Jonathan Eida | Opinion
“There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics. I regard them as Quislings, as traitors… I mean it.” The ever-direct words of the late Margaret Thatcher.
The world of politics is often seen as an arena of trade-offs, with each side offering as much as possible in an attempt to woo those who protest and to curry favour with their opposition. The terms “reaching across the aisle” and “bi-partisan support” are given hallowed status in the halls of Westminster. The orchestrators of these corporations are given all sorts of accolades and, consequently, many perks come with the territory – including an all-access pass to the full array of dinner parties!
No-one found out more starkly how fruitless this line of governance turns out to be than our former Prime Minister Theresa May, when she attempted to be chief conciliator and adopt every opinion into her Brexit mush. In the end, everyone was angry, the country was left in turmoil and May was out of Number 10. Once again, we turn to the wise words of Margaret Thatcher: “If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and would achieve nothing.” A leader especially, but all those in positions of power, must be driven by an ideology and have a desire to carry it out, otherwise we end up in a place of chaos and indecision.
Similarly, this art of consensus politics brings into focus how politics has gone astray and turned into a primary school popularity contest. When it comes to election time, a party can win an election with no principles or philosophy, just by promising different interest groups policies that benefit them.
What this leads to is shapeless parties and manifestoes that are full of contradictions. This also, in essence, is where the distrust in politics comes from. It is far easier to trust and respect those who stick to a set of reliable principles. If we look at some of the most trusted politicians of our age, Nigel Farage and even Jeremy Corbyn circa 2017, what really drew people to them was their authenticity, which stems from their philosophical consistency. The only reason Corbyn wasn’t more popular on a large scale was the mere fact that Socialism is such an unappealing prospect. As for Farage, the majority of the electorate adhered to his vision and shared this in 2016.
The rise of ‘populism’ around the world has also been attributed to the very same distrust in consensus politics. People have opted out of voting for establishment figures, in favour of those who have seemed more real. One only has to look at President Trump to see evidence of this.
The real issue, in my view, when it comes to consensus politics, is the lack of philosophical principle guiding it. If a theoretical principle is reached and it is deemed to be correct, it follows that the principle should be applied to its complete conclusion. If the principle fails in practice, then it was clearly a bad one and should be abandoned. However, until that point is reached, carrying out the idea, however “radical” it appears, is logical. In a way, this could be viewed as a science experiment. If we have a hypothesis that could solve the issues at hand and the theory behind the hypothesis is solid, then doing anything contrary to that theory is almost fool-hardy!
Perhaps there is no greater reflection of this than the vision of the so-called “mixed economy”. The economics site Investopedia defines the mixed economy as such: “A mixed economic system protects private property and allows a level of economic freedom in the use of capital, but also allows for governments to interfere in economic activities in order to achieve social aims.”
The problem with this ideology is that Capitalism and Socialism are geared towards achieving different aims. Capitalism is designed to create wealth in the greatest quantities possible. Its fundamental premise is creating a free society, where people are able to engage in as many exchanges as they desire. It is based around the individual and one’s personal choices – or, as Adam Smith referred to it, the ‘invisible hand of the economy’. This, by definition, creates inequality. The argument for Capitalism in respect of inequality is firstly that inequality in and of itself is not a yardstick; rather, so long as people end up wealthier than they otherwise would have, then Capitalism has succeeded. Secondly, the freedom of commerce and exchange means that people will have the ability to climb up and down the scale of inequality on the basis of a meritocracy.
Socialism, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. The Socialist ideology is premised on the idea that all humans must be equal, and therefore sets out to ensure standardisation and equality though government intervention. They oppose the free market and individualism because, by its very nature, it creates inequality.
Having set out the goals of each philosophy, it is pretty obvious that they cannot be mashed together into one system. By their very nature, they are a contradiction! If you hold the ultimate goal of individualism and wealth production, then government intervention is not a possibility. If your target is equality, then having a free market is inconceivable. What is the goal of a mixed economy? Its goal is not to create freedom, nor is it to have equality!
The reality is that there is no ideology behind the mixed economy other trying to satisfy the binary alternatives, which is a fictitious dream. In our two-party system, the existence of the mixed economy should be seen as a lack of a better alternative, but definitely not seen as an ideal But this is what it has now become to some politicians – not even for philosophical reasons, but simply because it is not controversial.
Under the mixed economy, what we end up with is neither freedom nor equality, but rather some barely-functioning mutation! One begins to measure Capitalism with the false yardstick of income inequality, which for the reasons stated above is not of concern to Capitalists. On the other side of the fence, Socialism is measured by productivity, which is not its goal either. Needless to say, neither ideology can achieve what it sets out to under this system.
At this point, it is very important to draw a key distinction. There is a balance to be struck between remaining electable, whist still remaining true to one’s principles. However, very often this balance is not conducted in the proper manner. All policies should be geared towards achieving a certain outlook and endpoint, having been driven by a philosophical motive. Contrary to this, however, most parties, as mentioned earlier, run on the basis of random policies that all stem from different worldviews in the hope of electoral success. Proposing policies in this way is somewhat like pressing on a car’s accelerator and breaks at the same time. In order to move forward, a decision must be made in line with where you want to end up. Remaining electable is just a matter of how hard one chooses to press on the accelerator!
The politics of consensus must be seen for what they are and what they do; they are weak and chaos-inducing. Without divisive decisions and coherent philosophies guiding it, the country well and truly is like a lion led by a donkey!