RDN on democracy on BBC R2 Vine Show

I had an outing on the Jeremy Vine Show, discussing the anger which many people seem to feel that “their side” didn’t win. Yes, I said: democracy involves a contest between two or more parties, and they all need to be as electable as possible, and the process as civilised as possible….

My exchanges on democracy on this BBC Radio 2 show where at the beginning of the 12 May 2015 broadcast, for 5 minutes or so just after the midday news.

The bottom line is that the British enjoy politics as a bloodsport, which is fine in its way. But we also need to remember that it needs to be a civilised sport in which we remember no-one dies and which depends on the health of several parties. We all have an interest in the well-being of parties which do not share our views.

I said that I recoiled from the Ukip-style anger of people who say (especially of leftish successes): “I want my country back”. And I recoil even more from the quite common left-liberal certainty that the Tories are somehow monsters (often labelled “scum”) and that one should cut off a limb sooner than vote for them. I have written on why the Brightest and Best should vote Tory. But for the purposes of yesterday’s discussion I would rather stress that those who did not vote Tory should not overdo their angst at Tory successes (and vice versa). Nor should either side gloat at their opponents’ misfortunes. Here’s why.

Presumably it is well understood that we don’t want to live in a One Party state. It follows that we need several parties. Power needs to pass back and forth between them. Indeed, this ought to happen frequently enough that no main party atrophies because its senior people have never been in government. So it follows that we need several talented, successful parties.

We need stable government, if possible. The difference between the governments of, say, Tory and Labour cannot be huge without huge disruption. It follows that governments cannot easily be radical, and if they are, they probably ought to be so only occasionally.

We probably also want to avoid the dictatorship of the governing party, not least because so much of the country would feel disenfranchised during such periods. But, I said, we don’t actually get very strong rule by one party. This is because a ruling party with a small majority faces constant negotiation with other parties (and sometimes within itself). But it is also because parties with very big majorities soon produce rebellions from within their own ranks. So British politics is a broad church thing: Parliament is itself a broad church of many parties; or each party is a broad church itself.

The British taste for theatrical, sportive politics requires parties to exaggerate their differences, but actually all sorts of practicalities are driving politicians toward a middle ground of economic realism softened by social conscience.

Various forces are at work here. One is that class war is largely dead. Another is that it is becoming understood that Britain must compete in a tough global economy. Another is that there is deep and widespread concern that welfare be provided only to those who need it, and with a growing understanding that tough love may be more necessary than was recognised in the late 20th Century.

But my big final point was that modern Britain seems to be in very good condition. Its democracy is part of an increasing understanding about the value of economic success and a greater social and cultural liveliness. It is peculiar, then, to find quite large numbers of intelligent vociferous people (especially on the left) who talk as though our system is deeply flawed, and that evidence for this is found in Tory success.

One oddity is that the left-liberal people who loathe Toryism do not seem to notice or take heart from the way that most mainstream, senior Tories have seemed so aware that they can only win elections by understanding the middle ground in the British political terrain. We badly need a strong and intelligent Labour offer, and it – too – will probably need to have a profound understanding of middle Britain.



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Publication date

12 May 2015