They’re All The Same

One of the current truths of modern political life in Britain (and it seems to be true almost everywhere else as well) is that the political class are All The Same. Regardless of who you vote for, you end up with much the same policies as before.

And in the case of the smoking ban, this is certainly true. Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, and Labour are all agreed that it’s a Good Thing, and perhaps even a Great Success. None of them have any plans to amend it. Apart from voting for UKIP and other fringe parties, there’s nothing voters can do about it.

Perhaps it’s always been like this. A few days ago, I read this at EUreferendum:

The electorate had seen that the Parliaments it returned always, invariably, did exactly the opposite of that which had been promised and that which it had been returned to do, and felt, furthermore, that there was no means of remedying this, because no clearcut difference was apparent between the two parties which faced each other in the House; appalling though the Tory Party’s record was, the Labour Party offered no clear alternative.

The writer that adds that people knew that voting for a Labour candidate instead of a Conservative, “would not make much difference; they knew that from experience”.

Far from being a contemporary piece, though, this is published in 1941, written of events in 1939, its author former Times foreign correspondent Douglas Reed.

That said, in my experience there seemed to be a far greater difference between the parties 40 or 50 years ago than there does today. Back in the 1960s the Conservatives were the party of the wealthy, landed aristocracy, and they spoke in clipped upper class accents. And the Labour party was the party of cloth-capped workers and trade unionists, and they spoke with regional accents including Welsh and Scottish ones. And the Liberals were the party of the middle classes – or that part of the middle class which wanted to relax prohibitions against abortion and homosexuality.

Now it’s impossible to tell any of them apart. The Conservative party got rid of most of its aristocrats, and re-branded itself as an aspirational middle class party under Margaret Thatcher, who was a grocer’s daughter. And then the Labour party got rid of most of its Marxist-revolutionary left wing, and re-branded itself as caring-sharing, middle class party under Tony Blair, adopting many Thatcherite economic policies, and ditching any ideas of nationalising industry. And now all the parties have also gone Green, environmentalist, and antismoking as well. And David Cameron has modelled himself on affable, “I’m an ordinary guy”Tony Blair (even though he’s really a bit of an aristo). Even the disputes over Europe have faded, with the consensus in all parties becoming one that “It’s better to be in than out” – although this may be changing now, given the shipwreck of the EU.

And the net result, after 60 years of chopping and changing and adjusting, is that all the parties are indistinguishable from each other. They’re all caring-sharing, touchy-feely, green, environmentalist, antismoking, pro-EU, high taxation, big state, middle class parties.

The two-party system has gradually equilibriated into a one-party state. And not by any design. It just gradually happened.

And this one-party state is tyrannical. And it’s unavoidably tyrannical. Because the checks and balances of democracy cease to operate when there ceases to be any real choice open to voters, and they can’t register their dissatisfaction. Whoever they vote for, they’ll end up with the same thing as before. And in the absence of correction by voters, politicians are no longer getting the kind of feedback that allows them to spot winning policies that will attract votes.

Furthermore, in the absence of voter feedback, the politicians lose interest in voters, and retreat into a media bubble where they essentially just talk to each other. They only pay attention to what’s said in the media environment they inhabit, and to moneyed lobbyists of one sort or other (e.g. ASH). They live in a hall of mirrors, and all they can see are themselves and their own opinions.

I’d like to suggest that this is really all perfectly natural. When people have been arguing with each other for 60 or more years, they’re quite likely to reach a consensus of some sort or other, and gradually resolve their differences.

We have reached high tide (or low tide), when the water is neither falling nor rising.

Soon enough, it will all start to change again. And if nothing else, it will start to change because during the period of undemocratic tyranny (i.e. right now) new grievances gather momentum.

The smoking bans are exactly one such cause of grievance. They weren’t the product of any democratic process: they were brought in despite democracy, not because of it. They were the product of the tyrannical political consensus, and of effective lobbying. And if the political class have yet to realise that a great many people absolutely detest a law which has shattered communities, and bankrupted pubs and clubs, it’s because they’re still not listening to anything other than the media circus to which they devote their attention.

