely irrelevant. Political scientists do not deal in the real world in real time and think-tanks rarely step beyond the bounds of what is considered socially and morally acceptable by post-modern, progressive liberals. What is relevant, however, is the issue that Kampfner first highlighted - the dearth of ideas at Tory HQ or, indeed from Labour.

This is due to two things.

First is that both parties occupy the same ground politically - the "centre left". As their political positions are more or less identical then so is their political thinking and, therefore, their ideas. They differ in minute detail, but the substantial thrust of their ideas are the same as they come from taking similar positions on perceived issues - health, education, poverty, economy, public sector services, environment and so on.

They have not differed in substance for almost sixty years so it is hardly surprising that in that time the gap has narrowed rather than grown.

The other reason for the dearth of ideas is that few politicians today are products of the real world that the majority of people inhabit. Political scientists are sidelined because they have already done their influencing at university where the vast majority of politicians first gained their political inclinations. Unsurprisingly, they are all liberal left because our universities are dominated by liberal left politics.

After leaving university a large proportion of our current crop of politicians then proceeded to forge careers purely in politics - as researchers, union activists, party activists, local government and so on. They have very little experience of life outside of this very closed, elite band. The few that do tend to come from liberal left institutions - teaching, law or social services.

There are no ideas coming from the Tories as their leadership - like that of the other main political parties - is a closed elite of liberal left progressives. They all think alike, talk alike and act alike because they all have the same backgrounds.

It used to be that those entering politics had some experience of real life and used their career experience to improve their politics. Now they use their political experience to improve their career as they angle for various lucrative directorships or/and speaking or writing engagements once their political career is over - which is often at a time when it used to be only just beginning for our previous generation of politicians.

Incidentally, we are now seeing the emergence of something similar in the USA with Obama and, to a lesser extent, Palin - the career politician with little or no experience outside their own closed little world. McCain may be decrepit, but at least he has a lifetime of experience to draw his political values from - and that is the important thing. Not the opinions of think thanks and political scientists.

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