And given its current structural problems, and the fact that the worst effects of these are found in the poorest classes of the poorest member states, the EU looks set to become a major cause of grievance as well. For the EU is, once again, the product not so much of any democratic  process, but of consensus among the European political class.

And the result is that the most savvy politicians, who keep their ears close to the ground, and listen to what ordinary people are saying, and not the looking-glass world of the media, are likely to start to win votes from disaffected voters who are not being represented by the main parties. And so in the USA there’s the Tea Party. And in the UK there’s a politician like Nigel Farage of UKIP, who combines rising anti-EU sentiment with anti-smoking-ban sentiment. And I suspect that all over Europe there are small parties who are breaking away from the reigning political consensus.

I suspect that such parties are going to become more and more influential in the coming years. They’ll put forward radical, non-consensus political platforms, and they’ll attract more and more votes. The political parties of the old consensus will start to get worried, and their shared consensus will start to dissolve. The main parties will start to adopt slightly different policies. Choice will begin to re-appear. And the democratic process will start to function once again. And the tide will start flowing strongly again.

In 5 or 10 years time, there’ll start to be documentaries on TV about the awful damage caused by smoking bans, and about the tyrannical and counter-productive EU, and the pseudo-science of global warming, and so on. Everything that is now more or less completely suppressed will come bubbling to the surface then. There’ll start to be genuine debates again about issues of common concern.

And political life will become so interesting that it may even become terrifying, and people will talk about the Good Old Days when all the politicians agreed with each other about everything, instead of fighting like stray cats, and how much better it all was then.

About Frank Davis

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6 Responses to They’re All The Same

  1. lleweton says:

    Five or ten years is a long time if you’re already old. However, nil carborundum.

  2. Agreed Frank, I just wanna watch them all swing from ropes!

  3. smokervoter says:

    It is the push-pull political dynamic that will eventually change things between smokers and the parties. We need to push ourselves on the party that is pulling for us.

    In your case this is obviously the UKIP. But they need to increase the pull by bringing their support of smokers more up front and center. They especially need to attract angry Lib-Dem and Labour smokers, for I’m positive that they exist. The boost in tax of inflation plus 5 points should serve to prime the pump. The reminder is there every time a UK purchase of tobacco is made.

    If UKIP can manage to come within striking distance of the Lib-Dems as the third party without putting Labour back in power, then you will see some change and it needn’t be five years out either. The next general election would do just fine.

    In my humble opinion it will start when you switch from singularly debating the health aspects to discussing the political dynamics of smoking. When was the last time you heard a pro-smoking media guest bring up the topic of which way smokers might vote in the next election?

    That’s the push aspect. On the pull side I just came from the UKIP website and nowhere on the four pages of UKIP policy was there any mention of their stand on the smoking ban.

  4. lleweton says:

    Frank: time goes by fast but there’s increasingly less of it. Without wishing to sound pathetic, as I said once to my MP, it would be agreeable to potter out on a lovely evening such as this and enjoy a couple of pints and a pipe and a chat, in a pub. There are people of my generation who will never again experience such a simple, innocent pleasure during their remaining years.

  5. jaxthefirst says:

    “In 5 or 10 years time, there’ll start to be documentaries on TV about the awful damage caused by smoking bans”

    And who knows, in a century or so’s time – long after everyone reading this article is long gone, whether through so-called smoking-related illnesses or through non-smoking related ones – children may look back in their history classes at how life was in Britain at the start of the 21st century and find it incredible that pretty much every illness for which doctors didn’t know the cause or have a cure for was automatically blamed on the Black Magic of Tobacco Smoke. Just as now it seems astonishing, if true, that “witchcraft” was the “default” thing to blame for for things that no-one understood or knew how to prevent, like poor harvests, or plagues, or stillbirths, or just a run of bad luck for a community, just a few hundred years ago.

    How ironic is it that as the species with the highest and most sophisticated intelligence in the animal kingdom we’ve made the most progress during those times when we had the courage to admit what we didn’t know, rather than during those times, like now, when we’ve pretended to know things that we actually don’t.

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